If you smell what the WWE is cookin’

After a decade-long brand divide, the WWE’s recently made strides to show unity with their RAW and SmackDown shows and pay-per-views. In response, their yearly videogame’s dropped the annual SmackDown vs. RAW title to hammer home this brand solidarity—but that’s not all that’s changed in THQ’s annual wrestling sim. WWE ’12 finds a way to take the great customization and storyline strides that last year’s game made and refines them to provide the most authentic wrestling simulation to date.

Of course, what’s the first thing any player does with a typical WWE game? Check out the Create-a-Superstar feature! Even non-wrestling fans get caught up in the fun of creating a grappler from the ground up, and this mode sees much of the detail of previous versions return, along with new logos, designs, and physical-feature models to hit an even wider range of possibilities. But WWE ’12 also adds the new Create-an-Arena mode. Not only can you whip up your own wrestler from scratch, but you can also dedicate a squared circle to your grappler—or any of your real life-favorites. Hulkamania can run wild again with a ring drenched in red and gold, or you can show off your Macho Madness with a rainbow electronic ticker in honor of the dearly departed Randy Savage—and this is just scratching the surface of a mode I poured several hours into alone. And you can once again create logos, finishers, movesets, and even your own intro videos for the Titantron—and it’s all shareable via the WWE Creations online feature.

Another key to making this the most authentic WWE experience yet? The WWE Universe and Road to WrestleMania options. Now featuring stories that more closely mimic those you might actually see each week on RAW or SmackDown, these modes make every match and decision truly count. Maybe you’ll try to bring Sheamus back into the limelight of the WWE Title chase or push your created character to the top of the ranks and make him a legend in his own right. The Road to WrestleMania’s been trimmed, though—instead of choosing from one of five superstar storylines, you simply press play and begin the near-endless simulations of what you might see from varied wrestlers’ points of view.

But the action in the ring’s where you might see the biggest step up. The controls now feature a more casual-friendly A-button grapple prompt instead of the second analog stick, which actually gives the game a bit more of an arcadey feel, as you’ll find yourself button-mashing a bit more than you’re used to—the experience almost hearkens back to the No Mercy and WWF Attitude days in some ways. This might bother some people, but it isn’t striking enough that you won’t be able to adjust. The in-ring action’s further augmented by improvements like “wake-up taunts” to help set up finishers, better movement on the ring ropes, and an onscreen presentation that more closely mimics the actual WWE TV shows.

One element that’s definitely been criticized in past iterations, though—and it crops up again here, unfortunately—is the collision system. You’ll still see the occasional “quicksand” glitch where a wrestler’s suddenly waist deep in the mat, while an Irish whip against the steel steps can have you or your foe quivering and quaking for several seconds. Still, these moments happen more rarely than I’ve seen in any previous version of the game.

WWE ’12 is strong coat of polish on last year’s game, and when you combine that with even more customization and creation features and a beefed-up roster of several dozen wrestlers (including old standbys and never-before-digitized legends, like one of my personal favorites, the man they call Vader), and you’ve got by far the best WWE wrestling simulation we’ve seen to date—one that’ll layeth the smacketh down upon any and all wrestling haters.

SUMMARY: Some control improvements and fleshed out game play modes highlight the deepest WWE videogame experience yet.

  • THE GOOD: The most realistic WWE experience yet
  • THE BAD: Some collision and control issues remain
  • THE UGLY: Some of the created characters already uploaded to the servers

SCORE: 9.0

WWE ‘ 12 is available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii. Primary version reviewed was on the Xbox 360.