I am not much of a pro wrestling fan, but I have always enjoyed wrestling video game – especially those from the folks at Yukes. The Japanese developer has been delivering top-notch pro wrestling games internationally for nearly two decades, and almost a dozen years in the US following the release of the classic WWF SmackDown! in 2000. Over the years, Yukes titles have amassed an almost cult-like following for their highly strategic, reversal-heavy grappling gameplay mechanics – which is precisely why Yukes has tended to take a cautious approach to meddling with the formula; making only incremental tweaks and adjustments to maintain a consistent level of quality.
Perhaps to appeal to a larger audience, or to simply rock the boat a little bit, Yukes decided that changes were needed and upend the entire gameplay for WWE ’12. The results are mixed; with Yukes delivering gameplay that is more accessible in theory but ends up feeling rather disconnected. This is not what we have come to expect from Yukes, and is a major source of aggravation.
WWE ’12 takes Yukes’ traditionally button combo-heavy input and maps everything to a single-button context-sensitive system. The context in question boils down to three major factors; location, position, and stamina – this means that button presses at one stage in the match might not equate to the same moves when pressed at another.
Obviously, this contextual input is the major factor contributing to the feeling of disconnect, especially for seasoned Yukes veterans who are used to being in complete control. On the flipside, with the only thing standing between the gamer and a sweet finishing move is an appropriately placed press of the “Y” button, it makes for some spectacular wrestling moments without having to pull off a complex button combo. There is a definite sense of reward in pulling off a difficult button combo that is lost with the single-press system, and I’m sure many gamers would rather Yukes has come up with a system that fell somewhere in the middle.
But if the move system has become a little too easy, the reversal system has become brutally difficult. Reversals are likewise mapped to a single button (a pull of the left trigger), but the timing required to perform a reversal makes absolutely no sense; the game flashing an onscreen indicator at a seemingly arbitrary moment during the set-up, giving the gamer a split second to successfully pull the left trigger and reverse the grapple. I would venture to say that my reversal success rate was probably less than 20% against the game’s AI, which wouldn’t be so bad if the AI was not nearly 100% successful in their reversal attempts. Against human opponents, the ratios were a little more balanced, but still not as balanced as we had come to expect from Yukes prior releases.
Visually, WWE ’12 is quite spectacular. The wrestlers are all fantastically realistic, with some of the best modeling and movement I have seen in any game. The skin tones, hair, and facial animations are all surprisingly authentic and really give the illusion that there are real opponents squaring up in the ring. On the audio front, the commentary provided by announcers Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler, and Booker T is delivered flawlessly and with a surprising amount of detail; tying together in-match events with pre-match backstage proceedings they really add a sense of authenticity to the storyline.
The overall presentation is similarly amazing, with a series of exciting a realistic backstage scenes and entrances that help tell the multifaceted Road to Wrestlemania storyline. The game pulls no punches in making light of the showmanship aspect of wrestling – with fervent opponents casually conversing backstage or practicing finishing moves prior to walking down the ramp. It is a neat behind the scenes perspective that many fans do not get to see, and it is great that the WWE allowed Yukes the freedom that they did.
Aside from the Road to Wrestlemania single-player story mode, WWE ’12 also features a bevy of additional single and multi-player modes in the form, including a much-improved WWE Universe franchise mode, and a whole slew of Create modes including Create a Superstar, Create an Arena, Create an Entrance, and even Create a WWE Storyline. Online play is included, but at the time of this writing there are major issues happening with the game’s servers which are promised to be fixed within the month.
WWE ’12 looks great, sounds great, and even comes with top-shelf presentation, and if it were not for the brutally difficult reversal system, the single-button system might not seem so bad – but the two together make for a game that is frustrating as heck and without any real reward. Video gaming is not gambling; gamers would rather win by skill then by chance, and WWE ‘12’s reversal system makes it seem like chance is the ruling factor.