WWE ‘12 follows up on last year’s Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 entry by adding some new features that genuinely improve the gameplay, along with control changes that hurt in some ways, and a massive downgrade in last year’s debuting features that made it the biggest pure leap in quality for the series in a long time. Object interaction is very spotty, and a slew of glitches and other little problems have been added. This makes the final product seem more than a little rushed and inferior to past entries in the series in many ways.
The biggest and most immediate change to the gameplay is that the right stick no longer controls your offensive attacks - instead, it now controls shifting your opponent into positions for offensive attacks. So instead of using the right stick to do light moves and then using a trigger button to go into another move setup position, you now just press a direction on the left stick and A to open up one set of moves, and then move the right stick to transition between each position and the set of moves assigned to it. This works pretty well for the main grappling, but gets a little weird outside of it. For example, to do a superplex before, you’d just click the right stick up and then in any direction to do the move. Now, you have to get your opponent into the buckle (now possible via just strikes, which is nice), and click the right stick up, then use the A button or A and a left stick movement to do the move. It’s a little thing, but it does result in the moves taking more time to do. Things don’t flow quite as easily as they did before, and it definitely doesn’t feel as natural as just moving the stick twice to do a move.
I thought last year’s game was one of the few in the series to really handle selling well. As far as animations went, nearly everything looked realistic, and opponents stayed down for a realistic amount of time. Sadly, some of the more ridiculous selling animations are back, and no-selling is worse than ever before. It really creeps its head in ladder matches; you can throw someone off the top of a ladder in the ring to the floor and they can be up in a second - if that, actually. It’s not uncommon to have someone just get up immediately and just hold their heads briefly. It’s like Road Runner cartoon logic, but in the confines of something that is at least supposed to simulate reality in some way, it comes off as ridiculous.
However, there are some changes that make this one of the best overall wrestling sim in the series when the selling actually works as it should. One of them is the smoother pick-up animations, which are far more realistic and fluid than the ones before. Counters also look better than ever, although they’re harder to do because of less forgiving timing, so be sure to master that skill fast or else you’ll be toast in matches with three or more people. The new comeback feature is nice, replicates the real-life ones of guys like HHH, Danielson, and HBK, and operates as a mid-match QTE when you take a lot of damage, although I wish there were more than just the half-dozen or so comebacks featured.
The biggest pure addition to the gameplay is the new limb-targeting system. It involves grappling your foe and then using either RB or R1 to go into limb damaging mode and then hit whichever button corresponds with the limb you’d like to trounce. It’s even made available on the ground by pressing the same shoulder button and A while next to the limb, which opens up far more possibilities for trying to win via submission. It’s easily the best new addition to the gameplay and makes playing as a submission wrestler like Danielson, Regal, or Alberto far more fun than it would be otherwise since you can pick apart limbs faster without using up a move set slot. There’s a risk-reward system in place here too since you can do faster damage, but if you pick the wrong limb to work on, you’ll get countered and have to either counter it back or take damage. It adds a nice bit of strategy without making things too complex.
The slight change to the finisher system does that as well, but in a different way. Now, if you counter a finisher, you’ll have a finisher made available to you. Of course, if you go for one and it gets countered, then your opponent will have a huge advantage. Now, you really have to use your finishers carefully and can’t just have a rinse and repeat attitude with them like you could before. Countering is less forgiving here too, adding more drama to finishers, and making their reversals more rewarding.
Another major change lies in the use of holding a button to do running or Irish whip-based moves. This setup worked fine in Aki’s games on the N64, which actually allowed up to four of these moves (outside of only having one running grapple) instead of just two, but really comes off terribly here - especially with regards to running moves. It’s easy to do one of the two moves available, but holding the button down requires a seriously hard button press, which is annoying, as are the constant collisions that occur while trying to do a running move. Fortunately, the new running springboard moves do work well and allow high-flyers with a lot of offense to have yet another big move in their arsenal - a must for Sin Cara and Rey Mysterio who have multiple springboard moves they do regularly. I also prefer the new button-mashing submission system to the old hold the right stick one, in part because they animated more moves to actually get a submission, although sadly, HBK’s figure four variant, the Fujiwara armbar, and the Haas of Pain still don’t allow you to actually submit anyone. Still, it feels more rewarding to earn a submission by tapping a button than it does to hold a stick - being able to get to the rope using the same method is nice, but nothing revolutionary since both the Toukon Retsuden and Day of Reckoning series did it before.
