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For years THQ has been the unquestioned King of the Ring when it comes to wrestling games. On top of recent casual successes like WWE All-Stars, the SmackDown series that began on the PSOne had remained the top wrestling franchise, and that was true for last year's SmackDown vs Raw 2011. Yet now the publisher is ditching the dynasty and starting over with the simplified title WWE '12. Is this really a brand new day for the hardcore franchise, or is this just a new paint job on last year’s model?
Before we sat down to play the title, the reps for the game really wanted to hammer home their new slogan for the title: Bigger, Badder, Better. “Bigger” because it's the most feature rich WWE game to date, “Badder” because the action has been beefed up substantially, and “Better” because, duh, the team has made a boatload of improvements. While we're innately a little skeptical when marketing speak is pushed at as us this way, they made a good case.
"Bigger" refers to the huge amount of features WWE '12 has. From the modes they listed, it seems like the title will inherit much from SmackDown. There are over 80 different match variations, a 12 hour (by their estimation) campaign we're betting is the continuation of Road to Wrestlemania, and an updated Universe Mode, along with a deep roster. Sadly THQ was short on the single player details, holding back those details for another day.
WWE '12 also seems to inherit SmackDown's incredibly rich creation tools, which is great, as developer Yuke's has over time built one of the deepest character creators of all time. Joining the character, finisher, and storyline creator tools this year is create-an-arena, a long desired tool for hardcore fans. Examples given for what you can make included rings and announce tables styled after John Cena and DX, the old WCW Nitro set, even a grass lined soccer pitch. And the well established online community for sharing all that fan content is returning too.
After hearing those details, we were happy that new series wasn't ditching what SmackDown took over a decade to build so carefully, but so far this all sounds like another SmackDown game. Though if you asked WWE fans, they'd probably mention that it wasn't the features they were really fatigued by, but the core gameplay within. Since switching years ago to a different grappling scheme and other changes in how momentum and finishers work, many have been waiting for a better update, something WWE '12 hopes to provide.
First off, grappling is back to a single button command just like strikes, though you move the right stick to specify the attack. Even if strikes looked fairly unchanged, your attacks now can focus on a certain limb if you want to work for a submission, which has also been overhauled. Currently it focuses on the "Breaking Point," as each sub attempt is a battle of wills; plus the sub victim can either fight it via button mash or (a first for a THQ wrestlers) you can try to reach for a nearby ring rope and get a rope break.
Similarly updated, and perhaps the greatest improvement we saw in our time with it, was match pacing. Everything moves much faster, most importantly with how quick someone gets up after getting hit. It's a difference of only a matter of seconds, which can feel like an eternity in a close match. No longer do you have to frustratingly wait for your groggy grappler to at last get up so you can try and turn the tide.
A similar streamlining and speeding up happened to the momentum meter, and by association the Signatures and Finishers. One of the most frustrating parts of SmackDown was the seesaw battle of momentum/spirit/whatever in the match, as once it got low enough things seemed pretty hopeless. Now your momentum can only increase; one fighter might get a Signature sooner than another, but you never lose progress towards your special attacks, again making the matches move so much faster. An exchange can still change on a dime as the reversal system is pretty much the same, though the movements are much more fluid with the new engine.
The devs focused on other responses to fan feedback: many wrestlers now have a wake-up taunt, meaning you can now, as Randy Orton for example, enter your predatory taunt, watch your unsteady opponent rise and run right into an RKO if you’ve got a finisher locked in. Similarly, the devs responded to complaints that the hardest difficulty wasn’t tough enough, so the team says it has been beefed up accordingly. Overall the game makers seem really focused on fixing the engine on this car while keeping all the extras, like air-conditioning and Hell in the Cell, in place.
Above: The game’s producers take us through a Cena/Punk match
From our time playing the game, things were definitely much faster, and we really appreciated the quicker pace, though the new control scheme, especially the grapples, took a little getting used to. We can also attest that the character models look better than ever, as we saw every tattoo on CMPunk clearly and John Cena was looking his Fruity Pebbles best. Plus we loved hearing CMPunk’s recently updated entrance music, 90s hit Cult of Personality, added to the demo build. We’re still curious just how much this will truly change THQ’s wrestling style, but it seems to moving in the right direction. Look out for the game November 22.
Aug 17, 2011
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