Thursday, December 1, 2011

WWE '12 review

When done right, wrestling games can zap more of my time than just about any other type of video game. And while I managed to sink 100+ hours into epics like Fallout 3 or the Dragon Age series, the time spent with those games pales in comparison to the time spent with classic wrestling games. I kept my Dreamcast hooked up for almost ten years just so I could play Fire Pro D, complete with a boot disc, a super-sized memory card and a 50-page binder of English translations. My PS2 is still hooked up too, partially because it's an awesome system and I still have way too many games to finish, but whenever I turn it on, it's to play Fire Pro Returns.

When I was a teenager, me and a buddy went through renaming and redesigning every wrestler in WCW/nWo Revenge. Why? Mainly because we thought it was funny, but it kept us playing the game for years. I tried to keep No Mercy up to date for several years as well, making new characters and changing outfits for existing Superstars to wrestlers who had a similar fighting style. I still have my Nintendo 64 for this exact reason.

But the Smackdown games have never given me that kind of feeling. I've never rushed to hook up my PS1 (or PSX for you cool 90s kids) so I could play Smackdown 2: Know Your Role. In fact, the only WWE games in my entire collection right now are Raw for the SNES, No Mercy for the N64 and WWE '12 for Xbox 360.

There's never been a Smackdown game that I didn't trade-in within a year. It's not that they're bad games (though some of them are), they're just the video game equivalent of fast food. Sounds great at the time, delicious at the first bite, but when I'm done, I regret doing that to myself. Sometimes I'm downright satisfied (SvR 2006), sometimes it's like getting soggy french fries and a hair in my burger (Just Bring It). For the most part though, the Smackdown series has been comfort food, I get my fix and move on.

But I was very excited when I heard about WWE '12, the name change alone had me excited. I've wanted them to do this for years, mainly because "WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2010: It's Your World Now - Featuring ECW; While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood" was pretty ridiculous. So it's an exciting new direction for the series, right? Well... kinda.

A lot of the little tweaks they've brought to the series over the years are near perfection. The presentation is excellent, it does look like I'm watching WWE TV, at least during regular one-on-one matches. The more bells and whistles you add to a match, the more the presentation suffers. Play a Money in the Bank or Royal Rumble match though? It looks like an old Smackdown game. To be fair, I'm sure that's a design choice to keep things from getting too hectic during these matches, but it does hurt the immersion. Running up a ladder and clotheslining a guy off another just doesn't pack the same punch in WWE '12 as it would watching the Money in the Bank PPV.

And that lack of punch is a problem throughout the entire game, there's just no "oomph." I played a Royal Rumble match with Sheamus and was throwing Irish Curse backbreakers all over the place, but there was barely any sound. At the risk of sounding morbid, I want bone-crunching mayhem, I want the satisfaction of hurting somebody. Even with its primitive graphics, there's never been anything more satisfying in wrestling games as seeing "CRITICAL!" pop up in Fire Pro. Top rope moves suffer a lot from this too, they're still really stiff and way too fast, they just don't look right. This might be a little thing to you, and it didn't really bother me in the PS1 or even PS2 days, but it's bordering on inexcusable.

The AI has been improved though, which is impressive because there really hasn't been much of an AI improvement for any games between the PS2/Xbox/GameCube transition to PS3/360/Wii. It's more aggressive, smarter and tougher and that's something this series has desperately needed from day one. It's not perfect, there's still too much reliance on reversals, but I figure someone out there will find some decent slider settings eventually and we'll be able to balance it out ourselves.

Matches are much more fun to play as well, there is a real sense of pacing and blended with the advanced AI, it's a very noticeable improvement for the game. But again, it starts to fall apart in multi-man matches. The new move interruption feature isn't as intrusive as I thought it would be, but it can still be a pain and there have been a lot of instances of just bouncing off a guy. It feels clumsy at points, but not nearly as much as in years past. The new (old) control scheme is nice to have back, I don't really mind one way or the other. I like button grapples, I liked the stick grapples, so it doesn't make a big difference to me, but I wouldn't be opposed to a massive overhaul of this. I think most still prefer No Mercy's control scheme and the game has not aged particularly well.

WWE Universe is a lot of fun this year now that the needless restrictions of last year have been removed. There was no reason to only have title matches on PPV and barring people from changing title and #1 contender matches. There's still a lot of room for new ideas here though, so I hope they keep focusing on it in future years and don't just think "well, we fixed it, we can leave it alone for five years" like they did with the Royal Rumble, Ladder Matches and like I worry they'll do with Story Designer. There are still some odd restrictions and it can be a bit buggy, but for the most part, Universe is a lot of fun and could easily keep this game interesting until WWE '13.

