It sounds a little bit daft, but if there was one habitual problem with the more recent iterations of THQ’s Smackdown Vs Raw series, it was that every year there seemed to be almost too much content. Significant gameplay innovations tended to take a back seat to the mass of new stuff that came along each year, and though some of these additions were categorically brilliant – like SvR 2011’s ingenious, shape-shifting WWE Universe mode – if you weren’t a staunch WWE enthusiast, ponying up for a new game each year started to become less and less easy to justify. You were never ever sold short because each SvR game took pride in being exceptionally generous with its content, but the actual fundamentals of play were never really toyed with quite enough.

At E3 earlier this year one of WWE ‘12’s developers told us that his team were taking a great deal of their inspiration from the WWE games that once graced the Nintendo 64; which was an illustrious golden age as far as the most studious fans are concerned. Those cues are evident immediately. Despite the fact that the characters are able to move much faster than in previous games, the pace of play is generally slower. Chaining your grapples together and using transitions are both encouraged and the face buttons are used in place of the analogue sticks for the most part, with the moves that you’ll pull off now being dictated by countless different factors; where your opponent is standing in the ring, how exhausted they are etc. Dynamic comebacks – an essential part of the gaudy drama of WWE – have also been included to give faltering players a second shot at victory, and the right stick is now used almost exclusively to manipulate your opponent’s position.

It’s easily the most visually striking wrestling game ever; designed, as all good sports games are nowadays, around the need to meticulously ape the conventions of broadcast television. The crowd’s presence is highlighted by some new depth-of-field effects, animations are much more fluid and you’ll frequently come across the odd moment – such as when our slo-mo replay of an epic heavy suplex was briefly marred by lens flare from a punter’s camera flash – where its resemblance to the TV shows is beyond uncanny. Thoughtfully, the game’s default settings remove the HUD altogether, so you’ll have to gauge the state of your wrestler (and the state of your opponent) simply by looking him over. When you scope out the situation perfectly, and swoop in for a pin at exactly the right moment, it’s thrilling. In almost every department – the ever-extensive but visually slapdash Road to Wrestlemania mode aside – WWE ’12 is a sensationally well presented videogame.

As usual almost everything is customisable, and the only shame is that the new customisable arenas – which look incredible and allow you to really go to town on them – are only available during offline play. The character creation tool is still ridiculously extensive (hence its evergreen popularity) but the roster is broad and heedful nevertheless. WWE ’12 is a much more challenging proposition too, and some ruthless AI tweaks mean that you’ll never find yourself being left alone to recover from a particularly savage onslaught; something which was always an issue in SvR. The ceaselessly enjoyable WWE Universe is back and still the best thing in the box, and the mode now allows feuds to bleed over into subsequent events, the WWE Draft show has been implemented and an ongoing news-feed keeps you constantly up to speed with what’s happening elsewhere. So, bigger, badder and better? No doubt.

WWE ’12 is available now on Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii.

Watch the WWE ’12 trailer below:

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