Series: WWE (Previously SmackDown! and SmackDown vs. Raw)
Released: November 22 2011 (US) and November 25 2011 (UK)
Consoles: PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii
After years of the SmackDown! and SmackDown vs. Raw games, a new era began with WWE '12. Well, in some respects: the name obviously changed, and there were a number of new features or modifications, but the game as a whole still felt like SvR, and therefore I class this as a new chapter of the series, as opposed to a new series in general. Hopefully, that makes sense.
Anyway, WWE '12 changed the grappling system so that you executed moves using the X button. with the available moves dependant on the progress of the match. In addition, wrestlers now had a "Comeback" option to hit a number of signature moves in a last-ditch attempt to reverse the flow of the match (think of John Cena's two shoulder blocks and throwback slam). What's more, a new Breaking Point submission system was in place to improve the manner in which you make one tap out, and a new Limb Targeting system allowed you to prepare attacks on body parts. Finally, "wake up" taunts allowed you to pose en route to a finisher, a perfect example being Randy Orton slamming his fists into the canvas before executing an RKO. The new wrestling system was enhanced by Predator Technology, which allowed for even more realistic object detection and reactions (such as a wrestler's legs staying under the ropes if slammed close to the edge of the ring).
It all resulted in a different gameplay experience to that of previous titles, and the wake up taunts and Comebacks were particularly realistic. The only downside was that, as part of the upheaval, the CPU takes control for an awfully long time once the match goes in its favour. Basic reversals become difficult to the point of it being impossible, and matches were occasionally so one-sided that a defeat was inevitable. I could understand that the game developers were trying to replicate the manner in which a heel controls the match before a babyface comeback, but it wasn't well-executed here, resulting in less enjoyable matches overall. Most of the changes were for the best, though, as was the option to now interrupt moves in multi-man bouts.
I mentioned earlier how this was really an extension of SmackDown vs. Raw, and that is epitomised by the single-player mode remaining Road To WrestleMania. It was shaken up, though, as RTWM now consisted of three six-month storylines that covered two WrestleManias and even a Starrcade. After playing as Sheamus for half a year, you switch to Triple H for six months, and lastly you play as a created wrestler for the final third, which includes a WCW invasion/revival. (Incidentally, the created star's voice during RTWM comes from none other than Austin Aries, years before he officially arrived on NXT.) The mode has its ups and downs: some story chapters are enjoyable, others less so. The presentation is as realistic as ever, although some backstage brawls become repetitive and dull after a while. Overall, it's worth playing through, but it's unlikely that one would have the urge to play through the mode all over again, and so many top WWE names were obviously not available to play as during RTWM. Partly due to what was only a mildly positive reaction to RTWM in this game (which admittedly ends with a bang in the form of a huge inter-promotional Hell In A Cell match, crudely disguised as War Games), this would be the final appearance to date for a story-style mode, with WWE '13 providing a chance to instead relive classic matches from the Attitude Era.
WWE '12 also had an updated Universe mode, first seen the previous year in SvR 2011. This time, players had slightly more choices in regards to the staging of championship matches and roster selections. Presentation was improved for annual events like the WWE Draft (which had the cool-looking superstar lottery screens, along with "reaction" moments when they were switched between brands), and there were new cut-scenes to make situations more lifelike. Finally, Universe conjured up scenarios which were necessary to unlock hidden wrestlers; more on them shortly.
The creation suite, which had been extended in SvR 2010 and took another step forward in SvR 2011, received a further boost here with the long-awaited arrival of Create An Arena, providing the option to create up to 50 new fighting venues. That being said, only the ring could be customised on this game, as the aisleway was not included in the creation process, which was a bit of a let-down. This was still better than nothing, and the mode (last seen in WWF Attitude way back in 1999) made an already-strong selection of creative tools even better.
In other news: the graphics were enhanced - or, at least the wrestlers looked more realistic for the most part. I say that because the backgrounds were strangely blurry, for both aisleways and fans, and certain wrestlers did not resemble their extremely realistic menu photos (none more so than Ted DiBiase Jr, whose character looked like a totally different person to the real-life grappler). The 40-man Royal Rumble match was the only new stipulation bout. New levels of blood were introduced.
Finally, the game boasted what was, up to that point, the largest roster yet with a comprehensive line-up of the 2010-1 WWE crew (including series debuts for Daniel Bryan and Sin Cara) and a generous group of legends, most notably the long-awaited series bows for Demolition and the recently-passed Randy Savage (the latter as downloadable content). The biggest shock, though, was then-UFC fighter Brock Lesnar making his first appearance on a WWE product in years as a hidden character. That Lesnar inexplicably had his UFC-era stomach tattoo on his old WWE character model didn't matter; fans were stoked to see Brock, in what was the first step towards his 2012 WWE return. Although the roster was strong, it was missing some key names like Chris Jericho, Bret Hart and others, which meant that this comprehensive line-up was still a bit weak overall. Incidentally, this game featured an unexpected bonus character when the old-school masked Kane was thrown in as "Make Good DLC" following a whole host of bugs and glitches within initial versions of WWE '12.
Like every WWE game, this was big news at the time, but less important as years go by. However, this game really has been forgotten due to the mass of content which we would be treated to in WWE '13 and WWE 2K14, and the increased importance applied to these games by WWE (see the big-budget commercials to launch cover stars and pre-order exclusives as evidence of this). Perhaps it's down to the slightly underwhelming RTWM mode or the fact that the new wrestling engine which debuted here has already been shelved. Whatever the case, WWE '12 stands as an almost-forgotten entry in the series, albeit not as much as some of its predecessors.
Overall, WWE '12 took steps forward, but also took steps back. The wrestling engine was refreshed for the first time in years, the developers took a gamble with RTWM, Create An Arena was added, Universe was improved, and the roster, despite some notable omissions, was strong and had some great inclusions. However, the issues with CPU momentum during matches, the dull parts of RTWM and not being able to change aisleways during Create An Arena swing things in the opposite direction. The best way to describe WWE '12, I think, is that it made slow progress. It offered a fresher approach than SvR 11 had, but there were still several big issues remaining in this game (some of which would be fixed in WWE '13).
The cover star for WWE '12 was Randy Orton, and his career in some ways matches this game: it was good, at times very good, and on occasion spectacular, but too many setbacks and/or dull moments mean that it is a strong entry in the series as opposed to being a contender for Best Ever.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10 - Good