Customization is still king, all the create features are as good as they've always been and the new Create-an-Arena is AWESOME. I haven't played around with it too much yet, but it's pretty jaw-dropping. Sure, they could add more stuff, more outfits for CAWs, etc., but take a trip around Community Creations and you'll see that there's nothing that can't be created. Of course, as usual, there's no option to fully edit matches. I can't have a 30-Man Royal Rumble with over-the-top rope eliminations turned off, ring-out on and falls count anywhere enabled like I could in No Mercy, WrestleMania 2000 and even WCW/nWo Revenge, but I guess this is never going to happen. It was my most favorite thing: First Blood Royal Rumbles, Royal Rumbles in the backstage area, putting people through tables, it was awesome! I understand keeping it to the standard rules in Road to WrestleMania, or even Universe, but just let me do it in exhibition!

There are a lot of gripes about Community Creations right now since the servers are constantly down and as frustrating as it is - I'm trying (and failing) to upload a story right now - I gotta give THQ a bit of a pass on this one. Yeah, it's 2011, this has been a major part of gaming this generation, but I don't think you'll ever truly know what kind of problems you'll have with online access until the game is released to the public. Perhaps I'm just being naive or technically stupid, but all the testing in the world can't prepare you for millions of people all trying to access your content at once. And I have a PS3, so after their online disaster earlier this year, anything else seems like a minor issue to me. Hopefully it'll get ironed out.

Now with that said, there are still lingering issues in this series that just shouldn't be happening in a game in this generation. For instance, if I beat Triple H in a match, Triple H should not do a run-in after said match. My entire console shouldn't lock up because I try to use an alternate outfit in Story Designer.

Commentary should not continue to be this terrible patchwork of lines. I know wrestlers probably aren't terrific voice actors, but there's no excuse for the horribly dull announcer intros or a "crowd" that sounds like 12 people in a sound booth. For all the work that goes into making it look like WWE TV, there's never been an effort to make it sound like WWE TV. If Call of Duty can make it sound like I'm in a Vietnamese jungle with aircraft flying overhead and napalm melting my face off, surely THQ and co. can figure out a sports arena. Especially for a license that has over 100,000 hours in their video library, study how it sounds! If Ricardo Rodriguez doesn't read his lines properly, make him do it again or record him live on Raw.

And this is probably nitpicking, but it's something that's bugged me about games for years - I'm so tired of having to sit through 47 Publisher/Developer logos, copyright notices, intro videos and load screens before I even get to the main menu. And THQ... it's 2011, it's time to introduce auto-save. "Do you want to save? Yes. Are you sure? Yes. Data will be overwritten? Yes. Are you absolutely, 100% sure you want to do this? Yes. There's really no coming back from this. Yes. You do realize you're making Randy Orton's tights blue? Yes. Once it's saved, it can't be unsaved. Yes. You'll have to re-edit it if you want to re-edit it." And then I throw my Xbox out the window.

I would also say that no game should make it to retail with as many glitches and bugs that have been reported, but as every Bethesda game released this generation has shown, it's okay to release a totally broken game now. WWE '12 isn't that bad and I haven't personally experienced any glitch besides the aforementioned console freeze whenever I try to use Superstar Threads in Story Designer, but the issues are happening enough to be well known within a week of release.

As usual, I have many jumbled thoughts on the Smackdown WWE series that range from minor issues to stuff that should've been sorted out in 2000. The games will probably never be perfect, which is okay, and why I have no problem recommending WWE '12. Its positives outweigh its negatives and while I'm still waiting for the elusive OMG!AMAZING WWE game (THQ, just hire Fire Pro's developer Spike to make something for WWE Xbox Live Arcade/Playstation Network to shut me up.), WWE '12 is fun and that's all I really ask for. I had an awesome Royal Rumble match in WWE Universe last night where The Miz eliminated Sheamus (me) after a grueling back and forth battle. My Story Designer tale starring Zack Ryder is pretty fantastic and I can't wait to upload it (fix those servers!) so you can play it.

The gameplay and AI were things that had to be fixed and they took a huge step in the right direction there, but they're not done and they need to dig deep and work on some of these issues that have plagued the series for over a decade. No other game could get away with problems for this long, but we all want our WWE fix and this is our only option. It also helps that THQ has some great guys on staff that are incredibly friendly, accessible and take constructive criticism well. Stay on them, perhaps we'll find that elusive perfect game sooner than later. Will this game stay on my shelf after the next one comes out? Probably not, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth a purchase. Because though WWE '12 is more evolution than revolution it's one of the better entries in the series - even if it's technically a "new" series - it's perhaps the best yet.


  1. Great review. Just got my copy so haven't had time to play it yet but hopefully it is the improvement over last years game you say it is, especially Road to Wrestlemania as last years was so dull.

  2. I haven't started RTWM yet, but opinions seem incredibly split. I deliberately left it out of the review though in protest of Game Informer's terrible review, which based their entire review on RTWM.