Friday, February 17, 2012

Megabits Column: WWE '12

Megabits of Gaming contributes a monthly column in Charged Middle East – a leading Dubai-based gadgets and games magazine that provides news, reviews and features on the latest home and consumer electronics.

Each month, Megabits takes a look at a new release in a gaming franchise and considers how its evolved over the years and what makes it great!

Here’s the latest of the articles from the February 2012 issue. For more about the magazine, check out its Facebook page after the jump.

About a decade ago I was a huge fan of the WWF – not the panda-loving association that wanted to save the planet (although I’ve nothing against them). I’m talking about the World Wrestling Federation; home to hulking muscle-bound meatheads smashing one another’s faces into turnbuckles and using ladders and desks to pummel opponents into submission. Each ridiculous bout was punctuated with equally ridiculous acting, which would make Hollywood movie moguls’ toes curl. It was a guilty pleasure. Along with many other wrestling fans, I simply refused to believe it was little more than a badly-acted soap opera; as far as I was concerned, the fighters were real, the stories were real and all those audacious moves were real.

Thankfully, video games have managed to not only capture the very essence of wrestling but the imagination of the enthusiasts too.

In the past 10 years there have been countless renditions of the sport captured on our consoles, and arguably the developers have ensured that the virtual wrestling matches are every bit as realistic as the actual TV shows. THQ’s WWE ‘12 is the latest in a long line of wrestling games that aims to transport us into the ring.

As with all modern fighting games, the presentation is superb and perfectly replicates the real thing - from the fireworks and lighting that accompanies each fighter’s entrance to the commentary, crowd chants and growls mid-fight.

Aesthetically, it all looks very authentic too. From the wrestlers themselves to the animated canvas and the rope physics that react to each strike. The game’s new Predator Technology also improves the transition between moves, making them look seamless.

New broadcast camera angles keep up with all the action, the developers having worked alongside the TV production team to include 25 new angles to capture everything.

As you’d expect, copious game modes are on offer, from the traditional one on one fights to Hell in a Cell, Inferno matches, Iron Man, Ladder and Last Man Standing to name a few. Then there’s the hefty Road to WrestleMania mode too.

A new Limb Targeting System adds a welcome element of strategy to the game, allowing you to grapple your opponent and focus attacks on their head, arms or legs – making submissions easier. The momentum of a match can change suddenly with the improved AI adding unpredictability and excitement to each fight. It’s probably as close as many of us will get to the ring without pulling on some stretchy spandex and grunting a lot.

THQ’s latest effort continues a long legacy dating back almost 30 years. Sure you didn’t have the quality graphics back then, and all those grapples, strikes and throws didn’t require a complex series of button presses like they do today but the early wrestling games still managed to capture the raucous nature of the sport.

The arcades played host to Tag Team Wrestling in 1983, which was one of the first games of its type and spawned countless imitators. Developer Technos Japan may have only included a small number of playable characters and moves but it helped lay the foundations for future titles. It was also credited for introducing the tag team mechanic in games – something which other developers have grappled with ever since.

Tag Team Match M.U.S.C.L.E (1985) and Pro Wrestling (1987) were other notable offerings on the Nintendo NES but it probably wasn’t until Rare’s WWF Wrestlemania bounded onto the system in 1988 that gamers really started to sit up and take notice. It coincided with the immense popularity of Hulk Hogan et al on the small screen and meant you could re-enact their trademark moves.

Over the years, there’s been stiff competition from other franchises such as the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat arcade brawlers to more realistic sports sims such as UFC Undisputed, but they all owe a lot to those wrestling titles. For decades, they have captured the spectacle, the stories and rivalries. It’s exciting and over the top, with each fight every bit as ridiculous as it is entertaining.