The Yukes developed product just got hit with a Rock Bottom.
After WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011, I knew that in order for this wrestling franchise to take any steps forward in the gaming realm, a complete reboot would have been needed. Yukes went to the well once too many times in recent years, and it began to show, with recycled commentary from years ago, reused animations from the 2008 installment, and so on. While it wasn’t a skull crushing finale, WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 was a last ride that was worth taking nonetheless. Yukes laid to rest the pedigree of the Smackdown vs Raw name and rebranded its wrestling video game franchise as WWE ’12. What I’d like to know however, is “what changed?”
Many of the lazily approached aspects from the last half decade, have returned with flying colors. The shortcuts in utilizing animations from several years ago, especially when they are not very faithful to the real life counterparts? They’re back with a vengeance. CM Punk taking baby steps up the turnbuckles, same exact animations from the previous years with no real refinement or adjustments to make them seem either brand new or authentic to the source material. A few animations have changed sure, but for the worse. Win a match with the Undertaker for instance. Last year was a well represented replication of his mannerisms after a victory, with the pose and tongue sticking out. In WWE ’12 though, not only was it completely changed, but made into a pose that makes me wonder whether the motion capture person was having some kind of fit, and the artists just ran with it out of lazy convenience. I’m not looking for a perfect 1:1 on every minute detail, costume, entrance and freckle on each superstar, but when you’re constantly dipping back to the same flawed animations and adding in some unintentionally hilarious one when they were already more than functional, it says something about how yearly installments should start becoming bi-yearly.
WWE ’12 seems to have a but of a simplification to character models as well. There are a few wrestlers who look dead on accurate, such as The Undertaker, Kane and this years cover athlete Randy Orton. Every single aspect to their models look fantastic, from the morbid sleeves on Randy Orton’s arms, to Kane’s oddly shaved head. But with the few notable character models excelling across the board, most other model fails to achieve such authenticity. CM Punk’s tattoos are all represented (the ones that have no copyright infringements at least) and are detailed to the nth degree, yet his head lacks that careful attention. Oftentimes he looks like a cartoon character when making facial gestures, where as Randy Orton looks as realistic as possible, The mid card talent suffer as well, with Husky Harris, Mason Ryan and Evan Bourne all lacking in facial detail. Some of the Legends added into this years releases, especially Brock Lesnar and Arn Anderson, were replicated with a commendable success, while DLC grapplers like Shawn Michaels, who was in last years release, look like a poorly constructed Create a Wrestler.
The previous two years have introduced players to a quasi-training room right off the bat, enabling new players and veterans alike to practice a few moves and situate themselves with the games mechanics before jumping into the ring against an opponent that will fight back. WWE ’12 removed this feature and, while it might not seem like a significant loss, it does coincide with the frustrations of yet another change up with the control scheme. Analog grappling has been moved back over to face button gameplay, and it seems like there’s even less variety per superstar, even though there’s about the same when compared to last years. Reversals have become a literal roll of the dice. Press RT too early and nothing happens. Press RT when it’s the right time and nothing happens. Press RT when it’s too late and nothing happens. Occasionally pressing it too early or on time will grant a reversal, but sometimes a reversal can be completed when there is no notification about one. It’s the absolute most asinine counter system I have seen in years, and leads to some of the most infuriating moments, even at the default difficulty settings.
Reversal woes are only a minute problem with WWE ’12 when one heads over to the Road to Wrestlemania mode. Yukes went all out this year in their attempts to replicate the atmosphere and reality of a typical WWE show, which compared to how the product has been holding up the last year, is not a compliment whatsoever. There’s a distinct lack of wrestling throughout each of the three storylines that players can participate in. Instead, a lot of poorly acted dialog, scripted segments and illogical finishes infest about every second of this mode. For example — the players goal might be to defeat a certain superstar in a one on one match inside the ring. Signature and finishing moves can be done, but a pinfall cannot be be initiated. Instead, the opponent has to be weakened enough to have the Y button glow above their head, which initiates a cutscene that goes on for too long, displaying the finish and advancement of the story. It becomes even more obnoxious when a fight takes place backstage, and the CPU opponent counters every move thrown at them, and players cannot time a counter properly to halt their momentum. Even when the upper hand is gained over the CPU, the Y button notification is the only way to complete the segment, yet if the positioning is wrong, hitting the button will heave the opponent towards the wrong direction multiple times, forcing a repositioning, opening the players to a counterattack that ends up costing them the fight. Between the reversal failures and the fact that many of the matches have to end with a cutscene initiated button press, this Road to Wrestlemania is one that should have been closed off completely.
