Every year, sports gaming publishers upgrade their roster of titles. Typically, these releases tote colorful words like “revolutionary”, “enhanced”, “new modes” or “upgraded engine”. Yet, these boastful words rarely come to fruition (except in the case of NBA 2K11). After years of Smackdown vs. RAW titles, THQ decided to revamp the wrestling brand by releasing WWE 12. This game heralded all the great sports-sequel buzzwords. While in-your-face wrestling has never felt more brutal, several nagging issues with the gameplay hurt this from being the “revolutionary” title it could have been. The newly “enhanced” Road to Wrestlemania story mode does more to harm the franchise than help it. Also, WWE 12 suffers from a disturbingly bad counter system that will make you rue the day “AI” was created.
Ladder matches, Hell in a Cell, Battle Royals, Steel Cage slobberknockers – it’s all there in the exhibition mode. WWE 12 gives gamers a rich roster of wrestlers to choose from, which includes the DIVAS. In typical WWE fashion, the game gives you the fancy entrance sequences you’ve come to love the first time you play with each character (then you’ll probably skip through them to get straight to the action). Textures and character models look true to life. Now, it’s time to pummel your opponent’s stamina down to nothing and then land the three-count pin for the win. Once you enter your first match, however, you’ll notice one of the most irritating issues with WWE 12. Counters are nearly impossible to perform.
The counter option frequently comes up to alert you to press RT to initiate a reversal. It passes by in what can only be considered a nanosecond. Often, you will find yourself focused so intently on waiting for the counter option to come up that the fun of wrestling is lost. What makes this more irritating is that the AI opponents have no difficulty in initiating a counter. It makes computer matches less of a tactical game and more of a game of self-torture. Thankfully, you can always play with friends for less painful matches.
The create-your-own player mode is back and this time there is even a create-your-own arena mode. It’s a nice touch.
The big update to the wrestling franchise comes with the new story mode. Instead of a created player rising through the dregs of the wrestling world to eventually land a headlining spot at Wrestlemania, you are given a contrived story that focuses on Sheamus and Triple H. The story then shifts over to a created player. Previous games had smaller story moments, where factions and alliances shifted frequently. This game is focused on one contiguous story arc. Unfortunately, this story is as linear as it gets. And, within a wrestling setting it creates a very disruptive gaming experience that leaves you feeling unfulfilled each time.
Too often, matches don’t end with a pin. Instead, other wrestlers will run into the ring to disrupt the match. At other times, the gameplay will shift completely to a backstage fight. This would be fine if it happened once or twice. However, it occurs way too often. Getting disqualified or winning by disqualification just feels like a waste of time.
Perhaps this updated Road to Wrestlemania mode would have been a great idea if you had more control of the outcome of the story. The gameplay would feel more organic. However, control is completely tossed out the window. Sometimes the option to pin an opponent or tag out is disabled without warning. If you’re not expecting it (as I wasn’t), it will be extremely frustrating. It happens so often that you’ll start to get lazy about the actual match as you wait for the cut scene to steal the gameplay from you.
WWE 12 is a major miss for the wrestling franchise. If you’re fine with just playing against friends and online then you’re golden. Outside of the counters, grapples and signature moves work great. In the past, signature moves would interrupt combat. However, the engine has been revamped to limit that problem. Characters won’t magically jump from one part of the screen to another. Just remember that in the Road to Wrestlemania mode, the cut scenes will interrupt the action. New players to the franchise may not mind this, but loyal players will be more irritated by the lack of flexibility in this game. If you’re looking for a new wrestling game this year, I would suggest WWE All Stars first. It’s arcade wrestling as opposed to the more realistic simulation found in WWE 12, but it’s super satisfying. It will also hold you over for the imminent release of WWE 13 in 2012.