As a lifelong fan of wrestling and gaming, I’m always happy when the two worlds collide in a way that works. Sometimes it goes great (the Nintendo 64 WCW and WWF titles by THQ/AKI), and sometimes it fails miserably (Wrestlemania 21, WCW Mayhem, plenty more). In the case of Smackdown vs. Raw, the last couple of years have fallen in between. While the core action was always solid, it felt like each edition offered tiny improvements that weren’t always worth a yearly purchase. With WWE 12, THQ is rebranding the series and making more significant changes than any installment in recent history.
I was able to get some hands-on time with the title, and the streamlined controls proved to be a significant improvement over previous years. Grapples are no longer handled by the right stick, they’re now initiated with the A button. Once the superstars are locked up, a variety of moves can be performed by pressing the A button again in conjunction with a direction on the left analog stick. Modifiers are no longer necessary to differentiate between strong and weak grapples, as the former will automatically be activated later in the match once your opponent is groggy.
The new Breaking Point submission system is great, and it makes going after a tap-out victory easier than ever. No matter what position your opponent is in, all it takes is a short hold of the A button to activate a submission move. While playing as Randy Orton, I was able to put John Cena in a modified sleeper hold while he was standing, but it changes to a camel clutch if he’s on the ground. The words “Breaking Point” appear on the screen, and both players are required to mash face buttons to either wrench the hold on tighter or fight your way out of it. The weaker you are, the harder it’ll be to get out before your superstar decides he can’t take any more punishment.
If you’re taking a beating and near the end of your rope, you can get one more significant shot at victory thanks to the new comeback moves. You get it once per match, and it only appears when you’re just about done for. By hitting Y, it’ll activate a series of three moves that reward you with a full signature meter if performed correctly. John Cena’s comeback move is a series of shoulder checks, and he has to hit Y before his opponent three times in a row in order to pull it off. If done correctly, it’s a great way to come from behind and nail a signature and finisher on your opponent when it seems otherwise unlikely.
Further details regarding the returning Road to Wrestlemania mode were not discussed at E3, but THQ has confirmed to us that it is returning in some form. We’re curious to see what other changes are in store for this rebooted franchise, as they planted the seeds for some interesting new modes in last year’s Smackdown vs. Raw. A full franchise reboot involves more than a name change, a new control scheme, and a new animation system, so we’re excited to hear what else THQ has in store for wrestling fans.