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WWE '12

Score: 82%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Yukes
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4; 2 - 12 (Online)
Genre: Sports (Wrestling)/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

I have a confession to make: I'm a complete sucker for reboots. While it's true that few of them manage to live up to our lofty expectations, it's still easy to admire the creators' objectives. The development of a reboot is the ultimate display of humility, and that goes double for THQ and Yukes, who could have probably released last year's WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 as WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2012 without taking a notable hit in sales. Taking a step back and reimagining a franchise as big as this one takes guts, and the developers are to be commended for doing so. That WWE '12 is the best wrestling game in years makes the entire situation that much sweeter.

I'd really like to see a return to the days when video games based on the world of sports entertainment didn't have to emulate the television experience. By that, I mean I'm still wondering why they have to make the violence look as staged as it does on television. Why don't they actually make the hits visibly connect with extreme force -- you know, like we're supposed to believe? There's no personal health at risk with video game characters, so the games shouldn't concern themselves with presenting optical illusions. That minor gripe out of the way, WWE '12 is a fine-looking fighter. Things don't really look great until you examine the painstaking detail in the animation work, and really, that's where your attention should be all the time. If your eyes wander to the crowd to look for clones (which you will find), you're doing it wrong. There are some quirks, such as the rocky transitions between grapples and resulting actions. However, the reversals look absolutely natural. THQ and Yukes have been going on about this "Predator Technology" animation system, and it's actually quite cool; now, reversals can be performed at more than one moment during an attack cycle, and they can even stop an opponent's signature move. Finally, as with previous games in the series, the camera is there to deliver that classic television feel, switching angles for effect at just the right times.

WWE '12 might not sound as viscerally nasty as UFC 2010: Undisputed, but the dull thud of flesh on flesh is unmistakable here. The loud bangs that emanate from the ring every time someone gets up close and personal with the canvas is corny, but faithful. Even cornier is the voice acting, but that's no surprise. The hammy performances are so bad they are good; that's the way it's always been, and that's the way it should stay.


Gameplay:

If you get into WWE '12 expecting a complete overhaul of every single component, you might find yourself a bit confused at first. That's because when it comes to features and modes offered, this game isn't any different from any of its most immediate predecessors.

The core of the single player experience is shared between standard matches, the Road to Wrestlemania, and WWE Universe. Unique? Ground-breaking? Reboot-worthy? Perhaps not in concept, but the game's strengths are illuminated through these gameplay modes.

Road to Wrestlemania is different this time around, primarily because there's only one path to follow. Everyone will get exactly the same experience their first time through because there's only one way to go through it. It starts out by throwing a major curve ball at you. You start off as John Cena, but before his first match even starts, Cena is suddenly attacked by Sheamus, who you end up playing as for the first part of the Road to Wrestlemania. The perspective eventually shifts again, but only twice after the initial shock. The storyline is classic WWE fare, with silly dialogue, goofy twists, and lots of tenuous alliances and predictable betrayals. It's faithful to the franchise, but there's a huge stick in the spokes I need to address. I speak of the disconnect between the gameplay and the many cutscenes you'll see. You might be opening a can of whoop-ass on someone, but once that (Y) appears over your worn-down opponent's head, anything can happen. (Y) is apparently mapped to a finishing move, but nearly every time you use it in Road to Wrestlemania, you end up losing the match by some preprogrammed outcome. Sometimes it makes sense; when the Big Show interrupts a nearly-finished match and has you in his sights, of course you're going to lose. Other times it's hard to shake the feeling that something's not right. I got through an entire match once without taking a single hit. When the time came, I hit the button to end the match. The cutscene that followed showed my character to be worn out and on the verge of defeat while my opponent seemed completely fine.

WWE Universe is the brand's returning simulation mode. This one is still for the hardcore only; if you don't really give a damn what brand The Miz represents, you're going to pass this mode up. Those who do care about the minutiae will still love the customization and realistic progression Universe has to offer.


Difficulty:

One of the first things you'll notice about WWE '12 is how difficult it is on the default settings. A.I. opponents are invariably adept at performing reversals, so much in fact that you might find yourself hesitant to play aggressively. You can adjust the frequency with which computer-controlled opponents perform reversals via a series of sliders. Performing reversals yourself is as unreliable as it ever was. I can't even count the number of times I hit (RT) at exactly the right moment -- to no effect.

There are new mechanics to learn in WWE '12, and while many of the franchise's most basic functions make an appearance in this game, several of them have been redesigned and remapped. Unfortunately, the only comprehensive tutorial to be found is the unwieldy in-game manual, which can luckily be accessed at any time. It's a shame that's all that's in there in terms of a tutorial; there's an awful lot to absorb, even if you've been with this series since its inception. Not everyone wants to spend their first hour with a game reading the instructions.


Game Mechanics:

So I've gone on and on about WWE '12, but not once have I ever gone into detail about the aspects that classify this game as a reboot. This is the area that contains the key differences between this year's game and the rest of them.

The people behind WWE '12 have been touting the Predator Technology animation system, and only the new Limb Targeting system threatens to upstage it. When you enter into a grapple, you have the opportunity to select which area of your opponent's body you want to inflict damage on. It's vaguely similar to the marionette system used by games in the Assassin's Creed series, and it works surprisingly well in this context. Of course, it's best to wear your opponent down quite a bit before trying it out; using the system requires a bit of time, and you don't often have enough time to fool around during the beginning of most matches.

Rampant button-mashing has been a part of wrestling games seemingly since time immemorial, but it's largely relegated to maintaining or breaking out of submission holds -- yet another great design decision. Kicking out of a pin is a great deal more challenging, albeit potentially problematic in online matches. You must hold the (A) button to fill up a meter. Once it reaches the target area, you must let go of the button before it passes the area completely. This requires careful timing, but a latency problems can utterly ruin anyone's chances at getting back up.

So WWE '12 is a successful reboot that manages to put a sputtering franchise back on the right track. There's lots of quality content for wrestling fans to dig into; the roster is huge, the modes are reliable standbys, and the online competition is mostly fun. With WWE '12, the franchise doesn't fully unlock its true potential, but it looks, sounds, and plays better than it ever has.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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