The people have spoken. Now let's hit them.
My hands-on time with WWE '12 in Tampa, Florida confirmed what I concluded from my short time with the game at E3: It's a return to form. Normally, I tend to ramble about annual WWE titles on how they've made minor adjustments and how THQ claims that it's a complete reboot and how it's all about the WWE experience and blah, blah, blah. We get it. You get it. This time around, though, it's more than just an impressive graphics rehaul with a higher triangle count.
With the introduction of W Universe and a general reformatting of the franchise, last year's WWE Smackdown! vs. Raw 2011 laid the groundwork for the improvements for WWE '12, the most important of which is the increased difficulty. On the easiest setting, without turning down the knobs in the game balance options, defeating opponents is a challenge. Don't count on John Cena's or Undertaker's high stats to win you matches. If you don't have the timing down for reversals, you'll have trouble finding your footing and getting any kind of momentum going in your favor. As before, if you press the reversal button before the prompt, your inputs will be locked out, and just because you've reversed a move doesn't mean the AI won't counter you back. The only place where button-mashing is appropriate is the new Breaking Point Submission system, which is a strong translation of submission struggle.
Upping the challenge is all a part of emphasizing the fighting gameplay by removing the spam and getting rid of the possible immaturity, or as much as they can, that THQ knows that a
pre-teen particular section of its audience has a penchant for. Case in point, they've added an additional statistic called Adrenaline that controls the duration that a wrestler can run, which means you can catch up to players online who like running about the ring if they start losing or jus tfor the sake of trolling. Some of the several basic strikes, like toe kicks to the stomach, have also been debuffed so that they no longer stun an opponent for too many frames.
Another tweak is how clean the HUB is, while still providing information when you want it. The character model for limb health has usually been relegated to the corner of the screen, if it's even displayed at all; here, the new limb-targeting system shows the opponent's limb health whenever you use it. By holding the appropriate shoulder button and pressing one of the face buttons, your wrestler will strike at at your opponent's limb of choice. It all makes sense too; the top face button targets the head and the lower face button targets the legs.
WWE '12 has fully updated its career mode with W Universe 2.0 by still providing unpredictable match cards that are completely customizable, but also allowing you to interfere in any AI matches you want. You can create your own show, your own logo, and edit the brands to the point where Smackdown and RAW only has create-a-wrestlers. In a nice touch, they've also added a momentum meter that awards a stat bonus to wrestlers with a winning streak and a stat penalty for the opposite.
This year's Road to Wrestlemania mode is a connected story that features the Hero, the Villian, and the Outsider seamlessly in three acts, which in this case represents Shaemus, Triple H, and your create-a-wrestler. (By the way, Shaemus or Stephen Farrelly showed up in person as a surprise, and he's an incredibly down-to-earth guy and former IT technician who just can't believe that he achieved his dream of being a WWE wrestler.) The concept is to examine three wrestling archetypes, which is far more academic than wrestling should ever sound, and to see how wrestlers break in and out of character from backstage to onstage. Though it remains linear, there's potential here for an inside look at the world of wrestling.
Apart from that, the depth and variety of modes and options are astounding, with 80+ match types, 10 creation tools including a new Create-an-Arena mode, and 70+ characters on the roster featuring many relative newcomers like Daniel Bryan, Alex Riley, Sin Cara, Tyson Kidd, and Zack Ryder (plus special guest Brock Lesnar, oh snap, no I didn't!). The first offerings for DLC remains the same as well, with an Online AXXESS pass, an attribute customizer, an all-unlockables cheat, and Fan AXXESS pre-paid plan for future DLC at a discounted rate.
Finally, just a shout out. There's a small chance that you live near Tampa, Florida, but if you do, I recommend seeing the live show for Florida Championship Wrestling at least once. A ticket for seeing about eight matches up close and personal is under $20 and a T-shirt is just $5, plus all of that money helps to train up-and-coming wrestlers who might just make the big times.
WWE '12 slams into stores with the force of a powerbomb on November 22, 2011.