THQ has truly done something remarkable with WWE '12 and rest assured it goes beyond a simple name change. In large part to the heavily advertised Predator technology infused within WWE '12, THQ has made a wrestling video game that replicates the real thing so closely it has to be seen to be believed. The other important component that adds authenticity to the overall package is the inclusion of over thirty camera angles capturing the action both inside and out of the ring, and portraying it as if it were something the WWE would broadcast during one of its weekly episodes on television or during its monthly PPVs.
Are these new features alone enough to make WWE '12 a CM Punk endorsed "Best in the World" in terms of wrestling video games, if not WWE branded video games? Consider that WWE '12 also happens to contain the following; An immense variety of match types, the seemingly never ending WWE Universe 2.0, the Road to Wrestlemania which perhaps exhibits the best presentation of all the features within the game, a roster full of the WWE's top (both present and recently released) superstars and divas, robust create-a-features including a not so surprisingly excellent create-a-ring option. Bear in mind, this is what's available on the disc and offline. Throw in downloadable content, the ability to share virtually everything created online, and the option to challenge anyone, anywhere, anytime in any kind of bout including the 40-man Royal Rumble, perhaps the only thing keeping WWE '12 from receiving the highest honour in the eyes of the former New Nexus Leader and presumably still Straight Edge Superstar is that his former nemesis, Randy Orton graces the cover. There's always next year Punker.
Whether WWE '12 is a gamer's first or their hundredth wrestling video game experience, there may be a slight adjustment period to get comfortable with the gameplay. The Predator technology works so deceptively well that gamers may not be able to notice it let alone appreciate its brilliance. Playing WWE '12 may make gamers feel like they are going against the WWE's "Don't Try This at Home" Public Service Announcement. The AI moves, acts and reacts intelligently and accordingly based on what the gamer tries to throw at them. Initially the AI may seem a little too challenging even on the normal difficulty. They will strike when a grapple is attempted against them, they will chain grapple attacks for as long as they possibly can, they will pick a body part and work diligently to weaken it. There are fewer wasted movements and certainly much less in terms of "Botchmania" where in previous versions, the AI would do something so incredibly absurd such as attempt a move from the top rope when their opponent was nowhere near them. WWE '12 is serious about blurring the line between virtual wrestling and the real thing. The AI is even shows enough common sense to do things such as escape to the outside to avoid being hit with a foreign object, or taking advantage of double and triple teaming if the situation allows it. They do these kind of things on television all the time, so why not in the video game as well?
In terms of match types and options, WWE '12 offers nothing remarkably new since Smackdown vs. Raw 2011. There have been a few tweaks here and refinements there that gamers will take note of but considering what is available, gamers should have little reason to be concerned. WWE Universe 2.0 is still the crown jewel as it generates random matches that gamers can jump into, change, or simulate at their leisure. One welcome addition WWE Universe 2.0 is being able to select a superstar right before the bell rings. Gamers will now know beforehand whether they want to pick the guy who was on the receiving end of a pre-match beat down or not. WWE Universe 2.0 is so diverse and ripe with replay value, it could be a standalone game. It is flexible, engrossing, and addictive and puts even the best fighting games to shame in terms of man hours it may consume.
Without giving too much away, the Road to Wrestlemania starts off interestingly enough. John Cena is backstage and making his way from the Gorilla position to the stage to address his polarizing legion of fans when something dastardly happens. From there, gamers have control of Sheamus and Triple H as both are looking to make their way to the "Grandest Stage of them All". Gamers can also take their created superstars and throw them into the mix. Along the way, animated cut scenes with well-done voice overs featuring a number of WWE personalities keeps gamers tuned into and anticipating what is coming up. It is disappointing that only three superstars get the Road to Wrestlemania treatment, but THQ manages to keep the mode fresh through varying paths as well as providing in-match tasks that change depending on whether the gamer accomplishes them or not. As previously mentioned, the presentation of this mode is so well done and true to its source material, it could give the fine people of the WWE a night off for the week and fans would still get something exciting to watch and more importantly, play out.
While WWE '12 looks and acts differently than any wrestling game before it, long-time Smackdown gamers may be pleased to notice that THQ has returned to using those familiar face-buttons on the controller. Grappling is now done with the A button, while strikes and Irish whips are performed with X and B respectively. The right analog stick has not been completely forgotten as it now used to maneuver an opponent. Y is of course for signature and finishing maneuvers.
As if enough hasn't been said about the Predator technology yet, it comes to prominence when one wrestler is on the brink of defeat. It is still possible to counter signature and finishing maneuvers but more often than not, the AI will make use of them not necessarily at the first possible moment, but when they have all the momentum and it is safe to do so. When that happens, one would think it is game over but not so fast. Gamers may get the chance to start a comeback, which gives them a second wind. If that does not occur, the precision based pinning system allows for those who have taken a genuine mud-stopping a chance to kick out presuming they can navigate a line within a rapidly shrinking bar. Submission moves now include a Breaking Point system where as a particular limb gets damaged, the more easily it will be to fall prey to submission. Limb damage is particularly noticeable in WWE '12 as it additionally affects the wrestler's abilities in the ring whether it is striking power, or simply moving around the ring.
Visually, WWE '12 is stunning. Wrestlers are as detailed as ever, from their various wrestling and out of ring attires, to their distinguishing tattoos and facial features. Sure some wrestlers still may look graciously better in video game form then they do in real life but added textures and smoother animation has them walking and acting as one would expect them to. Even former WWE superstar and current UFC Heavyweight Brock Lesnar looks as menacing as ever, and this is the slimmed down version of him no less.
While it is appreciated that THQ has borrowed its control scheme from previous titles, WWE '12 also brings with it some familiar nuisances. While they are not as frequent, there are still clipping and textural issues, specifically when two wrestlers are exchanging strikes or during a pinning attempt as they look to be sinking into the ring. The AI is still way too adept at countering but this can be rectified through gameplay sliders. While Michael Cole and Jerry "the King" Lawler are at times excellent during cut scenes, they are absolutely horrendous on commentary. Delivery is bland, repetitive and worst of all recycled from previous years. They may be the voices of the WWE but they do no justice here. On a final note, that handy and innovative, interactive tutorial in Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 was replaced with static pages listing all the moves per match type in WWE '12. What's up with that?
Minor gripes aside, WWE '12 is an experience to behold, and an absolute blast to play. This is the mecca of wrestling video games. Its attention to detail and unmatched replay value are worthy enticements for any gamers looking to step inside the virtual wrestling ring. This is the real deal and with WWE '12 it is unquestionably time to play the game.