WWE '12: A New Road to Wrestlemania
First the gameplay, now the story mode. First details on THQ's revamped single-player vision.
US, October 18, 2011
"Once again with WWE '12, THQ is starting from scratch. The publisher's mission, alongside developer Yukes, has been to recreate its core wrestling franchise, eliminating what has grown stale and tired after years and years of incremental upgrades and adjustments. To say this game marks a major milestone in THQ's approach to WWE games is an understatement. It's launching a new brand. It's completely overhauled its core gameplay. Now it's rethinking how it provides a core single player experience. The Road to Wrestlemania idea that you've known from years past is dead. Say hello to a new era.
THQ is making a bold decision right out of the gate - you'll play as three different characters throughout this new Road to Wrestlemania storyline, and two of them are pre-determined. Considering previous years allowed you to select from a variety of different and popular superstars, I wouldn't blame you for being surprised or frustrated. However narrowing the game's focus has actually afforded the developer a great deal of new opportunities.
Previous storylines for WWE games were limited to about three months of in-game time. You'd start around the Royal Rumble, a January Pay Per View, and end with that year's Wrestlemania at the end of March. Now the story mode represents about 18 months of gameplay that, while encompassing two Wrestlemanias, isn't actually focused on WWE's seminal annual event. It's focused on building characters, feuds and storylines that quite honestly sound a great deal better than most anything the WWE does on a weekly basis.
The story mode is split into three acts, each focusing on a different superstar who occupies a different "role" within the company. For example the first act features Sheamus, who occupies the role of a villain. Playing as the so-called Celtic Warrior, you'll crush the good guys and generally wreck havoc on the WWE until you reach the second arc focusing on a "hero" superstar, Triple H. What's most remarkable about these arcs is how THQ transitions between the two. Your run with Sheamus will literally be interrupted as Triple H ambushes him, getting revenge after an injury at the hands of the bad guy months earlier. Playing through the second arc will lead you to the most customizable portion of the single-player storyline - the third and final act allows you to select or create a custom superstar, who will run through an "outsider" storyline.
Meet the United Kingdom!
Road to Wrestlemania is more than just a series of matches. If all you want is to simulate weekly battles between superstars, you're far better off selecting the WWE Universe mode, which will also return this year in a very familiar form. The focus of Road is telling a story. The game's designers realized that simply being focused to win match after match after match could get stale, so they've thrown a number of variables into the mix. Some bouts are more objective-based, pushing players to adapt to different circumstances to continue the storyline. Other sequences focus on timed button presses to add some interactivity to scripted sequences. Different concepts are mixed into the fold depending on what needs to be accomplished. The end goal here is to add some variety to the 10-12 hour experience.
Controlling which wrestlers appear in the storyline has the huge advantage of allowing THQ to meticulously lay out a complex narrative. It also allows them to do extensive voice acting. Though not all of the superstars were about to provide voiceovers, many have. You might be wondering how that applies to the created wrestler in the third act. In a very clever move, THQ hired current TNA star Austin Aries to provide dialogue for your character, who will also go by the name Jacob Cass during the storyline. It's yet another bold move in a series of bold moves, but it could pay off in a big way if handled right. The ability to design your own character while still retaining all of the key traits a full-time, real superstar would have? Not bad.
Edge is up to his usual cowardly tricks.
During my demo, THQ filled me in on a variety of other details that grabbed my attention. Backstage sequences are being retooled to be more straightforward and less about aimless wandering. The storyline will not only touch upon original concepts, like Sheamus creating a stable with Wade Barrett and William Regal called the United Kingdom, but older ideas like the reformation of WCW. The publisher is working closely with WWE for small details as well. That U.K. stable? It has its own theme song and entrance video.
To be honest with you, I don't know if THQ has found all the right answers with Road to Wrestlemania. I won't know until I've played through the entire storyline. The notion of being committed to a dozen hours as Sheamus, Triple H and my custom character makes me a bit nervous. Neither superstar is someone I'd immediately select to play through a lengthy storyline like this. But I like THQ's vision here. I like the fact they're willing to risk everything for the sake of finding a fresh direction. So far that type of change has paid off - WWE '12 has a core gameplay that is downright addicting. Will the same prove true for its single-player mode? We'll find out on November 22."