WWE 12 Review: Allow us to weigh in with our review of WWE 12
Video game sports franchises arguably face the most challenges in development every year. Not only are developers expected to have a new game out one year from the day the last iteration arrived, but they've also got to improve the title enough to quantify the purchase to loyal fans. Even die-hards aren't just content with a roster update and marginal upgrades to the previous incarnation anymore. Perhaps nobody knows this better than Yuke's, the people behind the WWE video game franchise. Eschewing the Raw vs. Smackdown moniker that has been part of the series since 2004, and utilizing a new engine, it seemed like Yuke's was going to take the franchise in a fresh direction. Unfortunately, they stumble into the ring, and WWE 12 ends up an uneven affair that has just as much going wrong for it as it does going right.
It's been a long time since the Monday Night Wars, and the heyday of my wrestling infatuation. Though I still check in with what's happening from time to time, these days I'm a fair-weather wrestling fan at best. That said, I get a tremendous amount of enjoyment from the WWE gaming franchise. For me, playing wrestling is infinitely more interesting than watching it. I remember a time when my old roommates and I would work tirelessly on created characters with elaborate backstories to use in older versions of Smackdown vs. Raw. WWE Universe 2.0 gives me just what I want, and then some, in that regard. Not only can I rearrange the rosters of the current WWE to whatever I want, but I can also dump every real person out, and create three weekly shows based around a whole slew of created characters. With Universe 2.0's flexibility, I can pretty much run the WWE, or a created federation, for as long as I want. Not only that, but any time I feel like changing everything completely to shake it up, I can do that too. There is no limit to the user control you have with Universe 2.0.
A great deal of that flexibility comes from the vast array of creation options at your fingertips. While creating new wrestling personas, or downloading them from other creators online, is nothing new, the ability to create rings, arenas, shows, and federations provides new wrinkles to the formula. I found myself pouring quite a few hours into creating two distinct federations that would battle for the viewership on a weekly basis. What made it even better was how Universe 2.0 managed a heaping helping of diverse storylines that I started, but the game continued. It amazed me how well Universe tracked rivalries, feuds, and championship runs that I had only influenced in the earliest of stages. The mode's new momentum meter kept popular wrestlers fighting, and managed to infuse the imaginary storylines with fresh blood every so often. Watching everything unfold without playing was almost as satisfying as getting into the ring myself. In fact, at times, WWE 12 is almost more fun to watch than it is to play.
A large part of the reason WWE 12 is such an uneven experience is because the AI is so unbalanced. Once you get a handle on the slightly tweaked control scheme, matches unfold at a pretty brisk pace. You can swing momentum your way rather easily if you're able to capitalize on the AI's mistakes. And the mistakes are plentiful. I can't tell you how often the computer would just stand around and do nothing while I was out cold on the mat. It was really odd watching the computer stand and stare at my lifeless body, when just a match before it was relentless in attacking me. There's no real middle ground here either, as the computer is either woefully simple to beat, or will reverse every move you try to pull off. It's incredibly frustrating to think you have a grasp on the situation one minute, only to have the game pull a quick 180 on you the next. When playing in Universe or exhibition, it's easy to get over it, and move on to the next match. However, the AI saps all the fun out of WWE 12's revamped Road to Wrestlemania.
No longer different stories for you to choose, Road to Wrestlemania is now one cohesive narrative told from three perspectives. You start out as Sheamus, who you will take to the top just in time for Triple H to take over. From there, the story moves to that of a created wrestler. I'm not going to spoil any of the narrative, as that's all part of the fun of the masculine soap opera that is the WWE. And to be fair, the story is actually pretty fun and engaging. There are some great ideas presented that would fit perfectly into the real life WWE, and I found myself wishing that they would be implemented soon. Unlikely as that is, it's clear that the guys at Yuke's know their way around a good wrestling story, and Road to Wrestlemania's narrative will definitely not disappoint fans. What will disappoint them is the awkwardness of the mode's objective-based play.
Road to Wrestlemania isn't just about getting to the huge pay-per view event, and battling for the title; it's about the moments leading up to the big show. As such, I found myself fighting in just as many backroom brawls as I did actual wrestling matches. Merely fighting match after match would have gotten stale after just a little while, and the other ways in which the story progresses in RtWM do keep the mode from getting repetitive. Whether in the backstage area or the ring, every moment had a specific objective I was supposed to complete in order to win. Very few of the objectives required me to win by pinfall. Most had me beating up an opponent until an indicator popped up over his head. All I had to do then was hit the button on the controller, and the game would go to a cutscene playing out the rest of the match. Completing the objective didn't always equate to winning the match though, which is the strangest part of all. I found myself questioning just why I was working so hard to defeat an opponent only to have my efforts end up being meaningless. Sure, completing the objective moved the story forward, but it wasn't always in a way that gave me satisfaction as a player. Yuke's is essentially telling the player he has to lose for the story to continue, and while that's indicative of the real world WWE, it doesn't translate so well to a video game.
The whole of WWE 12 is now powered by Predator Technology, which goes leaps and bounds above what a WWE game was capable of before. Now animations can be interrupted, and there aren't any canned sequences or animations to ruin the immersion. While it's a great new feature, and it makes WWE 12 much more enjoyable to play, this engine isn't without its flaws. Ring ropes react unrealistically, and items and people often get stuck in them awkwardly. On more than one occasion, I encountered a glitch outside of the ring when trying to throw an opponent into the barrier. Instead of crashing into it and collapsing, he would often run into the crowd and get stuck. When he tried to get back to the ring, he would stretch like Plastic Man across the screen, and warp into the mat, which would then knock him out. When more than three wrestlers are in the ring, things get really chaotic, and moves are broken up really easily. And though a great deal of time and energy has gone into collision detection, when you whip someone across the ring, instead of crashing into other players, he will magically change course to avoid them. Even with those issues, the in-ring action is still rather smooth, and in another year, the Preadator Tech could prove itself to be an incredibly strong engine. It's got a little growing to do, but as it stands right now, it could definitely use some work.
Sports titles get a bad rap for the repetitive and grating commentary they often provide, and WWE 12 is yet another game that falls prey to terrible commentating. When the same jokes aren't being recycled ad nauseum, the computer is eerily silent when describing the action. I know it's hard to account for all the possibilities of events in a wrestling match, but the Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole will soon have you turning on some other audio source after just a few matches. I was also surprised by the lack of personality in the Road to Wrestlemania portions of the game. All the wrestlers involved are so subdued that it's a little strange. Considering how bombastic these pros are on television, you at least expected them to bring some of the same over-the-top acting to the game, but they didn't. At least the game looks good though. Character models and animations are both great when you have the time to really watch what's happening, and it's good to see that WWE doesn't disappoint in this aspect.