I've been a WWE fan since late 1999 and I love playing the video games (especially the N64 games), so when I got the opportunity to travel down to Tampa, FL. to check out WWE '12 at the FCW Arena, I was definitely excited to get the opportunity. After a presentation on the different aspects and modes of the game from Corey Ledesma (creative director for WWE games), a history of FCW from Dr. Tom Prichard, and even a Q&A session with WWE superstar Sheamus, we got to spend a couple hours with the game itself.

There's quite a bit to tackle here, so let's get started with Road to Wrestlemania. In the past few years, this is usually where the gamer can pick one of a few superstars and go through a story-like mode that has the superstars working their way from the Royal Rumble up to the grandest stage of them all, Wrestlemania. Typically the story culminates with a championship match of some sort, depending on who you play as (a superstar, tag team, or diva). This time around though, it's a bit different. WWE '12's Road to Wrestlemania features three different stories: Villain, Outsider, and Hero. What's more, it seems like you have to complete the Villain before proceeding to the Outsider, and complete the Outsider before going on to the Hero. Why? Because each story flows right into the next. That's right, once you complete the Villain storyline, the Outsider story starts soon after. The entire story mode goes about 18 months, meaning it would start around Survivor Series and ultimately end at Wrestlemania a year and a half later. Personally, I like how they did that this year. Don't get me wrong, I liked the past Road to Wrestlemanias, but they kind of seemed the same, just with different superstars. You always started around the Royal Rumble and ended three months later at Wrestlemania. This time it seems like you'll have three storylines that span the entire WWE calendar year, and then another few months on top of that. It all flows together. Granted that means you can't pick and choose where to start from what I understand but it's still an interesting concept and I can't wait to check it out more.

WWE Universe Mode has changed up a little as well. First off, you can create your own show, including your own arena. When creating your own arena, you have a lot of classic logos to choose from, including ECW and even Clash of the Champions. But wait. Why would you make your own Clash of the Champions show? Because with WWE '12's Universe Mode, you can now have title matches whenever you want. Yes, you can now make a title match at any time, against anyone you want. Superstars also have momentum, which is gained by winning matches, and you can check on that by viewing the roster to see who has momentum and who doesn't. Another new feature is the ability to interfere in any match. Ever wish you could just randomly run in and ruin someone's match, even if it means absolutely nothing to you? Well now you can. Trust me, with Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 there were so many times I wanted to interrupt a match for the heck of it, and this now lets me do it. You can even initiate a draft to shake up the rosters a bit. Of course, you can always set the superstars to whatever brand you want anyway, in case you want someone on a specific brand.

We were also given a recap of some of the past events, such as E3 and the Summerslam press event, where things like the Create-A-Superstar and Predator Technologies were discussed. I like the improvements to Create-A-Superstar, including creating your own entrance video. Some games have done this in the past, but the options were extremely limited. In WWE ’12, there are some preset themes you can use with some videos to go along with those themes, plus you can use highlights of your own matches to use in your videos. With the superstar creation, there are new parts and menu poses you can use, as well as customizable ring introductions. There are a ton of these, some of which I did a double take. For instance, I saw someone making a darn good Guile from Street Fighter, but when he was scrolling through the names, I didn't see Guile...but I did see Vega. Okay, maybe it was more of a reference to Savio Vega, but hey, I can hope. You can assign up to four words for your ring introduction, which is nice, because in past games I've never seen my name in the list of those you can come out to, so I always come out to "the Superstar". I might finally be able to change that to something less generic.

After the presentation, we got to go hands-on, so what's the first thing I did? I checked out my favorite match type: Armageddon Hell in a Cell (which for those unaware, is a 6-man HiaC match). I figured that five other guys inside a cell would give me the opportunity to get used to the controls without getting whaled on too much. The grappling took a bit of getting used to, even though it's a lot simpler now. I got myself used to using the right analog stick for grapples, but now it's all done with the A button. Once the grapple is initiated, you can hit the left control stick in any direction and hit A for different attacks, or just hit A without the control stick for a Breaking Point grapple. This new grapple system is pretty interesting and somewhat realistic. No matter when I tried to hit a grapple and no matter how much I frantically mashed on the face buttons, my opponent always drained the meter within seconds. My only guess is that I didn't wear down my opponent enough. Well, as long as I don't put myself into any submission matches, I should be fine.

