A new era has arrived.

"Every decade or so, a new era dawns in the wrestling industry. From the Hulk Hogan-driven "Rock and Roll" era to the reign of Stone Cold Steve Austin, the business of fighting in a squared circle reinvents itself constantly. With WWE '12, THQ effectively hits the reset button on its core sports entertainment franchise, attempting to introduce a new era for the simulation series. These changes work. WWE '12 not only manages to still bottle the core essence and style of the wrestling industry, it does it in a way that doesn't sacrifice gameplay design and balance. If anything, the game's faults consist of attributes that ironically duplicate the WWE's own creative struggles.

Previous wrestling games, much like their source material, seemed to focus on presentation and flash rather than substance. The Smackdown vs. Raw series never sat well with me from a mechanical perspective. While all the moves, entrances and wrestlers were technically there, playing through matches was a chore compared to the pacing and addictive gameplay offered by WWF No Mercy a decade ago. There was no tension, there was no drama and ultimately, there was no fun. The experience was more like batting around action figures than recreating something that felt like the captivating product that has repeatedly hooked me for over a decade. Wrestling isn't about any one move or moment in time. It's about a story, one that is woven in a ring over 20 minutes, escalating in intensity until a victor is revealed. If a game can't find a way to bring that theatricality to players, it might as well not be made.

WWE '12 finds that pacing. The changes start with the controls, allowing players to grapple and chain into light moves and execute more powerful attacks as opponents get weaker. More dynamic systems for submissions and pins escalate in tension, creating narrow windows of opportunity to escape while visually highlighting that struggle on the screen. The animated transitions between offense and defense are more fluid, eliminating many of the jarring, awkward moments that previous games so repeatedly featured. Occasionally wrestlers revert to a stunned state a bit too easily, and the animation and hit detection for objects like ladders and chairs feels a little off, but the impact of these inconsistencies is minimal.

The game's designers have clearly spent a lot of time making sure matches have a natural progression, one that subtly incorporates all of the above ideas into something that simply feels right. It tells the story of wrestling in a brilliant way while never losing itself in the process. Remarkably, the developers WWE '12 seem to understand wrestling better than the writers creating the television product do. As revered as WWE No Mercy is, that game never managed to naturally tell an in-ring story like this game can.

A wrestling story is only as good as the wrestlers involved, and WWE '12 offers a spectacular roster. The game contains well over 60 superstars, featuring a healthy mix of icons past and present. From The Rock to the Undertaker to Bryan Danielson, the range of talent is impressive, and that's to say nothing of the DLC, which will eventually add legends like Mick Foley.

How these wrestlers operate within the ring is also of great importance. The game's AI ranges from borderline incompetent to extremely dangerous. On easier levels, your opponents might grab you and not execute a move for several seconds. Ratchet that difficulty up several notches and you'll have a challenge on your hands. The AI does have a tendency to rely heavily on cheap reversals to boost its potency. If you find that as annoying and unfair as I do, you can easily turn that frequency down in the options menu, forcing your digital opponent to play fair.

Avoiding matches against the computer will still result in the best experience with WWE '12. Though the AI works reasonably well, the unpredictability and natural competitive environment that emerges against other human players is far superior. The user interface of the online menus isn't as streamlined or intuitive as the rest of the game, and an odd post-match design choice to kick me back to a lobby and not follow my opponent into a new round seems a bit ridiculous. Some of my earliest attempts to play online occasionally featured enough latency issues to make time-based actions like kicking out of a pin virtually impossible. However, more recent sessions were absolutely lag-free, which bodes well for launch.

Of course, even with its core gameplay in place, WWE '12 still needs to recreate the spirit and atmosphere of its brand. The Undertaker is a brilliant performer in the ring, but he'd be significantly less of a legend without his captivating entrance or signature look. The way the "Dead Man" slowly approaches the ring in cloak and hat, enveloped in darkness, outlined only by the glow of torches is at once surreal and otherworldly. That outlandish presentation sets a proper tone for the world of wrestling in a way that feels like comic books have come to life. In this sense, WWE '12 is superb. Many of these characters, particularly their entrances, are so spectacularly captured you'd almost swear you were watching a live episode of RAW or Smackdown.

