I visited THQ this week to play the E3 build of the newly rebranded WWE game, WWE' 12. The tagline is "bigger, badder, better" and from my experience over the last two days, it lives up to the tagline.
The game has been rebranded, eliminating the outdated "Smackdown vs Raw" name and joining other sports games with a more specific name related to the actual sport. There are numerous changes that I will try to cover over this preview.
I have seen some complaints about the graphics not being upgraded over last year's game. Well, unless you see a comparison image, it pretty much does look the same as last year's game. However, once you see both games side by side, it's easier to see the improvements.
The graphics are definitely improved in about every way, including the wrestler's models, shadowing and the lighting. The lighting gives off the feel of a wrestling event being viewed on television. But even better than that are the new camera angles. They truly make you feel like you are watching Raw or Smackdown on TV. Along with the presentation upgrades are some more "gritty" graphical changes, including the ring having some bounce to it, the ropes shaking and the ring itself just having physics. These are small changes overall, but giant changes when all put together.
On the other hand, I'm still disappointed in the sounds of the game, especially the crowd. Nevertheless, they are improving, and the developers know they need to keep attacking this issue. The entrance themes now have reverb, which sounds fantastic, but the commentary is still weak. My only other real negative impression has to do with the meters on the screen. Simply put, for a game trying to mimic a TV broadcast, the meters look out of place.
Now on to what we really care about, gameplay. In short, you have to play this game to really appreciate how it has improved. The controls have been greatly improved while also being made simpler. Gone are the grapples from the right stick, replaced now by grapples on the face buttons. This will appeal to the hardcore crowd as well as the pick-up-and-play gamers. The game just moves so fluid thanks to the new graphics and control scheme. You are linking moves now, and the match actually tells a story instead of it being more like a fighting game in the past.
If you played WWE All-Stars, then you know about the interruptible animation system, which is also included here. No longer will you have watch or punch air while John Cena is doing the Five-Knuckle Shuffle during a triple-threat match. This alone makes the engine feel so much improved.
Beyond that, one of my favorite improvements is the wake-up taunt. This is something that has been needed for a long time in order to give you that TV feel. After you have a finisher ready and your opponent is down, you press up on the D-pad to initiate this wake-up taunt. So Orton will punch the mat while the still-groggy opponent stands up all. From there, you can then hit your finisher. On top of that, the RKO can be hit out of nowhere (except if someone jumps off the top rope at you, we tried). Adding to that, if you hit your signature move right before your finisher, you will have a more powerful finisher to add even more realism to the match.
Pins have also changed this year. You hold down a button before releasing it in a specific box to kick out -- no more button mashing to kick out. There are two things I love about this: the box moves around before each count, and if you hit the more powerful finisher described above, the count only appears after the one-count, giving you only one shot to kick out. Again, this makes finishers and matches feel better overall.
There is a limb-targeting system now as well. In a grapple situation, you press RB and a face button (on 360) to target a body part. The Y button is for the head, X or B is for the arms and A is for the legs. Each attack affects the body in different ways as well. This leads into the Breaking Point system, the new submission system in the game. It's essentially a button-mashing system to force the tap out, but it works better than in previous games. I can't say that I love any button-mashing systems, but this one surprisingly worked very well, especially in multiplayer matches.
The game now also features a comeback system that certain wrestlers carry.
In our build, both Orton and Cena had the ability to press a button after
taking a certain amount of damage to essentially get one chance to get back in the match. It made matches with a superstar like Cena feel very authentic. My only complaint was how it was implemented. It's one button press (Y button) for either the guy getting beat up or the guy winning the fight. It almost becomes a battle of making sure you can spam the button in time, especially against a human opponent.
Another change that fans may be really excited about are that there are now 12 attributes that every wrestler is rated on in the game. This also helps balance out the roster and make the individual wrestlers all have a different feel.
Overall, I came away very impressed with WWE' 12. The developers have a real passion to make this the best wrestling game they can, and they listened to both our positive and negative impressions.
I can't wait to see the final build. I told the developers -- and still feel this way -- that the E3 build of WWE '12 played better than Smackdown vs Raw '11, which is a great feat. I said it once but have to say it again, this is a game that needs to be played; the videos and screenshots don't do it justice.