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WWE '12 Review

By Jeff Buckland, 11/22/2011

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If you look at all the major franchise games that are coming out on a yearly release cycle, you'll notice that innovation from one year to the next can be particularly difficult. Series like Madden, Call of Duty, and even Assassin's Creed have gotten flak for not changing enough from one game to the next. But I feel like the biggest challenge in the yearly game-development rat race has to be the one that Japanese developer Yuke's, creators of THQ's WWE series of wrestling games, has signed up to take on. Each game is made by the same studio, not staggered by two teams with two-year release cycles, and what's toughest is that the WWE is constantly changing, forcing the guys at Yuke's to innovate with every release. The attitudes, appearances, move sets, and allegiances of even existing superstars change from year to year, and the fanbase is dedicated enough that they can immediately tell if a wrestler's hair is too short, this one move hasn't changed enough since the last game, or a mole on one dude's back looks a little bit off.

With WWE '12, Yuke's has made the biggest revamp in the series in quite a while. Now, the game is giving equal time to all of the WWE brands, and the wrestlers move more smoothly, look better, and behave in more realistic ways. On top of that, Yuke's has added even more customization of the whole experience; this year, you can build your own custom-made wrestling arenas, and even create your own whole WWE-like experience with uniquely branded shows, dozens of created superstars, new move sets, and ring entrances. You can write the WWE out of them completely if you want and replace pretty much everything, aside from the commentary, with custom-made content.

With a new animation system, a look that even more closely resembles TV and PPV broadcasts, and a further-improved look to the crowd, WWE '12 won't ever fool you into thinking you're watching the real thing, but they've gotten much closer this year than they have in the past. And while the action is still the lumbering, plodding button setup as we've seen before, I don't think the series' biggest fans - including those who got a taste of the more fighting game-like controls in this year's stellar WWE All Stars - really want any different. I think that's a shame, though, because if there's one thing I think this game needs, I feel that it'd be some fast action and a little more responsiveness on delivering striking and grappling moves. As it is, you'll feel like your wrestler is often wading through hip-deep mud in one situation, then he has a tenth-of-a-second window to counter an incoming move all because that one kick or lunge from a grapple came out at a snail's pace.

So from that perspective, fighting game fans are not going to be impressed with WWE '12, but they also probably aren't interested in the game's depth in creation and in putting together a presentation that's a moving target from one year to the next. And the fan service that these games bring is absolutely top-notch, allowing people to mix in their own creations with the canon material, and even use these modes try and fix what they think THQ and Yuke's got wrong. Finally, they then get to share all of this stuff online; oh, sure, there will be official DLC adding properly branded wrestlers and such, but the wealth of community-based sharing built right into the game is largely unmatched in console gaming right now.

One of the biggest changes this time is in the Road to Wrestlemania mode, where the choice of several small story lines has been ditched in favor of a longer one that spans three particular superstars' experiences. First, there's Sheamus, cast as the villain, then it moves onto Triple H as the outsider, then you create your own superstar to play as the hero for the final third of the campaign. In this mode, you're not just winning matches on the mat; you've got to satisfy certain conditions and trigger cutscenes, and while I do think that overall this Road to Wrestlemania is a step forwards, the voice acting (done by the real superstars) just didn't match up with what I expected. They sounded like they were calmly delivering lines in a sound booth, not screaming or commanding the respect of the crowd like they do in a live arena-type situation. It wouldn't be that big a deal, but this mode is kind of centered around these wrestlers, and I was just a little disappointed that the voice acting didn't match what you'd get from them in a live show.

Luckily, there are so many other ways to play this game, that even if one mode turns out to be a dud, there is plenty to still go around. In fact, the menus are kind of mind-boggling with how many options there are to custom-make your own experience, even when you're just setting up a goofy two-on-two match with your buddies. The roster is bigger than ever with some good surprises and big names from the past, and many of the little things that have plagued past games have been fixed. I've never gotten deep enough into the past games to properly make a list of every issue that has been addressed, but the biggest one I can see is that some of the really silly randomness in the past games' WWE Universe mode has been toned down for this year, so now you aren't constantly getting interference from some character you've never seen before, and things like that. Now, story lines and the alliances and rivalries that get made and broken are all tighter and more focused.

WWE '12 is the best fan-service game in the business right now, and I think the rest of the game development world could learn something from such a pure, wholesome dedication to giving fans what they want. Even those who stopped really enjoying wrestling on TV years (or, like me, decades) ago don't have to look too hard to find some fun in these games, because you can always skip the posturing and drama and go straight to the action if you want. And frankly, there's just no fighting game substitute for hitting someone directly in the face with a step ladder.

Overall: 9 out of 10



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