Next I checked out WWE Universe Mode. The Villain story began with John Cena walking out of the dressing room on his way to face The Undertaker. As you make your way out, you come across Big Show as he's beating the tar out of Jack Swagger, and Cena and Show exchange friendly talk. As Cena goes out for his match, he gets taken out by Sheamus on the way to the ring, and NOW the story begins. I'll be honest, I was hoping for a Road to Wrestlemania with Sheamus, and this works pretty nicely. I went through three "events" as Sheamus: the first one beating down Cena (which for some reason felt right, as I'm more of a Sheamus fan than a part of the Cenation). Following that, I had to take on Daniel Bryan one on one. No big deal. After that I had to take on Wade Barrett in a small fight to help prove Raw's dominance in the upcoming Raw vs. Smackdown match at WWE Bragging Rights. I didn't actually do the match at Bragging Rights, but from what I've seen it starts out three on three I think. This is slightly disappointing, because the Bragging Rights matches (and a lot of Survivor Series matches) are five-on-five, but I don't think I've ever seen a WWE game have more than six superstars in the ring at once. Even eight would be fine for a more traditional 4-on-4 Survivor Series match.

After that, I wanted to get a bit more of a feel for submissions, so I did a two-out-of-three-falls match. Not the best plan, but I learned a bit more about an important aspect of the game: reversals. The match pitted Alex Riley (myself) vs. Christian (CPU). For most of the match I got my rear end handed to me, which wasn't made any easier by the fact that I forgot I turned off everything except KOs, so no pinfalls of submissions. While Christian won the first fall and I won the second, I think I won the third by sheer luck. It seemed like no matter what I tried, I couldn't reverse most of what Christian threw at me. To that end, I'm surprised I won the match. The match though also gave me a chance to check out the new Limb Targeting system. If you have a groggy opponent or an opponent in a grapple, you can hold LB and hit A, X, or B to target a specific part of the opponent’s body to further weaken it. This is especially useful against someone like Rey Mysterio, as you can target his legs to slow him down. Unfortunately, I doubt that it would eliminate the 619 entirely, but one can hope.

On a couple other notes, I was able to ask Jonathan Durr (lead designer at THQ) a few questions which he answered on behalf of our staff.
When asked what the hardest part of making a game with annual installments, he responsed with "there's just so much that you want to do, but you can't just do everything at once. Otherwise, there's nothing to add in for next year and it makes it just feel like a roster update". I can also imagine that it's tough to find a way to outdo the previous year's installment. The next question was why didn't the Wii versions of SvR2011 (and WWE '12) have online features? The response was pretty much the same, but with a bit more added in. With past installments, they noticed that most of the online play was done on the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, and hardly any was done on the Wii. I can attest to that, as I hardly saw anyone online with the Wii version of Smackdown vs. Raw 2010. Even when I did find someone to play against, their signal was so low it was laggy. Finally, I asked Jonathan if we will ever see the ability to have online leagues or federations? While this was asked by another Gaming Nexus staff member, it interests me too, as I would love to take a federation of created wrestlers and pit them against another federation online, kind of like back in the old territory days when they would occasionally send a wrestler to another territory for some extra exposure. Jonathan's response was "you never know about the future". I'm hoping that we'll see something like this sooner than later. Road to Wrestlemania and WWE Universe mode are nice and all, but pitting your own federation online against countless other federations? That would just be awesome.

Overall, I was pretty impressed with WWE '12, specifically Road to Wrestlemania and WWE Universe Mode. The added features to Universe Mode are really nice, including the ability to create your own arena and initiate a draft. Plus, you can interfere in any match and have a title match at any time. This is especially useful if you don't like Cena...I mean the current champion having the title. Come on, it's the WWE! At some point Cena will have the title. With Road to Wrestlemania, I like how all three stories will flow together to form one 18 month event. Also, as a fan of Sheamus I'm glad to see him in Road to Wrestlemania this year. Other small notes, while the graphics are better with the crowd (they actually look like an audience), the commentary still leaves some room for improvement. I'm not a huge Michael Cole fan, so hearing his voice on Monday Night Raw is bad enough for me, let alone when he says I escaped a submission in the game, and all I did was roll out of the ring. That little nuance aside, I'm looking forward to WWE '12 when it releases next month.

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