WWE '12: Will It Fix the Current Problem?
Wrestling games have diminished over the past several years. It seems the days when WWE-licensed video games were exciting have passed us by. Sure, SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 introduced an engaging storyline designer, and the recently released WWE All Stars was fun, but since SmackDown vs. Raw 2006, have we seen a credible wrestling game that caters to those of us who fall under both categories of hardcore gamer and hardcore wrestling fan? The answer is a big, fat no.
Now WWE and publisher THQ are trying to sell us on WWE '12, a re-branding of the SmackDown vs. Raw franchise. Judging from what the developers have described thus far, the game returns to older wrestling game mechanics while introducing a couple of new changes to the formula. But is this enough to make a respectable wrestling game in an era when WWE doesn't even want gamers to use the term "wrestling" to describe its product? Are WWE, THQ, and developer Yuke's really keeping wrestling fans in mind as they produce the first entry in what can only be considered the future of modern wrestling games?
After learning about THQ's intentions for WWE '12, it almost seems like the bulk of what the publisher is doing is reverting to older mechanical ideas for the game. Remember the good times, when we could easily break any move our opponents were performing on a third player? WWE '12 is bringing that back. Such a mechanic hasn't been seen since WWE Day of Reckoning 2 on the GameCube. According to THQ, gamers will have certain opportunities to break moves, so you won't be able to mash the strike button and expect to screw up another player's moves. If executed properly, this technique could be useful, adding a touch of realism to the game.
Say goodbye to the odd canned animation for certain mid-ring moves. Usually, performing specific moves warped players to the middle of the ring and caused an animated maneuver to occur. It might have looked cool, but aiming for Jericho's lionsault or Edge's spear and having the wrestlers warp to a different area of the ring wasn't too realistic. For me, part of the challenge in older wrestling games was performing a suplex or DDT in the middle of the ring so that I could then go for that deadly lionsault or hellacious spear. I'm glad the game won't be doing all the work for me any longer.
Stored finishers will be making a return. Additionally, "Dynamic Comebacks" will allow players who are on the brink of defeat to perform a devastating attack for one last chance at winning the bout. Again, this reminds me a lot of Day of Reckoning's "Momentum Shift" moves, which functioned largely the same way. If that wasn't enough, players can now perform special taunts that set their opponents up for a finisher, much like when Randy Orton stalks his rivals like a slithering snake on the mat before striking.
While I can vouch for the aforementioned changes, some aren't as desirable. For starters, the weak grapple/strong grapple system is being replaced by a new mechanic. Basically, depending on how much damage you've inflicted on your opponent, you'll carry out a move of varying impact. Earlier in the match, you'll have access to quick moves such as arm drags and snapmares, and as the brawl continues, you'll be able to punish your adversary with powerslams, powerbombs, and other such high damage moves. This doesn't sound too rewarding because the game will seemingly limit your attacks. You won't be able to surprise your opponents with strong moves out of nowhere because you won't be able to pull them off until significantly later in the match.
Older WWE games were known for their fast-paced gameplay. Though WWE All Stars was a quick arcade-like brawler, I miss the high-speed flow of titles such as SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain and Day of Reckoning. Those games were easy to get into, easy to master, and an absolute blast to play. The last few entries in the SmackDown vs. Raw series have been sluggish and much too buggy. Seeing wrestlers lumber about like cavemen was no fun at all, and watching them slowly pull off moves was boring. If WWE '12 isn't more fast-paced than previous entries in the series, it's hard to imagine it being much fun.
Animations in the WWE series of video games seem to be getting worse with every iteration. Performing moves, running around the ring, climbing the turnbuckle, and throwing strikes are no longer the experiences they once were. I'm not saying I expect my wrestling games to simulate the movements of professional wrestlers perfectly, but something a little less unrealistic and clunky would be welcome. For years, gamers have been witness to some of the most horrid running animations in wrestling games. Keep it simple, THQ--the WWE Superstars don't need to look so awkward when moving around the ring.
I've always thought WWE games did a fairly decent job of presenting sports entertainment from a visual standpoint. Camera flashes, big arenas, and animated crowds all provide a decent emulation of the grand spectacle of professional wrestling. Unfortunately, the same can't be said about the series' sound design. A dead audience, weak-sounding attacks, and abysmal commentary all amalgamate to create one of the worst sound designs in all of video games. Seriously, hearing Michael Cole and Jerry "The King" Lawler go on and on in monotonous speech takes so much away from the excitement of the ring that it's hard to play for long periods of time.
Overall, a couple of interesting new mechanics are being introduced in WWE '12, as well as a handful of uncertain tweaks. I really dig the return of stored finishers and comeback attacks, and being allowed to break up moves could be awesome if incorporated properly into the game. Stripping away the canned animations brings back the old school vibe of games such as No Mercy and Day of Reckoning. Let's hope THQ and Yuke's fix some of the major problems that have been plaguing WWE games for the past several years. Sluggish animations and controls need to be done away with. Glitches need to be wiped clean. And the audio presentation of past games needs to be seriously overhauled to ensure a proper big fight feel.
Every year, gamers get excited for the latest WWE game. I'll be the first to admit that THQ does one hell of a job advertising the series, and the company genuinely manages to create a larger-than-life feel ... in their promotional trailers for the games. Once I remove the game from its case and pop the disc into my console, however, it's an entirely different story--an ugly, buggy, horrid story. Like many other gamers and wrestling fans, I hope WWE '12 is the wrestling game we have been hoping for all these years. I don't like to say that developers owe gamers anything, but after having invested so many hours and sleepless nights into games like Wrestlemania 2000, No Mercy, Here Comes the Pain, Day of Reckoning, and SmackDown vs. Raw 2006, only to be let down for the past five years, I'm counting on WWE, THQ, and Yuke's to provide a wrestling game for the truest fans of the spectacle.