Professional Wrestling latest up and coming promotion TNA climbs through the ropes to takes on the WWE conglomerate wrestling machine in more than television ratings. TNA’s top stars in the Lucha Libre inspired six-sided ring are prepared to tackle the big show of wrestling games in their anticipated gaming premier with TNA iMPACT!.
The WWE Smackdown series has had a sleeper hold on its audience for just under 10 years now without major competition in the wrestling genre of gaming. Sure a few contenders have been lurking around, but like real life only one caller has stepped to knock on the big boys door since the downfall of WCW (World Championship Wrestling). This knock comes from TNA wrestling headed by former WWE intercontinental champion Double J, Jeff Jarrett and his father. Since 2002 TNA (Total Nonstop Action) has been steadily growing with televised support. In 2008 TNA steps into the gaming market with their first videogame, TNA iMPACT!. Midway know it's holds having produced a WWE game in the mid-90s with WWF Wrestlemania: Arcade Game. Things have changed just a bit from 1995, but I'm sure Midway is ready to bank on the TNA series being as successful franchise in the empty market of wrestling games.
Wrestling gamers can be a hard group to please. For some reason the ones who follow the entertainment “sport” weekly have the same diligence and love for the games. It’s been a long time since a wrestling game has won over their hearts. For many this dearly beloved gaming excellence of execution was either No Mercy for the N64 or the Fire D wrestling series that is vastly underrated. Some even swear by WWE Smackdown series, my two cents goes towards Here Comes The Pain (2003). So I bet you want the verdict on TNA iMPACT, and rather than wait until the end of this review I can safely let you know that the virtual impact zone isn’t going to reach these heights of videogame fame. This doesn't mean TNA iMPACT! isn't a good wrestling game, it's a start, and when the wrestling game world is this empty, a start is better than nothing.
The main problem that keeps iMPACT! from climbing the proverbial ladder is because it feels rushed and unfinished. TNA iMPACT! is extremely bare bones with a limiting number of options, poor unpolished wrestling mechanics, and weak artificial intelligence with a blatant ignorance of the rules of wrestling. It honestly feels like Midway should have held the game back another six months to finish polishing what they had started. The foundation is certainly present and iMPACT! with a lot of hard work gone into the project, but overall iMPACT! feels like they got the advanced green when they the game wasn't up to 100%.
The roots have been planted starting with a strong control system that is a throwback to the older style of wrestling games. This makes iMPACT! easy to pick-up-and-play and perform the basics moves to feel like a TNA Superstar. The buttons are used to do various kicks, punches and grapples with the top buttons used as modifiers. The left analog stick turns your attention to other opponents in multi-person matches, or to kick out of pins. The use of "wagging" the analog stick to get out of pins or a daze is a good approach to kicking out. It requires some heavy duty back and forth action to kick out in time. Things can get a little rough on your controller which parallels the world of TNA wrestling.
Even though the controls are easy to get into they still need to be overhauled in a few areas. For one, the reversal system that prompts you to hit a single button to activate a reversal is flawed. The problem here is that the icon prompts off time with the exact timing of the move. This will cause a lot of frustration in the begging of the game when you are learning how to play. I finally realized that that little icon flashing on the screen isn’t going to help and I would have to relay on my instincts to pull of the reversal moves, or use the random button press theory and try your luck... this works as well.
Another problem is the position that you can’t apply moves when your opponent is face down on the mat. You have to wait until the character rolls over onto his back before you can perform a move. This is the best time to slip on your submission which is cleverly addressed with a series of button presses. The submission system like kicking out is original and actually works well within the perimeters of the game.
Speaking of moves the set of moves in iMPACT! is limiting, but it does give a number of fresh new moves that have helped put TNA on the map. The super cool Canadian Destroyer finisher and a number of highly athletic grapples and counters are also in the game including a few spectacular captures that I haven’t seen in a game before. This is combined with the basics works which you will get really familiar with as you’re created characters are very limited in the moves they are assigned. In long sittings things can get a little tiresome and ultimately makes iMPACT! feel more boring then it should.
When you put all the small issues together it ends up hurting the overall drama and feeling of a wrestling match. These problems will have to be addressed if the game series moves forward. The artificial intelligence isn’t anything to brag about either, so quality matches have to come from online competition or having a friend over at the house. When you learn to compromising and working with the limitations with the game the game really has a good flow, otherwise it feels a little cheap and routine.
The balance of the game will need tweaking as well as you can perform forty moves on your opponent from bashing them with a steel chair to executing devastating top rope hits and they will still get up as if they where hit from a closeline. There is no really feeling of damage on either side besides the body HUD in the corner of the screen. Even after I hit one jobber with twelve chair shots in a row they still kicked out on the two. Then lone behold two moves from them and I am stunned and out of the game. Yea, cheap! Oh and I almost forgot to add the lack of count outs, DQs, or rope-breaks. I don’t know why the developer didn’t want to pay attention to basic rules of wrestling unless they wanted to throw a tribute t he golden days of ECW.
