WWE ’12: Same Sh*t, Different Year
In the months leading up to WWE ’12, you may have heard or read the following words: “Innovative!” “New!” “Fresh!” “It’s the Bombdiggity!” (for gamers still stuck in the 90′s). And, like idiots, plenty of us took the bait and dove straight in. As much as WWE’12 touts itself for being fresh and new, this title feels completely the same.
When it comes to presentation there’s something missing out of WWE ’12. One could say that the title screen is a little plain. Or that the menu is lacking any of the visual flair its had before. Or that there’s nothing inspiring about anything you see. Namely, one could say the series has lost its charm.
When I start the game, there is no Practice Arena like last year’s edition, which, frankly, would have made a lot of sense for the “all new, all different” control system. Instead, I have to read a tutorial written and hid in the menu to learn the game’s new controls. This old school “read it and figure it out later if you remember” method doesn’t break the game, but it sure as hell slows it down. When I create a character, it’s not inside a decent locker room like last year’s edition, but a drab gray background, like the set of a seedy pervert’s basement photo booth. This isn’t the series I grew to enjoy and respect, but a watered down version of it.
Graphically this game does look a little better than previous installments. There’s a nice touch in lighting that gives the game a pleasant, almost ethereal glow, kind of like an old school movie. I think I even noticed veins underneath the skin texture of a close up wrestler, once. Maybe I imagined it. But, where it really counts, things have remained very much the same, especially for character creation.
For some reason I can’t fathom, the last few games in this series removed the color slider from skin texture, effectively limiting your choice of skin color from unlimited to about two dozen. While that sounds great, realize that only several of those are truly natural skin colors: all the rest are colors like pumpkin orange, or midnight black, or a deep purple. I tried to create an African American character, and was graced with a very light, almost Caucasian color, a deep yet somehow desaturated brown, and a brown so dark that I literally couldn’t see my character’s face. That’s just ridiculous. If we can use the color slider for nearly EVERYTHING else in the game, why not here?
Everything else for customization is practically identical to previous installments, which is not good. The same baggy, undesirable clothes are available for your wrestler, limiting your options if you actually want your character to look at least a little cool. Also other aspects of character creation remain the same, like your wrestler’s hometown (seriously, for New York, we have Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens, and even Glens Falls, Manhasset, Mount Sinai, Ozone Park, and Yonkers, but no Bronx? WTF?) and the menu screen poses. There’s some improvement on customizing how your name appears and is announced during matches, but in the end, it’s such a trivial aspect of the game that it doesn’t really register in your mind. Attributes have been changed to provide better balance, but in the end it feels like there’s too many. Why does this game break what doesn’t need to be fixed?
With all this in mind, gameplay has taken a few changes too, for better or worse. We were told that the mechanics would be completely different. The set up, though, is roughly the same: players can strike and also perform grapples that chain into other grapples. With enough hurting, a character can perform a special grapple onto a groggy character. You can also perform these moves while running, while a character is grounded, and in other situations. The only thing different is how you input these actions, with this game moving grapples from the analog stick to the X button. There’s also the addition of “Breaking Point” Submissions, but in my time with them there’s not much different from normal Submissions. In fact, I preferred the use of analogs for Submissions before. The only cool thing I sort of like about ’12 is the addition of Comebacks, a sort of quick time event that allows you to turn a losing match to your favor with a few button presses.
Also when customizing your character, the moves have been updated just a bit, which is always good, but you quickly forget about that when you see silly things like having 4 separate but altogether identical animations for stepping into the ring from the apron, all called “Normal on the Apron”, 1 thru 4. Where space is wasted on these we could see effort put into other, more unique animations. But, like everything else there’s too much of the same.
I’d be remiss if I just entirely skipped over the story mode, Road to Wrestlemania. This year, the brillant idea to cut it down to three wrestlers who share one ongoing story seemed like a good idea. It was given a full story, voice actors, the works. But in the end, it was worse than ever before. Most gamers I know enjoyed having a variety of wrestlers to choose from: forcing us to use Triple H, Sheamus, and Jacob Cass (the created wrestler) was a major blow to what we expected from the series. And how can you put Randy Orton on the cover without featuring him as a main character in the story mode? Or skip over CM Punk’s popularity this year? And I was especially angry when I opted not to use my created player for the story mode, used their “New” slot, and then later found that the game had overwritten my character with the new one I created because they saved it to the first slot without asking me. My mouth hung open for two minutes, and then I angrily turned the game off and went back to playing Saints Row.
The Online Component
I wanted to quickly add that I wish I could tell you about this. I got to use it for about ten minutes when I first inputted my online pass code, and bought Fan Axxess to and downloaded a bunch of content (from awesome DLC like Shawn Michaels to “meh” ones like Michael Cole). Since then, IA’s Sauce Sarcastic and myself have found ourselves unable to sign on, with WWE telling us the servers are down. I can’t download my friends’ characters, other DLC, or play online because the servers are constantly down. Great.
If you’re a gamer and wrestling fan like myself, then chances are you’ve played one of a million wrestling games from the 90′s on. Chances are you’ve also played one of the Smackdown games (later Smackdown VS Raw) which have been releasing annually for years now. And like other annual sports games (Madden comes immediately to mind) there’s a certain sense of stagnancy when it comes to innovation and evolution. It’s simply too hard for developers to release something completely new in such a small window of time without sacrificing something for it.
For THQ to promise a whole new game and deliver more of the same is a travesty for gamers because at this point fans deserve something new and truly innovative. This was a major letdown, especially with the hype that followed it, and the only saving grace for me is the familiarity of previous games and the updated roster of wrestlers new and old.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am definitely not excited about this game. If you’ve missed out on recent games, then this isn’t a bad place to start. If you have, don’t waste your cash; save it for next year when there will possibly be enough sort-of-new changes to warrant a new purchase.
Buy/Rent at your own discretion if you haven’t played in a few years.
Pass if you have.