When I first looked at the back of the package of WWE 12, I saw three words that flashed me back to my childhood: Bigger. Badder. Better. For those who weren't around for the glory days of the 1980s and the era of professional wrestling before the Attitude Era, when Wrestlemania the game was released for the original Nintendo, this was the catchphrase used for the game, simply because it was the catchphrase for Wrestlemania III. That's a bold set of words to use for a game that was being touted as a complete re-work of the series. However, THQ has delivered a game that fans of wrestling can truly appreciate.
Jumping right into the meat of the game, the most important thing to note is that things have been very simplified. There is no more weak grapple vs. strong grapple, as the game determines what kinds of moves you can used based upon the health of your opponent. It also needs to be mentioned that there will continue to be no health meter for players in the game. You have to judge yourself as to how damaged your opponent is, which is actually quite easy. Superstars, as they continue to be worked on throughout a match, will move slower, grab body parts that are damaged, and are susceptible to signature and finishing moves, all of which can be customized to your liking.
Movement of the superstars has been improved upon as well. In the early days of wrestling games, the characters suffered from the dreaded “8-direction” movement, meaning that they could only move in diagonals. Now, characters movements are more natural, though there are still moments that things get a little glitchy, especially when dealing with the AI. For example, if your character is stuck in the corner on the turnbuckles, sometimes the AI gets confused as to what your positioning is and will literally get stuck running at you, allowing you ample time to escape. This only happens once in a great while, and is not a common occurrence.
The attack system is pretty straightforward, picking up where the old Smackdown vs. Raw series left off by keeping it at striking, grappling, irish whips, and signature/finisher moves. By pressing a different direction when locked up in a grapple and then hitting a button to determine which move you can do. This is determined by your superstar's default settings or the move list you have actually created in the customization menu. You can pick every single move that your superstar does, including creating a brand new finisher from start to finish, complete with its own name.
The types of matches that you can enjoy throughout the game itself is quite a long list. THQ included everything from a regular singles match to the elimination chamber, with your imagination running wild in between. Want a falls count anywhere match that is anything goes? You've got it. Want to do a No DQ match that is also an Ironman match? Go for it. Want to throw in a Royal Rumble on regular Raw? It's yours. THQ has pushed the ability for you to customize everything in the game, and it all works very, very well.
There are some issues in the gameplay itself, though some are minor. Managers have a tendency to get involved far too often if they are included in the match. Half of the match, they generally spend on the ring apron yelling at the official or at your opponent and, eventually, get tossed out of the arena. It's a minor annoyance that makes you want to not have a manager at all, though if it is a No DQ match, you can certainly enjoy the advantage and laugh at the chaos that ensues, though this can also cause some issues as the camera will want to lock onto everything and widen out sometimes far too much, especially if the characters end up going up the ramp towards the stage. It can make it very difficult to follow what's going on and stay locked in on your own competition. Another problem with cameras comes in the form of elimination style matches. While I enjoy the Royal Rumble match, once problem I noticed was when you get to the end of the match. When it is down to three people, no matter what you are doing in the match, the camera immediately changes view to more of a “live” setting and shows all three characters eying each other up. The same thing happens when it goes down to two people remaining. Again, all minor annoyances that can be overlooked as they end quickly.
Presentation is one aspect where WWE 12 truly shines. The overall presentation of the game is amazing, giving you a fantastic feel that you are watching Raw, SmackDown, Superstars, or a Pay-Per-View event. When you are in either of the storyline modes (Universe or Road to Wrestlemania), every show starts off with the explosions, several camera angles, and the entrance music of the show itself. Commentary is thrown in by Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler as well, especially in the Road to Wrestlemania at the beginning of every show.
The Titantron, stage, ring, and barricades are all nearly flawless in design in the game itself. Entrance music and videos for all superstars are ported over from the shows themselves, so expect to see all of the ring entrances in their entirety as they would normally happen. You can skip these, of course, but it takes away from the game if you do, in my own opinion. There is one minor issue that I have with the design of the arena, however, and that is the fans in the crowd. While the superstar models are practically perfect, looking into the crowd will make you feel like you have stepped back into the PS1/N64 generation with very blocky looking characters. Granted, you aren't really spending much time looking at the crowd, but for all presentation, it has to be included. I would hope that the next version of this after this revamped game includes an improvement on the crowd models, because there are very few repeated models that are noticeable.
While the game itself is good in this form, the true star of the show is the story modes and the customization that goes along with it. Gamers will have two options when it comes to doing a story mode: WWE Universe and Road to Wrestlemania. Starting with the RTW mode, you will have three options to choose from, which are the Villain, Outsider, and Hero mode. After unlocking everything in the game, the Villain role was filled by Sheamus while the Outsider role was taken by Triple H. The Hero mode puts you in the shoes of Jacob Cass, the most recent winner of NXT. Of course, this is your chance to create your own superstar from top to bottom, but it must be noted that any name, entrance, and attributes that you fill in will be automatically taken care of in the storymode, simply because the announcers will be saying the name as Jacob Cass, so while it is unfortunate that you cannot hand pick your own name or gimmick in this mode, it still works just fine.
WWE Universe mode is where you get your full customization. You take over as the role of the General Manager of all brands, including Raw, Smackdown, and anything else you decide to create, including ECW, WCW, and so on. You can make whomever you want a heel or a face, can create tag teams and stables, decide who to put the titles on, and even swap out the title belts at your leisure. Of course, to use older belts, you will have to unlock them, which you can do so by playing through the game or buying the unlockables via the WWE Shop. Also, there will be plenty of superstars to unlock, including Edge, Demolition, Booker T, and so on. There are just simply too many things to name.
Building upon the customization of the game, there are so many details that have been covered, it makes it very hard to knit-pick as to what the developers did this time around. You can create your own superstar, including in-game attire, entrance attire, entrance video, and entrance music. When creating your own entrance, you can upload your own song by ripping a CD onto your hard drive and saving it as its own playlist. If that wasn't enough for you, you get to choose all of the camera angles used for the entrance, when the pyrotechnics go off, how your wrestler enters the ring, and what type of response he gets. The developers truly thought of just about everything. My only issue is that the list of available announced names and nicknames is somewhat of a truncated list. Granted, the ring announcer has a list of roughly 45 pages worth of names to use, but when it comes to Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler using your created superstar's name throughout the game, that list is much smaller in the form of around 130 names, some of which do not even match what the ring announcer says. This needs to be fixed for the next game, considering that everyone will have to change a lot of their character's information if they want to have a true feel of being a superstar.
Overall, I feel as though WWE 12 got a pretty complete makeover. The gameplay has been cleaned up and made it quite easy to simply pick up and play for the casual fan, yet tough enough to master for the hardcore fans. The presentation makes it the complete experience for every wrestling fan to enjoy and including the total freedom of deciding how the brands are run. Bravo to THQ and and to developer Yuke's for putting a solid title together.