Friday, 25 November 2011

WWE 12 – review

WWE 12
A friend of mine who is a massive wrestling fan once explained to me that the audience of the WWE (and indeed, most pro-wrestling shows) is divided into two camps: marks and sparks.Marks, he said, believe everything they're watching is real. These are people young enough in mind to be swept up in the sheer spectacle of wrestling and are genuinely shocked when a heel defeats a face.
Sparks, on the other hand, he said, follow wrestling as much as a business as they do an entertainment form. This group could see the potential for the Montreal screwjob before it happened, and more than likely would to be able to tell you which high-profile superstars also happen to be fundamentalist Christians.
If my mate's definitions hold true then both Marks and Sparks will find an awful lot to enjoy in WWE 12. The game is fit to bursting point with content and customisation options, and offers a fairly decent, if slight flawed wrestling experience.
However, it's let down badly is some areas by an erratic AI and irritating combat mechanics. It also contains a huge 12-hour mode, which is as dull as dishwater and – interestingly if you're a Spark – played completely straight.
Marks will probably look past the game's flaws, while Sparks might decide they're too much to put up with and everyone else probably won't care.
First, the good news: developer Yukes has gone to town with the creative tools, and players have a massive list of options available for building their own wrestling superstar. Players can decide their superstar's gender, build, facial features, ring attire, audience reaction and even create storylines, entrance videos and highlight reels for them.
The customisation goes as deep or as shallow as you like; you can personalise every inch of your superstar, or you can just bolt some moves to a purple-skinned woman sporting white facial hair, if that's your thing.
Players can also build their own PPV specials, match-types, sort out the look and feel of each wrestling and plaster logos all over the place. They can even head into the game's pre-set roster and mess about with the scores of established stars.
Beyond its creation tools, WWE 12 boasts an online mode, a Road To Wrestlemania single-player campaign, and the robust WWE Universe in which players can play through a range of matches and match types in WWE events.
WWE 12
Imagine a never-ending stream of Raw, Smackdown and other PPV events without the storylines, where players can simulate matches or take part in them. Then, toss in the appearance of stars from wrestling's yesteryear and you pretty much have WWE Universe.
The multiplayer mode offers players a chance to square off against friends and strangers online, but at the time of this review, there weren't many matches available to take part in beyond a straight head-to-head and a three-way tag. We can report, however, that around half of the matches we took part in had serious lag issues.
The Road to Wrestlemania is the main single-player campaign and is made up of three storylines – the villain, the outsider and the hero. It's a pretty meaty slice of the game, which will take players about 12 or so hours to play through.
It's a pity, then, that this huge chunk of play makes up arguably the worst part of the game. It's not just that the storylines are pretty unengaging to begin with – and riddled with poor voice acting to boot – it's the fact that more often than not, they intrude on the in-ring action.
A huge portion of the bouts players will encounter either end with a cut-scene that tosses all of their hard work to one side or are filled with tasks that make them maddening to play. In one fatal four-way in a steel cage, for example, we spent a large amount of time trying to keep three of our opponents flattened so we could escape over the top, only to find out that all we needed to do was hit one of the other superstars until a Y prompt appeared above his head. Upon hitting Y, we found we were destined to lose the match anyway.
In another instance, our wrestler needed to defeat three other superstars in a backstage area. It was only after the fourth attempt at doing this that we realised the game wanted us to defeat them in a certain part of the environment. Cue rolling of eyes and gnashing of teeth.
This wouldn't be so bad if the gameplay weren't so hamstrung by the awful counter-attack system. More often than not, the AI will reverse the player's wrestling moves and begin to administer a beat-down on their superstar.
At certain points, the player will be able to reverse this, by pulling RT or hitting A when prompts to do so appear above their wrestler's head. The problem here is that unless they hit the prompt at exactly the right time, they'll fail to counter.
WWE 12
The prompts also appear and disappear so quickly, that hitting a counter is something of a dice throw. Players also need to hit the counter button at the precise moment it appears – they won't get away with button bashing.
There's the option to dial down the AI's reversal frequency and counter move frequency, but not, it seems, for the campaign. This means that the Road To Wrestlemania mode becomes a 12-hour war of attrition, punctuated by really bad dialogue and badly written plotlines – and as anyone who follows wrestling knows, plotlines actually play a large part in the WWE's appeal.
This is a real shame, because in the exhibition and WWE Universe modes, where players can set their own difficulty levels and toggle with the AI's wrestling option, there's quite a bit of fun to be had.
Toss out the lousy counter system, and WWE 12's wrestling engine isn't half bad. Players use A to grapple, B to punch or kick and B to Irish whip their opponents towards the ropes or turnbuckles. The Y-button is mapped to signature moves, finishing manouveres and, in a new addition, a comeback function, which allows players to enjoy a second wind if their opponent has them on the ropes. Players can also target parts of their opponent's body, soften up their limbs and then put them in a debilitating submission hold.
The presentation in WWE 12 isn't exactly brilliant. Facially, the superstars look pretty close to their real-life counterparts, but their skin has the texture of store mannequins.
The commentary doesn't always line up with the action in the ring and when it does it can be frequently hilarious. The entrance videos and audience reactions aren't bad, but occasionally the crowd noises dampen at strange moments.
There's even the odd glitch in the game where a wrestling animation will look outlandish, or a punch will land on an opponent's face without making a sound.
WWE 12 is bursting with content and fan service. Players who want to play in the WWE Universe or start creating their own will find plenty to enjoy here. But the single-player campaign is rather a chore to play through and the gameplay is in dire need of some retooling.
If Yukes can overhaul the in-ring action, pretty up the graphics and marry it to the current level of content and customisation, WWE could truly shine. As it stands right now, though, the only fans who would be truly satisfied with this package are players whose desire for a new wrestling game is sufficient to allow them to overlook a fair number of faults.

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