Seven varied arenas are available in TNA iMPACT which includes so dynamic settings and iMPACT’s home in Orlando, Florida. Along with seven arenas, nine match types are also spread out for gamers to enjoy. You won’t see too many gimmicks I quit, or coffin matches here. It’s mainly bare-bones wrestling with the exception of the TNA original Ultimate X Match. The Ultimate X match consist of a number of wrestlers fighting over a belt that is hung overtop of the ring by a spider web of cables. The first one to shimmy their way over to the title and pull it down is the winner. The match is highly enjoyable to watch and TV and it also carries over well to the game form. It’s nice to see a little bit of TNA’s originality in the game. Hopefully this is an area that can be expanded on in the future.
In TNA iMPACT! You will be able to pick between having normally exhibition matches, jumping on live for some online action and participating in the story mode. The story mode which is the focus on the game prompts you to create your own character and fight your way up the ranks of TNA organization. Things don’t start out so cut and dry for your character as step into the shoes of Suicide. Suicide was a masked wrestler who at the height of his career held the TNA champion only to get beat down and left for dead by tag-team L.A.X. Clinging onto life you are saved and get reconstructed to get revenge on your attackers and make the biggest comebacks in sports-entertainment. Yes, this is total Russo material, but that’s ok. iMPACT!'s storyline might be a little “out-there” but I found it to be good enough to get me interested in the in-ring action. The only part that starts to wear on me besides the troubles of the A.I. is the unnecessary amount of jobbers you'll have to take on before you get to the main players. For all those wondering iMPACT! doesn’t feature any playable ladies from the TNA Knockouts division.
Another downside to the story mode in TNA iMPACT! is the limited create-a-character mode. The selection of options is really limited to what you’ve come to expect in other wrestling games and that not to worse part. The worst aspect is that you are not able to select your moves when you start the game. You get the default portfolio that can not be altered until you unlock them until you earn enough points with iMPACT! point reward system. This means you’ll be punching and suplexing your way through hours of game before you can make Suicide's replacement feel like an individual. Unlocking the ability to chop and closeline isn’t the most interesting moves in the world. It really takes the whole length of the story before you are able to create a character how you would like. This makes even the most dominant wrestler feel like they have the move-set on par with Hillbilly Jim.
The graphics really help to pick up the pieces for TNA iMPACT! because they simply look incredible. TNA iMPACT! has to be one of the best looking wrestling games to ever be released. Midway really did their best working with the Unreal engine to pull off some impressive character modeling along with smooth animations. Sure at times iMPACT! suffers from a few minor glitches like botched move animations and clipping, but in the wrestling world of gaming this is nothing to pick at. The real-life wrestlers probably have to take another glance when they see themselves in the game, this is probably why TNA is using the games introductions on national TV. Aside from the popular wrestlers, the generated jobbers, arenas and even the crowd is very presentable. The gameplay might be falling a little behind, but the graphics are definitely leading the pack.
The audio in the other hand is a sore spot that needs some more attention. This shouldn’t be a surprise as we are thrown into Smackdown vs. Raw every year with the same problems that appear in TNA. The broadcasting is the main part that have your ears recoiling. Wrestling games are not even close to other “sport” games in this respect and really fall into a repetitive circle of one-liners and boring unspecific references. The voice-over work is the best aspect of the audio with the TNA superstars lending their talents to the game. A good portion of the game features "Big Sexy" Kevin Nash who does a good job delivering his lines with his patented sarcastic tone.
Midway’s first effort from to capture the essence of TNA wrestling falls a little short by feeling rushed and unpolished. The potential is definitely apparent as you get into the brawler with the basics all in place. The control system is a welcomed throwback to the glory days, the core gameplay is headed in the right direction and topping all this off are some top-quality visuals. Unfortunely mirroring real life, TNA iMPACT! still needs a lot of work to compete with its direction competition, the WWE.
Who knows if it even possible to make the perfect wrestling game, but hopefully Midway will return to the six-sided rings to give it another go in 2009. Even if you’re not a fan of TNA per-say, you might be interested in feeding your wrestling needs with something other than a yearly meal of Smackdown. Midway has done a passable attempt at making a landmark wrestling game, but its short commings turn TNA iMPACT! into a rental instead of the next big thing.
Gameplay: 6, Graphics:8, Sound:6.5, Innovation:6, Mojo:6.5 Final: 6.6 / 10
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 09.15.08