Since the start of the SmackDown series in 1999, THQ, Yuke’s and WWE have been slowly gaining a monopoly over the professional wrestling genre. Now after a second name change, they have released the 13th installment of the series, WWE ‘12.
The last three installments of the series, SmackDown vs. Raw 2009, 2010 and 2011 had fans claiming that the series has become stale. THQ and Yuke’s set out to completely revamp the core mechanics, promising that the next game will be “Bigger, badder, better.” WWE 12 was the result of that promise; and after my first exhibition match, I thought the promise was fulfilled. First thing I noticed was the AI is very aggressive compared to previous games where the AI characters would look confused some of the time. The game has become very challenging, without becoming frustrating, and finally gives an authentic experience of a real WWE match. However, I feel that the game favors brawling over wrestling moves, as a well-timed punch is enough to stop the opponents momentum dead.
Two new match features have been added; Wake-up taunt and Limb targeting. The Wake-up is a special taunt that makes a downed opponent stand up in a groggy state, allowing for a finisher move. I think the Wake-up taunt is a great addition and adds more ‘realism’ to the matches. Limb targeting is a special move set designed to target a certain body part of the opponent in order to wear him/her down and make it easier to achieve a submission victory. Also, if a particular limb is damaged to a certain point, it offers a unique benefit to the injured wrestler’s opponent; for example, if the legs have been damaged, the wrestler will begin to walk and run slower. The submission system has also been revamped to a tug-of-war style mechanic which is now referred to as a Breaking Point.
WWE Universe has returned and also received an upgrade. It is a mixture of career mode and exhibition mode. It follows the WWE event calendar and books matches which you could play or modify as you please. One of the main complaints about Universe last year was that it kept breaking up tag teams on a weekly basis. Fortunately, the new Universe is more passive towards the tag team division and has given me some excellent tag team feuds.
Universe’s match booking is good overall, reserving the special matches for special occasions, but my main complaint is that it keeps booking legendary wrestlers in matches on the weekly shows. Another added feature is the ability to modify current weekly shows into your own brand (Such as turning SmackDown into WCW Nitro) and allows you to change who can appear on a certain show and which championships can be defended. It’s a good feature if you want a dose of nostalgia.
A new feature that I love is the addition of the WWE draft in Universe which takes place during the week after Wrestlemania. Basically, it books matches between wrestlers from Raw and SmackDown respectively and the winning brand of a match has a random wrestler from the opposing brand join the winning brand. This helps to keep Universe fresh and exciting (as Universe mode never ends) by changing up the rosters. In my first draft in the game, both John Cena and CM Punk were drafted to SmackDown. I also really like the way it presents the draft event as the loading screen shows how the computer randomly runs through all the wrestlers of the opposing brand but it will not show the chosen wrestler once it’s done; instead, the loading screen will disappear and the chosen wrestler will perform his ring entrance; it just adds to the shock of having the main wrestlers jumping ship. Even though I love the draft, it could use some work because I have experienced on two occasions, that it double drafts superstars: first draft match of the night, Raw wins, Cena is drafted to Raw; final draft match of the night, SmackDown wins, Cena is drafted to SmackDown. It could be that it’s completely random but I find that unlikely considering that there are 30 other wrestlers available for draft and it seems that only high ranking wrestlers get drafted.
Besides all the features on Universe mode, the main goal was to make the players feel like they are watching a real WWE show. If you start the first match of the night, the opening pyro will be shown and after a few seconds of the camera showing the crowd, the first wrestler will make his entrance. You have the option to continue directly onto the next match without having to return the match card. Even though I like this feature, I do not like the fact that after all the matches of the night is done, it gives you no indication that it’s done and will be moving on to the next show. If the transition happens, it will not show you the match card for the night until you leave a match and it gives you no control over the events.
The ability of injuring wrestlers and to interfere in matches has also been added to Universe. Injuries are heavily tied to the Limb Targeting and breaking point systems. You can deliberately injure an opponent by using the Limb Targeting system by attacking the same body part repeatedly for an extended period of time. Injuries can also occur accidentally, especially after a long match. If a wrestler is injured, he/she will become unplayable in Universe while they are injured. Universe also gives a notification in its News section but it is not very specific; it basically says that <insert name here> is injured and it could be career ending (but it never is). Interference can only be done from the match card and it allows you to choose the wrestler who’ll interfere. Universe mode uses cut scenes to portray the events leading up to the interference such as the referee being knocked out. I find the interference option a good little tool to start rivalries, strengthen alliances and to perform a face/heel turn.
The roster is also very unique this year. Eddie Guerrero makes his in-game return to the virtual squared circle and the likes of Kevin Nash, Booker T and Brock Lesnar return as legends. The DLC superstars are just as impressive with the return of Mick Foley to the game and the late Macho Man Randy Savage debuting in the series.
The game’s story mode, Road to Wrestlemania, has also received a revamp. WWE ‘12’s RTWM is 18 months long (game months) compared to the RTWMs of previous years that were only 3 months. My main issue is with RTWM is that it seems that it doesn’t know from which perspective to tell the story from. During match sequences and most cut-scenes, it feels like it is treating you like a fan watching WWE programming at home, but some cut-scenes makes me feel that I’m seeing this from the wrestler’s perspective. In SmackDown vs. Raw 2011’s RTWM, you had the option to roam freely in the backstage area and have limited interactions with random wrestlers. It has been removed, sort of, as there are sequences that allow you to take direct control over your wrestler but it is not free roam, it’s more like: follow this guy down the hallway and you cannot go any other way. I find this pointless and a waste of time; they could’ve just made cut scenes to present the info given during these short walks. The matches in RTWM are very scenario based and it is very apparent in the six-man tag matches that happen early in the story. It mostly involves just beating down a certain opponent to activate a cut scene. Needless to say, I found Universe to be more exciting than RTWM.
Voice acting was never the best with any game in WWE ‘12’s franchise. The voice acting sometimes makes me cringe, especially when it comes to the wrestlers talking on microphones in the ring. In real WWE programming, the crowds are sometimes so loud that the wrestlers and performers have to shout in order to be heard, but in the game, it sounds like they filmed it without sound and the wrestlers just recorded their voices in a small studio. The in-game voice acting severely lacks the emotion of the real thing. Even some of the wrestlers didn’t do voice overs, such as Triple H; which forced Yuke’s to hire actors to do the wrestlers’ voice overs on their behalf; but it is obvious to most WWE fans. The voice acting that the player mostly encounters is the commentary and the ring announcers. The acting of the ring announcer has seriously been abused; the acoustics seem to change while the announcer is introducing wrestlers, going from the announcer standing next to you to the announcer standing in a large empty warehouse. The commentators are somewhat better at voice acting than the other characters, but I sometimes found them talking nonsense about the match.
Even though the plastic nature of the voice acting tarnishes the WWE experience, not all of the sound is bad. The impact of someone landing on the mat is the best in the series and no longer sounds like a door being slammed. The entrance music has also been modified to make it sound like it is actually playing in an arena. Though custom tracks are still ten times louder than any other sound in the game. Lots of original tracks have been added to the game for a wide array of gimmicks. One complaint I have is about the shows’ opening pyrotechnics as some of the effects sound like cheap firecrackers.
WWE ’12 is also very creator friendly. You can have a total of 50 custom created wrestlers, they can be almost anything like superheroes or characters from other games. A new feature has also been added: the ability to make a custom announcer call name which allows you to string up to 4 words together out of 500 for your created wrestler’s name. Even though the announcer is the only one who will say it; it is still an excellent improvement over what they had previous years. You are also allowed to create your own WWE storyline and watch it play out. A new creative feature this year is “create an arena”, but it is more like “create a ringside”. Create an arena allows you to make you own custom ring but you cannot change the shape of the ring nor the ramp or stage.
Graphics are still pretty similar to SmackDown vs. Raw 2011’s graphics but the wrestlers look less like plastic this year. The arenas also look larger but the stages are still on SVR11 par. They tried to make the wrestlers look as real as possible, even adding some of John Cena’s veins but they still look like the same character models that the ones you can find in most current sports games. Some of the wrestlers are also the incorrect size, such as Vladimir Kozlov who is much larger in the game than he is in real life.
What I dislike the most about this game is how it treats the size of the wrestlers. The sound of the 400 pound Mark Henry or 500 pound Big Show hitting the mat is no louder than a 200 pound wrestler hitting it. In addition, how the light weights can pick up bigger wrestlers with ease, even if they do it a little slower. The likes of the five foot and six inches Rey Mysterio will never be able to lift up the 270 pound Sheamus let alone the Big Show. The wrestlers also seem to magically hover in mid-air sometimes while a move is being executed.