The teams at THQ and Yukes have even gone to great lengths to try and get the latest entrance themes and animations. Despite only debuting a new look just a few months back, CM Punk will stroll to the ring with his new opening video and clothing, "Cult of Personality" blaring in the background. Some attention could be paid to various stage effects like smoke and fireworks, though they get the point across. Likewise rope physics, which are new this year, manage to simultaneously impress and detract from the overall experience. All too frequently the cables surrounding the ring wriggle as if they're made of string and not tense steel bound by tape.

For each story told in the ring, a larger narrative takes place, weaving the fights between various personalities into feuds that, when done right, stand the test of time. All wrestling fans know of the iconic rivalries formed in episodic format through RAW and Smackdown, and THQ has re-imagined its Road to Wrestlemania mode to bring that notion to life. The single-player experience in WWE '12 is no longer about simply getting to WWE's biggest show of the year, but playing through months and months of programming as three (and only three) key superstars - Sheamus, Triple H and a player-created selection.

Not just because of its restrictive character focus, Road to Wrestlemania is certainly the weakest element of WWE '12. Attempting to tell the larger episodic format by not simply forcing players into match after match, the designers put a heavy emphasis on promos, backstage segments and even elaborately scripted events in the middle of matches. The interest in telling more complex stories is admirable, and it does work to a certain extent. Yet it manages to overstay its welcome.

Wrestling is at its weakest when it forgets the best story is told in the ring without interruptions. Any time something pauses the action, there is a large risk the drama and tension will evaporate. The same holds true in video game form. The constant attention away from what WWE '12 does best, which is simulate great in-ring combat, drastically reduces the appeal of Road to Wrestlemania. It doesn't help that the actual storytelling, due in part to the voice acting and due in part to the awkward character animations, isn't up to the task. As I often say during an episode of RAW or Smackdown, I'm here to watch wrestling, not watch wrestlers attempt to act.

WWE '12 has few faults in its highly-customizable Universe mode, which is intricately tied to the wide, wide variety of creative suites available to players. Universe takes a more straightforward, story-less view of the WWE, laying out programming in calendar form, allowing players to simulate various shows at a macro or micro level. It's here that the ability to create new content can truly come into play, as entire shows and brands can be completely revised, right down to the name. If you want to completely convert the WWE into WCW, you can do that.

The dedication to customization doesn't just end with the simulation of a WWE schedule. That's just one facet of the wide range of tools available. Creating arenas, logos, new finishing moves, entrance sequences and, of course, wrestlers are all here. The versatility and power of these modes are almost overwhelming, yet they themselves are built intuitively, with a focus on balancing simplicity and ease-of-use with depth. It works very well. I was able to create The Great Muta with relative ease, and my one-of-a-kind leopard print was crafted in mere minutes. Those wishing to rapidly create more comedic concepts will find exactly what they're looking for. Likewise those who relish the thought of painstakingly recreating Tatanka should have no problem. Players can even adjust existing wrestlers' moves, looks and attributes. Suddenly the notion of Zack Ryder being the strongest wrestler in the WWE isn't so far-fetched.

WWE '12 features so much content that it's impossible to give due diligence here to each of its deep modes. Yet none of that depth would matter if the gameplay was sub-par. THQ's efforts in breathing new life into its core mechanics have paid off. Combat now has a natural flow that not only makes sense from the perspective of a player but from the perspective of someone watching a wrestling match take place. The tension and drama that should be present inside the ring are there, and the only reason that's possible is because there is a balance and fine-tuning in the mechanics.

What THQ has done here serves its audience spectacularly. WWE '12 retains and improves upon the already-great presentation of its predecessors, capturing a likeness of wrestling that is uncanny. And it plays just as well as it looks. This should be considered a milestone for the wrestling simulation genre. It's certainly a much-needed breath of fresh air. Let's just hope every year can continue to be this remarkable - the bar is now set very high." IGN.com

Rating Description
out of 10 Click here for ratings guide
9.0 Presentation
Some incredible work here, recreating the WWE experience in a dramatic, almost lifelike way. The story needs some work.
8.5 Graphics
On the ramp and in the ring, the graphics are great. When it comes to acting, the results are about as good as you might expect.
7.5 Sound
All the music you want is here, and so are the wrestlers' voices, but the wrestlers have more passion on TV.
8.5 Gameplay
The core mechanics are excellent, but the single-player story doesn't want to let you use them.
9.5 Lasting Appeal
There are almost too many options. Online is great but the interface is a bit awkward.
(out of 10)

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