Here is a bit of trivia I found this week. Undertaker wasn’t in that Akshay Kumar movie (yes, it was called Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi, don’t pretend you don’t know what I am talking about). Shocking. I know. Apparently, it was the impostor Undertaker, the one that fought the real Undertaker at Summerslam way back in 94 who played the Undertaker in the film. I swear that last sentence makes more sense if you re-read it.
I saw that film like half a dozen times. I thought it was cool as all hell because the Undertaker was in it. And now I find out it was just some dude pretending to be him. I just can’t get over it. But I am not the only one obsessed with the past. It seems the WWE can’t escape it either. Anything they do today inevitably gets compared to the Attitude era. If it’s too similar then it’s a rehashed story line. If it’s too different then it’s the PG 13 era ruining things. Not surprising then that the WWE games seem to be stuck in a similar loop as well.
So WWE 12. By now, a review for a WWE game can almost be distilled down to bulletin points. You know how it goes. What’s changed for the better? What’s changed for the worse? And what is missing? And then inevitable post-mortem. They changed too much. They didn’t change enough. And why is Jericho still not in it? I honestly don’t envy the developers; they are doomed if they do and doomed if they don’t, and for what it’s worth, this time I do give them points for trying.
WWE 12 is not a total overhaul, and despite the name change, it’s not a complete reboot either, but they did shake things enough to make it stand out a bit. The biggest change is the control system. The control scheme has been simplified to reflect the earlier WWE games. The grapple system is now context dependent rather than control dependent. Strikes have also been changed to reflect the new style. The good thing is the controls feel familiar enough so you never really feel out of sorts and yet they feel fresh enough to make you feel like you are playing something different than last year’s game. It’s a tricky thing to pull off and WWE 12 does it rather nicely.
The reversal system is primarily set to R2 (or right trigger) this time around, but the downside to that simplification is that the opportunity window to nail it is incredibly small. It’s not really a big problem when playing offline with a friend, but nailing them online even with the slightest lag feels slippery at best. It’s not helped by the fact that online is a bit flaky at times. Aside from the odd lag spike in-game, the servers seem to be down every now and then, and when that happens, you won’t be able to connect online at all. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen too often, and by and large, my experience has been fairly smooth.
The game also looks a lot more fluid than it has in the past. The moves flow quite realistically and the choppiness of the past versions seems to be vastly reduced. Graphically, it’s not a huge improvement over last year, but the smoothness of the wrestlers onscreen makes it look better than it is. And while there are some regrettable omissions to the roster, the ability to download created superstars from other users online is a fantastic compensation. Even though navigating the online list of superstars is a little glitchy at times, a little perseverance will mean you will end up with pretty much any wrestler you would want to play with. It took me all of five minutes to grab Kurt Angle, Hulk Hogan, RVD, etc.
As far as the single player is concerned, Road to Wrestlemania is the main story feature, and its spread out between multiple storylines going over an extended time period. The storylines themselves are fairly engaging, but the way they play out might not sit well with everyone. Instead of having straight up matches, quite often, the storylines end on scripted events. So you can pulverize whoever you happen to be fighting in the game, but if the storyline calls for them to win the match later on, then the only thing you will be able to do is to trigger the cutscene.
Some will find it infuriating that the control has been taken away from the player in crucial parts of the matches, but I loved the idea. It brings utter unpredictability to the whole scenario. You are never really sure when you are going to win or lose or what will happen next. And it keeps you hooked. What is annoying though is that there is no way to skip matches in the storyline mode. So if the game throws you in yet another dull tag team match, you have to play through it and complete whatever objectives are given in order to proceed. But even with one tag team match too many, I enjoyed the story mode.
WWE Universe is back and it adds more content to the solo gameplay category. There are minor tweaks to it all around, but I still found it a little too dry. Then again, I always prefer a-pre made storyline, but I am sure people who enjoyed it previously will still like it. Along with all of that, there is the usual insane amount of content that almost all WWE games have. It’s astonishing and we almost take it for granted, but the selection of match types, the ability to create everything from a move set to a ring in such minute detail is truly remarkable. You could literally spend hours just creating and perfecting a wrestler. It’s incredibly deep and immersive.
What is frustrating though is that some wrestlers (as well as some other items) are locked until you play certain game modes up to a point to unlock them. 90% of my playtime with is playing multiplayer with friends in the same room and its extremely annoying to have to do specific objectives or play certain game modes to unlock wrestlers just so we can pick them in our personal multiplayer sessions. Even though I enjoyed Road to Wrestlemania, I would much rather have played it on my own time rather than being forced to run through it. If I want to play as Brock Lesner and fight Stone Cold the first time I put the disc in, then it should be my choice to do so. Don’t make me jump through hoops to unlock content I already own. I was hoping stuff like that would be left in the past. I guess not.
If you already own last year’s version, then aside from online play, I don’t think there is incentive enough to pick this one up. It’s a better game for sure, but perhaps not enough to justify an upgrade at full price. But if you skipped out on the WWE games over the last few iterations (and I wouldn’t really blame you if you did), then this is well worth looking into. It’s a very well-rounded package and judged just by itself, it’s almost a must have for wrestling fans. Like the WWE itself, the game is let down not by what it is, but what came before it.