Sadly, the incredibly fun object interaction system from last year’s game has been neutered - badly. You can still do moves on things…kind of, but the animations for doing a back suplex on a chair or a ladder, or a backdrop on the steel steps are nowhere near as painful-looking. And half the time, the objects now just move out of the way or you‘ll do moves over the object where they‘ll connect on an invisible object above the object you‘re aiming for. It’s a real shame too since that was one feature that truly was an improvement for the series and one that felt like how things SHOULD have always been. It allowed you to have some great stunt bumps and one of the things I was most looking forward to doing in this game was having Vader vs. Mick Foley in some incredible hardcore matches with some of the bumps that were both clearly crafted after what he’d done - like the flip over the steel steps or throw off the top of the cell, to things that would be perfect for him in the case of the fall off an apron clothesline spot that had some real weight to it before, and was re-animated terribly to the point where it has no impact now and goes by so quickly that it‘s hard to even tell it‘s a clothesline - I thought it was a shoulder block until I went through move sets and saw that it was supposed to be a clothesline. I’m really baffled as to how the first attempt to do all this stuff would wind up so much better than it is now.
Unlike prior games, this year’s Road to WrestleMania mode doesn’t give you a handful of short, but good stories to play through. Instead, you get multiple stories that all start off where the prior one ends. It’s a different way to do things, but I didn’t like it anywhere near as much as prior Road to WM modes. Those gave you a short story, which was usually pretty good and if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t take too long to finish up so there wasn’t much time lost to it and you usually got something neat for getting through it. Now, the stories are far too long, aren’t compelling, and the voice acting is still largely terrible - although there are some standout performances by “Double A” Arn Anderson, “A Double” Austin Aries as fictional protagonist Jabob Cass, and William Regal; most others are phoned in at best.
There’s also far too much reliance on backstage brawling in this mode. It seems like every other encounter in RtWM involves fighting backstage and/or beating someone to the right of a vending machine. If it was good that would be tolerable, but it’s terrible because backstage brawling has regressed so much and you ALWAYS see this stuff pop up. There are three stories to play through and each takes a long time to beat - these aren’t quick “play for 2-3 hours and you’re done” stories, oh no, these will take you a good 2-3 days of regular, lengthy play sessions to beat. And that means you’ll be seeing a LOT of brawls.
It would be one thing if these were good, but they’re not. By the standards of the series, they’re terribly limited. Now, you can’t use the actual stage to your advantage, or do a variety of things with vehicles in a parking lot. Things have gone from riding a motorcycle and dragging opponents, or throwing people into a fuse box or off of semi trucks to mostly just being able to ram someone’s back against steel boxes and awkwardly use a limited generic moveset consisting of back rakes and European uppercuts. Even the first game let you not only use every move in your arsenal, but also knock guys into walls and cause objects to fall - there’s less interaction now than there’s ever been and it seems absurd given that it‘s being outclassed by a PS1 game in that regard. It makes the Road to WrestleMania stories a chore since these sections are there all the time, aren’t fun in the slightest, and usually pit you against multiple foes, which is a huge problem since manual targeting is once-again absent.
The lack of targeting makes triple threat, four way, 6-man matches like Money in the Bank and the Elimination Chamber, and tag matches harder than they should be. The game isn’t helped by the new-to-the-series feature of mid-move interruptions, or the new requirement of in-ring double team moves requiring you to target the opponent. Since that can‘t be done manually, double team moves are more reliant on luck than anything else. Most of the time, you’ll try to do one, and wind up interrupting whatever grapple was being done to your opponent instead of a double team move - it’s incredibly annoying. It’s also impossible to single out one foe to attack in handicap matches, which makes those more difficult than they need to be, and makes Money in the Bank matches nearly impossible.
The interruption of moves can be done well, but comes off terribly here. Fire Pro Wrestling and WWE Day of Reckoning series fans will be familiar with the concept, which has to be done in just the right way to avoid breaking the game, which is unfortunately what happens here since pretty much any kind of contact can break a move up, instead of just something like a punch to the gut breaking up a suplex. Now you can have a simple grapple attempt completely break something up mid-move and then have everyone act like nothing happened. It’s quite awkward, and yet fits in nicely with the many glitches, like having your opponent levitate above the ring or start running towards the rope in a Royal Rumble and just never stop - resulting in an elimination.