I have heard about a hundred different glitches in this game but it seems to differ from disc to disc. The only glitches I’ve seen are barely noticeable or game breaking. My first glitch is that the announcer only pronounces the first word of a created wrestler's name after a match and the ring ropes sometimes freak out in the Royal Rumble. The ropes seem to magically go through a wrestler and the wrestler trips over invisible ropes when he is prone for elimination. Fortunately, the match still proceeds as normal besides the ghost ropes.
If you are familiar with current day WWE, almost nothing in this game will surprise you. Most wrestlers compete in trunks (which look a lot like briefs) and the women compete in revealing clothes, revealing lots of cleavage and some of their attire looks like swimwear or underwear. For some weird reason, the women’s bosoms bounce ‘unnaturally’ during their entrances; I find it to be a poor attempt by the developers to be cartoony. Jerry Lawler (one of the commentators) is also known for making dirty jokes when female wrestlers are involved in a match. The women also do sexualized actions, such as Kelly Kelly who slowly enters the ring in order to show off her posterior during her entrance. Create a wrestler also allows you to create characters who wear skimpy clothing and allow male wrestlers to wear clothing that are clearly meant for women.
Some of the characters can also be found disturbing. Undertaker is a morbid character who intimidates opponents by using lightning (pyrotechnics actually) and giving the impression that he is undead. Kane (Undertaker’s “fake” brother) is more hellish, coming out in a burst of flames and makes many references to the devil, demons and hell (Undertaker is also somewhat guilty) and one of Kane’s fan signs read “Devil’s favorite demon” with an arrow pointing to the fan. Randy Orton also uses a gimmick that looks like he needs an exorcist, giving this impression of a sadistic lunatic. Cody Rhodes and Kharma (DLC) also have dark gimmicks but I don’t find them offensive. Triple H is also referred to as the King of kings (He even has a theme song for it) but the name is more meant to signify that he has defeated the best in the company for the past 15 years. There are lots of images of skulls with Triple H, Randy Orton and Stone Cold. In create a wrestler, you can easily make a demonic character and there are original tracks for such characters. Even though WWE ’12 is guilty of all of this, there is some good, for just as easily that you can create a demon character, you can also create an angelic character. Randy Orton has a bible verse tattooed to his elbow (I don’t think it can be read in the game); even though Orton has the lunatic gimmick, the verse is more as a reference to who he is as the real life person rather than the wrestler. Rey Mysterio has a cross on his mask and a prayer from a fan tattooed on his side. Michelle McCool also incorporates crosses, with one on each boot and one on her back, but she is usually a heel character. This is again a reflection of the real person rather than the wrestler. I can still imagine that someone can see McCool’s attitude as portraying Christians in a negative light, though it is well known that wrestling is akin to acting.
This is a fighting game, it is obvious there is a lot of violence. Cut scenes involve people being run over by cars, doors closing on people’s heads and being thrown off of the stage. One match known as the Inferno match involves setting your opponent on fire to obtain victory, and the ring can be surrounded by flames. People can be hit with steel chairs, ladders, sledgehammers, mops etc. and they can be thrown through tables. A cut scene also involves choke slamming someone “to hell”. Blood is optional and only the men can bleed. They can only bleed from their faces. Blood is off by default. I find that the wrestlers start to bleed a little too easily by using normal moves. Blood drips on to the ring mat but disappears after a few moments. The female wrestlers are incapable of competing against the men. The mixed tag match is the only match that allows both men and women to compete in the same match, but if a character strikes a member of the opposite gender, by accident or otherwise, the referee will disqualify that character’s team. The burnings in Inferno matches are not very realistic; the wrestler is quickly extinguished and shows no damage from being burned.
Language abuse is mild. A match and a pay per view event share the name of “Hell in a cell”. The commentators use the Lord’s name in vain, normally in reaction to a damaging move. One of the call name options is “God”. Stone cold is also known for giving his opponents the finger.
If you have your heart set on a wrestling game, WWE ’12 is almost your only choice. For those who have played the series before but were disheartened by the poor performance of WWE ‘12’s predecessors, you might want to consider having a look at WWE ’12. I don't think that anybody who doesn't watch WWE will buy this game but I played the games before I started to watch WWE. If you are unfamiliar with WWE, I suggest that you watch a few WWE shows before buying this game.