Thursday, December 1, 2011

Cult of Personality: WWE '12 Review

If you’re a fan of wrestling games, there’s a good chance you have very strong opinions. There are very few genes in gaming that inspire such slavish devotion to one franchise as wrestling games do. If you thought the war of words between Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 was a bloodbath, you haven’t been caught in the middle of a NeoGaf debate between Fire Pro Returns and Virtua Pro Wrestling 2. Fortunately, for the not crazy people out there, you don't really need to know all that much to enjoy WWE ‘12. Yuke’s has put a lot of work and promotion to make this not merely the “next SmackDown!” game, but to angle it as a relaunch of their entire WWE series.

For nearly a decade the SmackDown! series has been put out on an annual basis, and there have been only a few major changes in the formula along the way. The grappling system has undergone some major overhauls, only to be brought back-to-basics a few years later. Creation modes, and story editors have come and gone, and the quality and size of the character roster can vary dramatically from one year to the next. For most fans, the SmackDown series peaked with SmackDown: Here Comes the Pain! which was released back in the heady days of 2003. It is to safe to say that, for the most part, WWE 12 reaches the heights of HCtP, although it is not without flaws. Some of them pretty major, too.

WWE 12 is a polished looking game. The menus are crisp, and for the most part, easily navigated. Some options are oddly buried though, such as the menu for editing who has which belt, of which there are far too many in this game. THQ has gone so far as to include nearly every WWF/E title belt of the past 20 years, and unless you vacate some of them, a good 50% of the roster is defaulted to being champion of something. The character select screen is right out of a fighting game, and there is a wealth of wrestlers to choose from. It seems that some character models got far more attention than others, though. For example, Triple H still looks more like an action figure than a human being. I know HHH is a big man, but for someone who has become one of WWE’s top men, his character model deserves more attention than it gets. It still looks like his hair is pulled straight from a horse's ass.

That's way too many belts.

Other wrestlers, like Daniel Bryan, look great. Their models have great detail, the faces are incredibly life-like, and the texture of the costumes and skin on some of the characters is great. From what I can tell, it seems like the newer characters have better character models than the older, more classic WWE stars. If if was a cynic, I’d say this is probably due to the fact that Triple H, The Rock, and Stone Cold Steve Austin are still using up-res’d versions of their PS2 counterparts. For all of their talk about relaunching the WWE series, it still looks like Yuke’s took some shortcuts here and there. It is jarring to see Sin Cara running gracefully to the ring, only to cut to Stone Cold walking like a dead-eyed robot.

Like I was saying, the roster of WWE 12 is clearly one of the major selling points. Featuring of the most up-to-date representations of the WWE of any SmackDown game, even recent changes such as CM Punk’s new entrance music, and the dissolution of The Nexus are refelcted in WWE ‘12. THQ has done a great job with including nearly every legendary superstar players could ask for, with the notable exemption of wrestlers who have gone on to compete in TNA/ Impact. So while there’s no Hulk Hogan or Jeff Hardy in the game, classic heroes like The Rock, Arn Anderson, Kevin Nash, and the Road Warriors are here for your enjoyment. There’s also plenty of DLC planned for the coming months, which will expand the roster to include Macho Man Randy Savage, Mick Foley, Shawn Michaels, and Batista.

There’s also Divas in WWE ‘12. So, yeah.

Autin was never this ripped. Unless you mean "drunk."

Once into a match, the gameplay in WWE ‘12 has some significant changes from previous SmackDown games. Grapples have been relegated back to one button, which variations based on the state of your opponent when you grab them. Dizzy opponents will suffer more devastating moves than an opponent who is fresh. A new submissions system, dubbed Breaking Point, is instigated by holding the grapple button, and allows the player to grab their opponent in a submission hold at any time. In order to clinch or break the hold, players must mash the buttons, and one the meter swings in either direction, the hold is either broken, or the victim taps out. It helps to wear down a specific limb before going in for the kill, and modifiers allow to player to focus on the arms, legs, or head of the other superstar. For example, wearing down an opponent’s legs with kicks, takedowns, and holds will make them more susceptible to tap out to a figure four leg-lock.

Action in the ring is fast and fluid, and THQ has put of a lot of talk into their new Predator  Technology. In practice, this makes it more likely that a signature move will lead directly into a taunt, followed by a finishing move. While this is very true to the nature of WWE television, it can be incredibly frustrating when you are on the losing end of one of these combos. Unless you hit the reversal button at just the right time, chances are you’re done for once your opponent hits his finisher. This is also due to the new kick-out meter, which is a big bag of ass. Kicking out of a pin attempt now requires the player to hold the “A” button, and release it within a specific window. If you miss your window, you’re pinned. The worst part of it is that the meter doesn’t even appear until the ref has already counted to 1, so if you bone up your first attempt, that’s all you’re going to get. It is incredibly frustrating, and can hopefully be changed with a patch.

Randy Orton is a dentist.

Another thing that must be fixed with a patch is the online component of WWE ‘12. In theory, the online should be awesome. Allowing the user to download created characters from the WWE Games community, sharing move-sets, and entrance videos is just what players have always asked for. The suite of creation tools in WWE ‘12 is astonishing, and almost anybody imaginable is easily replicated in the Create-A-Wrestler mode. Want to see Chris Jericho fight Razor Ramon? Me too!

But you can’t. Not yet. Because the online is hopelessly broken. THQ has switched to dedicated servers for WWE ‘12 and apparently forgot to test them before releasing the game. With all of the promotion and promises of greatness THQ put out there, WWE ‘12 received the highest numbers of pre-orders of any SmackDown game ever. That means that millions of players, hoping to fight online, or just share their creations were, and to date are still, locked out of the online. Servers are constantly down, connections are dropped, and game-crashing freezes happen with alarmingly regularity. You’re lucky to get one match in before the game locks up, and if you manage to get into the Community Creations, download everything you might ever want then and there. And don’t try to search for anthing. Because that’s broken, too.

Legends like Brock Lesnar appear in WWE '12.

There also several season-type modes in WWE ‘12. WWE Universe allows a season-like schedule of shows, with customizable cards, arenas, etc. Road to Wrestlemania is the meat and potatoes here. Featuring 3 unique storylines, complete with cutscenes and voice acting, this is most like the product you see in WWE television every week. It is also where you’ll encounter the several dozen unlockables in the game, so playing through it once will reward players with a wealth of new characters and belts to play around with.

For the most part, WWE ‘12 is the best wrestling game since WWF No Mercy on the Nintendo 64. However, the game-breaking flaws in the online system is a major disappointment. The same can be said about the recycled animations and character models, that seem to come straight out of the PS2 era. If THQ can continue refining the game, and make improvements on part with those accomplished here, WWE ‘13 stands to be a knockout. No pun intended. Okay, maybe a little.

Legends like Razor Ramon don't appear in WWE '12.


Can you smell what Christopher Linendoll is cookin? He can be reached via Twitter, or found in the hummus section of your local grocery store.

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