WWE '12 review
WWE Love It? Not quite, but getting there

The good:

- Creation mode the most in-depth of any franchise
- Predator technology works well
- Reversals have been adjusted to a more sensible level
- Presentation is flawless
- Graphics are marginally improved
- The ability to store finishers is a very welcome addition

The bad:

- Online is a disaster
- AI is still completely stupid
- RTW is very weak
- Havok Physics and weaponry in general is badly utilised
- Breaking Point submissions a pointless and unwelcome change
- Auto-targeting remains awful


Before beginning this review, it would be prudent to offer a quick history lesson.

The Smackdown franchise was once a stable and respected part of the yearly videogame calendar, earning critical plaudits and fan accollades. Generally speaking, the series was believed to have reached it's zenith with the 2003 release of Here Comes The Pain. After that, a failure to properly take advantage of next-gen technology, coupled with an increasing number of seemingly pointless gameplay alterations, led to the franchise becoming marked as one for 'fans only'. Smackdown became dull, lifeless and needlessly complicated; it was quite the turn-around for a franchise that was once hailed for it's joyful simplicity.

WWE '12 aims to change all of that. Ditching the 'Smackdown vs. RAW' name, which had been with the franchise since 2004, was a bold statement, indicating that it was time for a fresh new direction. But how much has really changed? Is WWE '12 everything the fans have been asking for?

The answer is both yes and no. In many ways, WWE 12 reinvigorates the franchise with a number of minor but welcome gameplay tweaks, while improving the unparallelled creation suite. Yet many of the same issues still remain, leaving WWE '12 feeling more like the Emperor's New Clothes than a whole new Emperor.

Let's start with the good. The highlight of WWE '12 is undoubtedly creation. Your ability to create characters and movesets remains present and as dashingly brilliant as always, although once more, the number of options available has actually decreased since Here Comes The Pain. Some of the fantastic animations that were created for HCTP were simply never transferred to next-gen titles, and unfortunately nothing came up to replace them. Now, that isn't to say WWE '12 is short on options - it still has more than you can shake a stick at - but it still feels a little bit of a step backwards at times.

However, WWE '12 more than makes up for this with the sheer scale of what can be created and customised. Sure, HCTP may have allowed you to create taunts and fighting stances; but WWE '12 offers a simply brilliant create-an-entrance mode. As well as this, create-a-storyline is back, allowing you to be as crazy as you like; the loading times are a pain, but if you can contend with them, you can have a lot of fun with this mode. Create-a-finisher remains excellent and hilariously improbable in equal measure, allowing for some truly bizarre and gravity defying top rope moves in particular. New to the series is the 'Custom Entrance Video', which creates an entrance video based on a particular theme for your create-a-wrestler. The technology behind this is incredible, and with this video one finally feels that the developers are making full use of next-gen technology. The other new creation mode is Create-An-Arena; this offers a whole host of options for the ring, barrier etc., making it a breeze to create your favourite arenas. The only problem with this, however, is that the ramp, Titantron and staging areas cannot be edited, meaning that create-an-arena is a bit of a false coinage, as all you are really doing is creating a ring and the surrounding area.

Another major edition to the franchise is the so-called Predator Technology. This allows any moves to be broken up by another player, and also allows for more fluid transitions of momentum, taking much longer for you to wear an opponent down. 30 second squash matches are a thing of the past. This technology works well and makes the game play more like an actual wrestling match, with proper swings of momentum and stamina rather than the false dichotomy created by the last entries in the Smackdown vs. RAW series.

Other gameplay alterations include reversals, which are now harder to pull off, and the return of the stored finishers ability. The ring-escape function, which was the bane of last year's entry, has mercifully been adjusted to only three uses per match.

The quality of presentation is very high overall. Entrances, theme music and character likenesses are all much improved. The menu system has been simplified, with the WWE Universe separated from the Play (formerly 'Exhibition' mode. Speaking of the WWE Universe, it works much the same way as before; no real storylines which make any sense whatsoever, just a seemingly neverending number of run-ins and pointless cutscenes, but if you enjoy altering the WWE Universe to have the champions and feuds you think it should, then this mode offers you the chance to do so.

However, WWE '12 unfortunately lets itself down with a number of gameplay problems. Let's start with online.

