I’m not going to do a formal review on WWE ‘12. CVG, Game Informer and particularly Diehard GameFan (which includes a long, detailed list of the game’s various bugs) do a very good job of summing up the game. Which is surprising, considering that THQ normally does a good job of buying out the critics each year (With their 9.0 rating, IGN is obviously still in their employ though). WWE ’12 is essentially a SmackDown game with a pretty coat of paint on it. All the problems that have plagued the series in the past still apply here. So instead, I’ll just mention some of the few areas in which the game succeeds, and the numerous ways in which the series has to improve going forward.
THQ has removed the Weak/Strong grapple system, presumably to differentiate WWE ‘12 from WWE All-Stars, which also uses a Weak/Strong system. This is a step in the right direction. Now if they’d only go back to old system where you perform moves without grappling first, that would be great. Initial tie-ups in the SmackDown games only serve to slow down matches, as they play the same tired grappling animations over and over again. If you’re going to do initial grapples, at least implement them as they were in the fast-paced Day of Reckoning games.
One of the game’s biggest “new” features was a return to button controls. This is a much welcome change, but let’s be honest here. The only reason analog grapples were introduced was so THQ could copy Fight Night’s thumb-wrecking “Total Punch Control” (WWE game developers seem to have lots of EA envy it seems) with “Ultimate Control Grapples”, a lamebrained, half-baked attempt to use the analog sticks to perform a limited set of moves.
I can’t fathom why Cory Ledesma, Bryan Williams and the THQ “braintrust” insist on building upon the shaky foundation of the SmackDown game engine. You can add a “momentum” meter (which is actually more or less a super move meter), but that doesn’t conceal the fact that game is based on the same basic hit point system as the original SmackDown. At least they were honest about it in Legends of WrestleMania and actually showed the meter on screen - which explained why it was entirely possible to pin somebody after a weak body slam. It’s time to introduce a true momentum-based system. And for years they’ve had a decent one in Yuke’s own Day of Reckoning/Wrestle Kingdom games, but inexplicably, they’ve never used it.
Maybe it’s because All-Stars was so well received both commercially and critically, but the developers seemed to have more of an attention to detail this time around. After six years of not including a unique intro video, they’ve included one in WWE ‘12. Generic entrance music is back, and there are now a host of announcer call names you can use, in a throwback to Raw 2 on the original Xbox. Unique winning music is a new feature, although it still doesn’t play immediately after a victory - natch. Things like these may seem inconsequential, but they show that THQ is actually trying to make a better overall product, and not just the same slop they serve every year.
Presentation wise, there’s not much to report. Some character models are great, like Triple H, Undertaker, Daniel Bryan while some, including Drew McIntyre, and oddly enough, John Cena, are still PS2-quality. After two years, they finally got Maryse’s hair flip working right, and she’s been released. Good job guys. Thankfully, the game seems to run at a resolution near 720p this time around, at least on the PS3. Frame rates are still an issue though, even during a regular one-on-one match, which is inexcusable. And why is the crowd 3-D again? You can’t fight out in the audience anymore anyway. The low poly models look bad and it would be preferable for the crowd to just use pre-rendered FMV. Plus, the 3-D crowd likely kills the frame rate and the quality level of the wrestler models.
The game’s new “Predator” animation system is mostly much ado about nothing. Yes, the transitions between animations are a little more smooth, but that’s about it. Some moves (e.g. Eve’s handspring splash) still push characters into the right position on screen and animations can only be interrupted sometimes. Pin and submission break ups still look awkward. Physics is still nonexistent, despite the game sporting the Havoc engine, as anyone can slam anyone.The developers should definitely go back to key framing for the animations. It’s less time and resource intensive and has better results for something like wrestling, where no two wrestlers do the same move alike. Compare the subtle mannerisms of The Rock in the somewhat overrated Here Comes to Pain to the robotic animations in SvR and WWE ‘12 and you’ll see what I mean. With the current system, every wrestler moves the same and many animations are shared between them. And between the canned animations and weak sounds, no moves performed seem to have any impact whatsoever. On the positive side, the manual 619 is brilliant though! Now maybe we can get a manual People’s Elbow next year, definitely a sorely missed feature of Aki’s games.
And THQ, fix your damn servers. They heralded the fact that they were no longer using GameSpy. Which was good, considering the lag and disconnect problems they had in the past. But in the first week of release things are much worse. It can still be difficult to find a good, relatively lag-free match and worse, Community Creations doesn’t work most of the time - although paid downloads for day 1 DLC works perfectly, ha ha. Online Royal Rumble is another bad joke, it’s tough enough trying to get a match even set up. Given the fact that big releases like Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 support online communities many times larger than WWE’s without issue, such poor online service (that costs 10 bucks if you’re playing a used copy) is inexcusable.
The roster is fairly current, with no big omissions save for the Usos (unless you’re seriously jonesing to play as Jinder Mahal or Trent Barretta) and only two released guys. Great news. Oddly, Justin Gabriel and Heath Slater still sport their Nexus armbands (PhotoShop anyone?) in their profile pics. Of course, there’s also the usual complement of match types, a slightly improved WWE Universe (i.e. the Season Mode full of repetitive cut scenes) and the linear experience of Road to WrestleMania (a series of stories consisting of beating down your opponents and triggering the next cutscene) and the Creation Modes, which are probably the best in any sports game. The game’s model, pattern and video design tools allow you to make anyone, whether real or imagined. But the core game remains broken. It’s a bit speedier and the AI is little more challenging - reversal timing is a bit more tricky, but there’s still no flow to matches.
In a lot of ways the SvR/WWE games are like the current era in WWE. It shows some flashes of brilliance, but year after year it continues to disappoint, primarily because it has no rival. Now with the success of WWE All-Stars, at least THQ’s other wrestling series finally has some competition for the first time in years. But this series needs to go back to the drawing board completely for it to have a fighting chance.