Once again the audio completely fails to capture the proper atmosphere of a WWE product. Commentary, like a large number of animations, has been recycled from years past, with a few new lines thrown in here and there. While Yukes does an admirable job in portraying Michael Cole as an annoying heel commentator, Yukes did an admirable job portraying Michael Cole as a heel commentator. Thankfully it’s only during the opening segments where this annoyance is prevalent, but along with the repetition and inability to keep pace with the action in the ring, it actually makes me long for the days of generic rock music and absent commentary from older wrestling titles, such as WWF Smackdown! and WWF Wrestlemania 2000. Oddly enough, during the Road to Wrestlemania, the scripted commentary to go with the pre-programed portions sound lively, and almost natural. A shame the actual in match commentary is as bad as it gets.
A neat little return that managed to make its way into WWE ’12 is a Create an Area feature. Players can design their own custom logos as well, and utilize them through their own arena, from the centerpiece of the mat, to atop of the announcers table. Ring ropes, aprons, even the protective padding around the ring can be changed to a myriad of different colors. Along with the classic arenas already built in, such as the WCW Nitro set, Clash of the Champions and Starcade arenas, a crafty player can replicate the feeling of a number of classic arenas from wrestling past, or at least a re-imagining. Every other creation feature that has been returning year after year remains as familiar as possible, though Create a Title is still sorely missed. At least Yukes did go out of their way and include a plethora of WWF, WCW, ECW and WWE titles from throughout history. The number of titles that can be set or disabled feels almost as plentiful as a late 80’s/early 90’s NWA card, which I swear featured titles like the “Mid South Six Man Tag on Tuesday’s After 4PM” straps.
The lingering issue of consistency in following a wrestlers gimmick and entrance theme has escaped Yukes’ grasps once again. How Yukes managed to get Cult of Personality the green light (which debuted during the summer) yet Husky Harris has Mason Ryan’s theme is an unknown phenomenon. A couple of themes are missing, but that’s more likely due to copyright issues (such as Johnny Cash’s Ain’t No Grave piece that The Undertaker had come out to for a couple of months.) Custom soundtracks are back again, and it helps immensely with creating the proper atmosphere for certain wrestlers. Removing Flight of the Valkyrie as Daniel Bryan’s entrance theme and replacing it with his Ring of Honor entrance theme of The Final Countdown by Europe, along with adjusting his entrance to coincide with his new theme, can still produce quite a bit of satisfaction. But there’s a rather head scratching flaw — using a superstar with a custom entrance theme will prompt the theme to play through the instant replay, but then it shuts off completely when the action comes back to the ring and shows the wrestlers victory poses and such. Disabling post match highlights will fix this, but that shouldn’t even be needed.
So many small blemishes throughout WWE ’12 begin to add up, and the end result turns into a Sin Cara-like botched effort. WWE ’12 isn’t a rebranding or a reboot by any stretch of the imagination — it’s a mix of half decade old ideas, several year old animations, a few year old commentary and fresh concepts that end up turning into backwards thinking concepts. I was hoping that WWE ’12 would be the launchpad to a fresh concept and way of playing wrestling video games, but instead, it’s making me wish the yearly franchise can take a vicious GTS for a couple of years and return with a proper rebranding and reboot. Not a bad rental, but you might be better off if you veer off this road to Wrestlemania and detour back to WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 for a little longer.
*NOTE: Online has not worked for me whatsoever outside CAW Community Downloads (which has experienced disconnections 85% of the time), so this review is based strictly upon offline gameplay. If anything substantial is gained through the online portion, this review will be updated accordingly.