Ever since the first Smackdown vs. Raw title came out in 2004, the WWE’s flagship video game series has been stagnant. Although a few new changes have been made to the gameplay in some years, the games have failed to capture the magic brought on by 2003’s Here Comes the Pain. THQ announced a few months back that WWE ’12 was to be a complete reboot, with the company planning to establish a starting point for a whole new generation of WWE video games.
Other than the obvious name change, game developer Yuke’s have introduced a number of changes into WWE ’12. The two main things that have been altered the most are the gameplay and the control scheme.
Unlike in the old Smackdown vs. Raw video games, you do not control grapples by using the right stick. WWE ’12 has adopted WWE All Stars’ control scheme where you use the A button (X on PS3) to initiate a grapple and then go on to perform more powerful moves like a bodyslam. Another change that has been made is that you can store wrestlers' finishing maneuvers now. This feature was included in past WWE video games but was sadly missing in the more recent offerings. Allowing players to keep their finishing moves makes matches more unpredictable and can result in exciting conclusions. For example, playing as Randy Orton and using his RKO instantly can prove very deadly for your opponent.
In terms of gameplay, WWE ’12 is faster-paced, and the AI can give beginners a real tough time. You cannot end a match by simply hitting one move and hoping for the best. Wrestlers are fresh at the beginning of a match and bounce back from attacks fairly quickly, so you now need to wear down your opponents in order to win.
This is easier said than done, as the AI in WWE ’12 is the hardest it has even been on any WWE video game released to date. I’ve played pretty much every WWE game released since 1999 and even I struggled against the AI when I first played WWE ’12 on its default settings. At first I loathed the controls and wondered why they changed it in the first place, but after playing the game for several hours, I got used to the new scheme and started to like it. Now I cannot stop playing the game as the new physics engine is better than ever before.
One crucial thing that is missing in WWE ’12 is a tutorial mode. You would think Yuke’s would have included a comprehensive tutorial mode since WWE ’12 introduces a ton of new gameplay elements. Sadly, there isn’t any, and you have to learn everything by reading the controls by pressing the start button. This is better than nothing, but it’s not as clear as if there was a narrator or tutor clearly explaining things to you. The best way to learn the controls in WWE ’12 is to play with two players and let one person beat up the other like a training dummy. This is how I learnt how to play the game after the AI whipped my butt in the first match I played.
In terms of presentation, WWE ’12 offers an experience all WWE fans will love and appreciate. The menus are more professional and don’t loop the repetitive theme music of the WWE Superstars - I listen to their theme songs each week and I don’t want to hear them again! Not to mention the game adopts TV-style broadcasting, using the same graphics and camera angles that you would see in an actual WWE broadcast.
Having said that, WWE ’12 may be a reboot of the series but the graphics have stayed the same. I played both Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 and 2011 and compared them to WWE ’12, and the visuals are virtually identical. Also, the character models are a little inconsistent, and you can tell the developers put more time and effort into the bigger stars. Someone like Triple H looks ripped and god-like while someone like David Otunga lacks any detail in comparison. It’s similar to how the premium carsin Gran Turismo 5 look better than the standard models.
The roster in WWE ’12 is as impressive as they come. The game offers 62 playable characters on the disc itself, with a further 13 to be released as downloadable content. Some of the additions to the roster are really great, such as the new look of The Rock, and even Brock Lesnar. Other additions to the game are questionable, such as the DLC of Michael Cole and Jim Ross. Who would want to pay for a pair of announcers who aren’t really wrestlers to begin with?
With WWE ’12 being an overhaul, Road to Wrestlemania mode has seen the most dramatic change. Usually with change you would expect improvements, but this year’s Road to Wrestlemania is the worst storyline mode in any WWE video game. Although I applaud the length of the mode (expect to finish it in around 10-12 hours), most people might want to give up playing well before then. There’s also only three people you can be, as opposed to the five or six that were available in previous games. If you’re not a fan of Sheamus or Triple H, you will hate this mode altogether. The third person is your own created superstar with the name of Jacob Cass. Although you can alter his appearance, Jacob Cass is hardly an exciting person to play as.
The main problem in Road to Wrestlemania mode is the difficulty. No matter what difficultly you have set the game to, you are going to find it tough to complete some of the objectives. A number of scenarios see you fighting against more than one opponent in the backstage areas; the unfair advantage on you is very frustrating, and the game’s controls don’t gel well together when you are fighting backstage. This is because your move sets are different and you’re forced to knock out people in a specific area in lieu of just pinning them inside the ring.
The other major mode in WWE ’12 is the Universe mode. This mode isn’t so storyline heavy as Road to Wrestlemania, and you can choose who you want to be. It is here where you unlock most of the bonus content the game has to offer too. Quite frankly, Universe mode is a lot more fun to play, and you are rewarded for playing through it too. Road to Wrestlemania seems like a waste of time noticing how enjoyable the Universe mode is.
In terms of create options, there are still the usual things to create – an entrance, a finisher, a story and a superstar. Added to the list is the all-new Create-an-Arena, which allows you to design the ring and make it look pretty. If you design something you really like, you can upload it so players around the world can use your arena too. It’s a nice concept for Yuke’s to build on for next year’s game.
Sadly, I cannot comment on how WWE ’12 plays online as the servers have been down ever since the game came out. THQ has promised a patch will be out before the end of the year. I only managed to play only one match online so far; it seems like every time you play the game the servers are up and then they are down again. Hopefully the patch will rectify all these problems.
WWE ’12 makes a lot of changes to the Smackdown vs. Raw series and has improved the core gameplay. Having said that, the changes may dissuade newcomers to the game as the AI is very hard and there’s still no tutorial mode to learn the new control scheme. The graphics have sadly remained the same over the years and it would have been nice if the visuals were as impressive as those seen in games like NBA 2K12. WWE ’12 is the best wrestling game out right now but it’s not the reboot I was hoping it would be.
Lasting Appeal 8.5