The possibilities for online in a wrestling title are infinite. Feuds, storylines, PPVs, championships, tag teams, different shows...in comparison to what could be done, WWE '12 is nothing short of a disaster. The servers are unavailable and slow to respond more often than they are working. The online matches are often lag-ridden and offer no real incentive to compete beyond increasing your own personal prestige. Got a mic? Great, you can use it! Want to mute someone else? Er...you can't. Small things like this go a long way to making an online experience worthwhile, and judging by the practically empty servers, the online experience in WWE '12 is as worthless now as it has been since it first debuted way back in 2004. Admittedly, the ability to share all your creations online is fantastic and simple to use. The problem, of course, is that the servers are down so often that it makes it nigh-on impossible to custom search. You simply cannot forgive that.

The new Road To Wrestlemania mode is about as on-the-rails as a WWE title has ever been. Play as Sheamus, Triple H and created-wrestler Jacob Cass (ironically voiced by TNA's Austin Aries) in a generic storyline that never really offers you any choices at all. On one hand, this allows the presentation of the RTWM be better than ever before, but on the other hand, it becomes a tremendously dull experience.

However, I could forgive these things, all of them, if the same damn problems didn't still exist. In the very first Smackdown game, released nearly 12 years ago, you would knock yourself out if you attempted a diving move and your opponent was lying on their front instead of their back. 12 years later, and there is still no way to perform a diving move without knocking yourself out if your opponent is lying on their front. Why should a frog-splash connect if you land on their stomach but not if you land on their spine? That is simply inexcusable, lazy programming.

And it doesn't end there. In the catalog of Smackdown problems, hit detection and the AI were near the top of the hit-list. Yes, every year THQ promise us miraculous AI intelligence, and every year they may change one aspect about the AI. But the fact remains that the AI is thicker than custard pie mixed with superglue. They will pick up weapons, set them down, pick them up again, turn around and set them down. They'll grapple you, and then let you go. They'll get into fights in tag matches and get themselves counted out. They'll stand idly by in ladder matches, totally unable to stop anyone else from grabbing the briefcase. Ramping up the difficulty level does not make the AI any more aggressive or intelligent, but merely gives them a sixth sense, allowing them to counter virtually every move you make. I could go on and on all day, but I won't. All you need to know is that the AI is as stupid as ever, and if you want to have a genuinely competitive match, grab a friend.

Last year's introduction of Havok Physics all but saved SvR 2011 from being a totally pointless entry into the franchise, but very few improvements have been made to it this year. While last year, moves seemed to connect with weapons readily, this year it seems you need to precisely target it like a thermal-imaging rocket for it to work. This, of course, is made more difficult by the removal of the Ultimate Control moves from the game. Putting someone actually on a table is ludicrously frustrating, as you can no longer whip them on to it, oh no, instead you need to actually grapple them while holding the table, a move that defies any logical sense and takes so long to do that you might as well make a cup of tea while you're waiting. The ultimate insult, an unforgivable insult, is that TLC matches no longer respawn tables. Once you've used two, that's it. There have been more tables trashed in nearly every TLC match in history than you can trash in a single match in WWE '12.

Auto-targeting remains a pain. Sure, it works great when you're on the mat or standing, but as soon as you introduce diving moves into the equation, your character becomes a pinball in between two magnets, altering their flight trajectory to attack whoever comes nearest instead of whoever they were originally aiming at. It takes so much of the fun out of diving moves and it is bizarre why the auto-targeting system should behave in such a way.

Lastly, the introduction of Breaking Point submissions, a new feature in WWE '12, is not a welcome one at all. Forget about any sort of strategic timing to get out of submissions, like you get out of pins. Instead, it's all about button mashing. And unless you have the speed of superman to tap buttons faster than the speed of light, as soon as your body parts are damaged enough, you will tap-out. Such is the ease with which these submissions work, you'll find any online matches you play - presuming the servers ever work - will end with a cheap submission victory.

In conclusion, WWE '12 may very well be the best wrestling game since HCTP. However, that says far more about the dreadful state of wrestling games since then than it does about the qualities of WWE '12. For every positive of WWE '12, there is a negative, and the frustrating thing is that some of these problems have been in every single Smackdown title, and simply never addressed. A name change alone does not reinvent a franchise, and so for WWE '13, THQ and Yukes need to think carefully about where they go from here, lest we all end up back at square one. As a multiplayer game (offline only), WWE '12 offers a lot of laughs, challenge and fun, and for that alone, I can recommend it. However, do not be fooled into thinking that the franchise has been reborn - because, much like the current WWE product, there is still a lot of work left to be done.

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