There’s also the constant issue of move removal hurting the series, which plagues it once again now. Not only have some moves been removed, but a lot of moves that were taken out in years past haven’t been brought back - meaning that the returns of Brock Lesnar, Kevin Nash, and Booker T in the game is hurt by many of their moves not being included. The complete removal of the UCM moves hurts the overall game quite a bit as well. It was the only way to do a proper off-the-buckle Oklahoma Stampede power slam, and now that’s gone along with being able to do a snake eyes via a gorilla press. I’ll miss the ability to walk around with an opponent on your arm as a way to show how strong Mark Henry is. And of course, there’s the issue of being able to aim all of these moves onto things like stairs and ladders that is now gone as well due to that aspect of the game being made so much worse in the second incarnation than the first.
While the core gameplay does have some major problems, secondary modes help make the overall experience fun. The WWE Universe mode now features a more TV-style presentation for shows, which makes those events seem more important, and you can now eliminate current shows and replace them with your own. So if you want to have WCW Nitro instead of Raw, and recognize the WCW Title as the main title, you can. Unfortunately, you can’t create championships to use in this mode, or use your created stories, and some of the menus have been made needlessly confusing. However, aside from these issues, the mode is a success and follows up nicely on the one in SvR ’11, even if there’s still some room for improvement.
The new create-an-arena mode is easily the best overall part of the game. Unlike the create-a-wrestler tool, things you make here can blend in perfectly with the in-game arenas. It also allows you to make pretty much any ring you’d want thanks to either the included logos or created ones (assuming you have the skill to either make your own or can get online to download some). Between this and the create-a-wrestler tool, WWE ’12 can become a dream game for wrestling fans. Even without downloading logos, you can still make a ’90s red, white, and blue-roped WWF ring pretty easily. The amount of classic rings possible for recreation here is astounding, and it’s a dream come true for WCW fans. TNA fans will also be glad to know that there is an Impact Wrestling ring available, and Japanese wrestling fans will be happy that perfect ‘90s All Japan, New Japan, and more modern-day Pro Wrestling NOAH rings are available for download. As great as it is, the mode isn’t perfect - you can’t edit the stage, so crafting completely accurate classic locales is impossible, and for whatever reason, you also can’t change the color of the ring steps - they’re always silver. Still, it’s a blast to use, and does extend the game’s replay value if you’re a long-time wrestling fan.
Unfortunately, online is a mess right now. The server has been down for most of the game‘s release, which seems absolutely ridiculous. This makes it impossible to download created wrestlers, rings, or logos for your own show in WWE Universe mode unless you luck into logging on while the WWE ‘12 servers are operational. I was able to play a few matches online, and they were mostly lag-free, but what lag was there made it far too hard to reverse moves since the timing window for reversals is so narrow now. That narrow window isn’t a huge deal offline, but online, when dealing with lag, it will absolutely cost you matches. Offline, the only thing that will cost you matches is the kickout meter not showing up for a full second during a three count, but that doesn’t happen all the time. It’s still quite annoying when it does though.
Visually, WWE ‘12 is a mixed bag. New move animations, like those for Sin Cara’s La Mistica and Alberto’s rolling armbar look very smooth, but some new directional throw animations have jittery animation with frames dropping out when you actually change their direction. Character models are largely unimpressive - with some, like Big Show, appearing to have attire that is just painted on and has no dimension to it at all, looking like the worst of the PS2-era entries. There’s still also a huge difference in quality between in-game characters and created ones, an issue the series has had for many years, and one that seemingly won’t be resolved despite being something that’s stuck out like a sore thumb for so long.
This series has never had the best audio and ‘12 continues that trend. Commentary has usually been lacking, and sound effects have been hit or miss with things like chair shots sounding great, but then having things like slamming into the steel floor of the Elimination Chamber, which has now been in the series for eight years, sound like you’re hitting concrete. Last year’s audio was hurt by poor commentary with a lot of recycled lines, which isn’t as big an issue here, but the menu music is terrible. It’s generic, and doesn’t work nearly as well as just having the roster’s theme songs play throughout the menu.
After a few years of steady improvements, WWE ‘12 marks the end of that era by delivering the worst overall game in years. It does a few new things relatively well, but really messes up some things that were done very well before, like the Road to WrestleMania mode, backstage fighting and the object interaction from last year’s game. It makes the whole experience less satisfying and the game is less enjoyable as a result. It’s also quite glitchy as well, and presently suffers from server issues that cripple numerous important game modes. WWE ‘12 may have an incredible roster - especially including later DLC legends like Randy Savage and Mick Foley, but the core game here isn’t worth paying full price for.