WWE '12 preview: hands-on with Road to WrestleMania and WWE Universe

WWE SmackDown vs Raw is no more, and in its place is the new and easy to remember title WWE '12. After years of dominating the world of wrestling games, THQ is out to make a fresh start, though the publisher and the Yuke's development team aren't forgetting what made SmackDown so huge. Not too long ago we saw the gameplay tweaks and creation suite updates, and now we've seen the single player offerings. Fan favorite modes Road to WrestleMania and WWE Universe are back, but just how much have they changed for this new era?

Ever since Road to WrestleMania was introduced in SmackDown vs. Raw 2009, we've been big fans of the dedicated campaign mode and its stories worthy of appearing on actual episodes of Raw. Over the years RtWM has focused on stars as diverse as CM Punk, Shawn Michaels, even the Divas, but the biggest shake up this year is how complete a story it is. There are three separate campaigns with one leading directly to the other, the overall story spanning a much longer period of time than the mere months between Royal Rumble and WrestleMania.

The mode begins with John Cena getting ready for a match against The Undertaker as you walk with the unbeatable hero to the ring. Then out of nowhere Cena is jumped by Sheamus and you realize Cena isn't the star of this mode, it's the Great White Irishman of the WWE that‘s taking the spotlight. It was a pleasant surprise to see the devs taking a break from Cena and giving a shot to the greatest Ginger in WWE history.

As his story continues, the plot plays up to Sheamus' background, as he forms a stable with other stars from across the pond. Sheamus builds a team with William Regal, Drew McIntyre and Wade Barret to form a United Kingdom of villains. Soon they’re dominating the entire WWE, snatching all the titles from the promotion. At the demo event for this preview, we met with Sheamus in person and he mentioned that the plot is similar to one he and the Brits tried to start up in the real promotion but it never got going, so it’s nice to see the story find a place in WWE ‘12.

Eventually group turmoil disrupts the stable as Wade Barret challenges Sheamus for dominance and they ultimately square off in a match for all the gold. As you can see from the shot above Sheamus ends it in a dramatic fashion by throwing Barret into a spotlight, seemingly killing the Englishman. That’s when we found out how the second of the three Road to WrestleMania modes starts, as Sheamus’ Villain campaign leads immediately into the Outsider campaign featuring Triple H.

Hunter’s plot revolves around him making one more play for the championship, trying to top Ric Flair’s record for most world title victories. HHH is out to dominate like never before, but he also has no friends backing him up this time, which leads the story to some strange places. At one point he battles Rated-R Superstar Edge, which shows how WWE games can sometimes beat the real thing, as Edge retired very suddenly and permanently due to health issues earlier this year, something fans can (temporarily) ignore in WWE ‘12.

Once Triple H’s tale is over the focus moves pretty suddenly into the final third of Road to WrestleMania, the hero campaign. Though we wondered just who the hero would be (Daniel Bryan? Cover star Randy Orton?), THQ instead is giving us the first ever full Road to WrestleMania storyline that stars a created wrestler. You make the character at the start of the mode, and in the cutscenes he goes by the nickname Cass (shorthand for Create-A-Superstar mode), as you follow his trip to the top.

Your created wrestler begins his career on Raw as the winner of WWE’s up-and-coming talent competition NXT and immediately gets into a feud with fellow NXT star Husky Harris. Later on it involves the addition of Kevin Nash, as Big Sexy has become the General Manager of Raw in the storyline. Despite the main character of this section being “made up,” the final third of Road to WrestleMania still emphasizes the mode’s more cinematic qualities.

Overall Road to WrestleMania didn’t look all that reinvented, but instead further refined. We aren’t complaining, as the mode has been a continual favorite of ours since its creation years ago. The devs promise 10 to 12 hours of gameplay in that RtWM alone, which would be a pretty good chunk of time by itself in most games, but WWE titles are nothing if not over brimming with content.

Another example of the huge amount of game that WWE ’12 boasts is the improved WWE Universe mode, aka career mode, as you can play through years worth of simulated WWE events. Universe 2.0 as they call it aims to be more open than years past, with more options and variables than ever before.

First off you aren’t limited to WWE show schedules, as you can create your own shows to perform on. You can switch between what wrestlers you play as at any time along with a superstar‘s friends and rivals, and a wrestlers win/loss record matters more than ever for their progress to challenging a title holder. Also the devs wanted a more focused experience with less random stuff popping up in storylines, hopefully meaning it’ll make more sense as you’re playing it. But that doesn’t mean unpredictable moments don’t happen, as Brock Lesnar made his shocking in-game return to WWE in the Universe mode that was being demoed to us.

Altogether the single player offering in WWE ‘12 look more substantial than ever, which is great news for those who aren’t as into the title’s wide array of online and offline multiplayer. We still aren’t completely convinced this is the full-on reboot that the name change signifies to some, but we like what we’re seeing in the improvements to classic modes. The game hits stores November 22, so keep an eye out for any new info we get on the title between now and the review. Long-time wrestling fans especially will be pleasantly surprised to see what THQ has in store for the title.

Oct 19, 2011

Henry Gilbert

Henry Gilbert is a former GamesRadar+ Editor, having spent seven years at the site helping to navigate our readers through the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation. Henry is now following another passion of his besides video games, working as the producer and podcast cohost of the popular Talking Simpsons and What a Cartoon podcasts.