After the nostalgic silliness of WWE All-Stars, it's time for THQ's wrestling games to get serious again - or at the least, as serious as you can be about two men slapping each other in their underpants.
Smackdown vs Raw developer Yuke's is once again at the helm, and while the familiar brands have been trimmed away from the header - WWE 12 is the shortest title in the history of the franchise - the game itself has all the genetic tell-tales of its long-running lineage.
Happily, this means a return of the impressively extensive Create-A-Superstar mode, and within minutes of starting my gamescom hands-on I'd successfully built my wrestling abomination of choice: a bald, eye-patched pirate with hideously deformed limbs. So far, so familiar - but WWE 12 has added the ability to edit your full name, as announced while you make your way to the ring. Your full title can now be built using any four samples from a library of almost 600, resulting in pleasing combinations like "Ambiguous Mike The Warlock". You're also free to repeat samples, allowing me to title my pirate "I I Captain".
All messing about aside, the character creation options here really are enormous. If you're the kind of gamer who spends hours tweaking your spandex-clad wunderkind (and there are a lot of you out there, I know) you'll also be pleased to learn that WWE 12 lets you design your own arenas as well. You can edit everything from the image that appears on the matt (you can upload your own artwork for this) to the crawling text on the electronic light boards at the entrance to the arena, as well as the signs held up by your adoring fans. Naturally, once you're done you'll be able to share your creations online, with the option to download and store up to 50 wrestlers and 50 arenas at a time.
Of course, all of this user-generated flexibility is pointless if no-one actually wants to play the game in the first place. The developers state that they've tried to take things back to the feel of the older entries in the series - and to make the game more accessible in the process - but I'd be lying if I said I noticed any massive changes in handling during my first hands-on, brief though it was. The controls still feel a lot more demanding than this year's All-Stars, and it's still tricky to time the inputs for successful escapes and reversals. The AI utterly destroyed me in the three bouts I tried, though admittedly this may say more about my own skills than the difficulty curve of the game.
Either way, it's clear that there have been changes. Controls have migrated back to the button-mashing antics of yesteryear, shifting away from the stick-based grappling that's cropped up in more recent games. It's certainly a smoother game than many previous entries in the franchise, and Yuke's seems to have done away with the strange teleporting that used to take place when you performed certain moves at the edge of the ring. Individual limbs can now take critical damage in response to carefully targeted attacks, and there's a brace of new mini games that kick in during submissions and the like.
Perhaps the most entertaining new addition is the inclusion of Dramatic Comebacks - a once-per-match mechanic that can be used to save your bacon when your superstar is close to defeat. Initiate this and you and your opponent will compete in a brief timing contest. The downed superstar attempts to pull off one of those "back from the dead" attack frenzies, with button icons appearing near important limbs or over the characters heads; both players race to meet the prompts, with reaction speed determining whether or not the Comeback works. It's a QTE competition that vaguely recalls Heavy Rain, only without the crying and bad parenting.
Whether or not Yuke's will pull off a comeback of its own remains to be seen. After the arcade lightness of All-Stars, it's hard to know whether WWE 12's sim-like qualities will offer reassuring depth, or just seem like a step in the wrong direction. With a November release just around the corner, we'll know soon enough.
WWE 12 will be released on November 25 on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii.