There has been rumblings over the past few days that THQ’s new big announcement ahead of E3 was a big one. Since picking up and running with the name in 2004, WWE and THQ today announced that Smackdown vs. Raw will no longer be used as the name for the annual wrestling game series. Smackdown vs Raw has become the best-selling wrestling series of all time, but THQ has felt the brand has stagnated, fans complaining about lack of change, morphing, unrealistic physics, amongst other things. The brand war theme as well had grown old, especially with the WWE dropping the emphasis on brand war, even dropping the SD vs Raw PPV Bragging Rights used to promote the game. It will take on a much simpler name starting this year with WWE ’12, which will still be developed by Yuke’s.
IGN detailed the game’s changes most of which sound like improvements; the “bigger, badder, better” tagline doesn’t do much to describe what’s different (and sounds a little like EA Sports Madden 11 slogan last year). Right-stick grappling is gone, moves can now be interrupted at any time and can be done anywhere in the ring, and both pins and submissions have been reworked. Animations depend on the weight of the character, so Daniel Bryan and the Big Show should be significantly different from one another. And thankfully the excellent Ricardo Rodriguez will announce Alberto Del Rio’s name as he comes to the ring. WWE ’12 will be out in North America on November 22. For the first time since the original Smackdown vs. Raw featured only one person (Vince McMahon) on the cover, Randy Orton will be the lone cover star.
More information will be made available in the next few days and the game will be seen next week at E3. Here’s part of IGN’s details on the game:
“For years WWE SmackDown vs. Raw has been the Sports Entertainment simulation series from THQ and Yuke’s Yokohama. It’s been a fun ride, but as with any franchise, fans have complained about annual aspects over and over again. Turns out the developers were listening, killed the series, and are planning on fixing things with WWE ’12.
The stiff animations, the characters warping into place for certain moves, the confusing right analog stick controls for grapples — WWE ’12 is addressing all of that and feels good so far. That’s pretty damn exciting.
Now, it would be easy to glance at screenshots and assume THQ and developer Yuke’s Yokohama just dumped the WWE SmackDown vs. Raw name and called it a day. That’s what I did. For a few days leading into my meeting, THQ had been telling me this game was going to be unlike any other WWE game I had seen, but when I finally laid eyes on it, WWE ’12 sure did look similar to WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011.
Then, I started to play it. THQ and Yuke’s didn’t just change the name, they changed the game’s DNA. There’s a new animation system, new blending methods, something called “Predator Technology” — basically, they went under the game’s hood and ripped out all the old stuff that people hated and plugged in brand new parts to try and make the most fluid wrestling game around.
When John Cena’s suplexing an opponent, a third Superstar can punch Cena and break up the move. You can do that for any move — even Finishers and mini-games like the Royal Rumble eliminations. When you’re slammed to the mat at the beginning of a bout, you’re going to sell the move and get up at the same time so that the match keeps a fast-paced feel. When you’re getting up from any move, you’re going to have a window to strike before you’re even to your feet. The goal is to have a game that feels like anything can happen from any position and eradicate that stiffness and clunkiness that has always been a calling card of WWE SmackDown vs. Raw.
For me, it all came together watching a three-man match. Orton laid out an opponent and went to the ring apron, Cena immediately started his 5-Knuckle Shuffle routine on the downed man, and as Cena was coming down, Randy Orton launched himself from the apron to land a splash. Orton hit, Cena hit, and Orton hit again. The sequence was polished and fast — it looked like a spot from ECW of old. There was no blown animation as the character on the ground reacted to the first move and ignored the other.
People don’t warp to the center of the ring for a 5-Knuckle Shuffle and similar moves anymore; the move happens where it happens. The ropes no longer stay awkwardly still during matches; you slam someone and the ring reacts. The tired fonts and menus of old have been ditched for a new setup. Visually, new shaders and tech have been introduced to make the game look better than ever. There’s definition to the character’s faces instead of the blur there was last year, and depth of field has been introduced to give the brand new arenas weight and realism.
The game, according to THQ, has been taken apart and put back together, and from the little I’ve seen, I believe them — though the changes aren’t monumental when you stare at a still image, they shine in motion.
Seeing the game in motion is where the proof of all these Predators and shaders lives. I’ve already talked about how the moves flow together, but there’s more to it than that. The days of analog stick grapples are over. Now, everything’s going back to the face buttons of your favorite controller. Grapple, strike, pin and Finisher are all right there for the taking. There are no strong and weak grapples — the moves you’re pulling off are dependent on how worn down the opponent is.
That’s all well and good, but there are specific things THQ has peppered in that affect the gameplay. First, there’s limb targeting in WWE ’12. You can attack the head, arms or legs, and while this obviously puts you in a good place for certain finishers, it also really twists the match in whatever direction you want it to go. If you’re up against a lightning quick high flier, you can work the legs so the opponent can’t get around as quickly and can’t zip up the turnbuckles. Work the head, and the opponent is going to be a groggy mess. All this plays into how easy it’ll be to get an opponent to tap in the new “Breaking Point” submission system where players tap buttons in a tug of war mini-game.
Epic brawls are going to look like the epic brawls you see on TV — both in terms of the new camera angle that’s more pulled back and the gameplay speed I talked about earlier — but they get even more like Monday Night Raw when you add in the new Wake Up Taunts in WWE ’12. Basically, you know how Randy Orton pounds the ground before he goes to hit his Finisher on TV? That can happen in the game now. You knock your opponent down with your Finisher primed, hit the taunt button, and you’ll get a celebration that ends with the opponent getting to his feet in the perfect setup for your big move. The opponent gets a chance at reversing it, but it really brings together that TV style presentation THQ’s been working on for the last few years.
That said, I thought the stamina bar was a bit of a step backwards in WWE ’12. The last few WWE SmackDown vs. Raw games incorporated a barely visible halo around the Superstars feet to keep players in-tune with how they’re doing in a match and not distract from the presentation. As of now, WWE ’12 features a big meter with a name on it at the bottom of the screen showing how close you are to building a Signature or Finisher (you can store two Finishers). I found it jarring as the game looks better than ever and is trying so hard to mimic broadcasts.
Still, that’s the only gripe I have with the new direction. WWE ’12 also adds Dynamic Comebacks, which are those tried and true combos you see folks like Cena throw out that take them from the edge of defeat to clearing the ring. If you reach a certain amount of damage, you’ll be able to have a shot to use this one-time combo. Pull it off, and you get two Finishers.
These stored Finishers and Dynamic Comebacks make it seem like my friends and I are going to have some awesome matches, but THQ and Yuke’s want you to have awesome matches with computer-controlled opponents, too. The AI learns this time around. If you spam run attacks like I do (I’m infamous on the Internet for my floatover DDT), the computer opponent is supposed to recognize that and be ready to counter it. For the first time, THQ says that the computer is going to remember what you’ve been doing and what it’s been doing. (i.e. if it picks up a chair, it’s not going to drop it — it’s going to hit you with it.)
Balancing the difficulty isn’t just a focus when it comes to the man versus machine matches. THQ found that people figured out how to master the pinning system pretty quickly in SVR 11, so it’s been redone in WWE ’12. It’s still a metered system (hold a button to fill a meter and release it when it gets to a window on the meter), but the window moves around this time at random — it won’t always be in the same spot. Similarly, the window size varies on how beat up you are, and if you’re pinned after the opponent hits his Finisher, the meter might not pop up to the two-count so you’d only have one shot at it. “
So are you excited? What do you think? Ready to be the TSG World Champion in November. Let us know what you think in the comments.