Name: TNA Impact
Genre: Professional Wrestling
Platform: PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Back at E3, when we first got our hands on Midway’s new wrestling game, TNA Impact, we were told that it would revolutionize the wrestling genre. With features like interruptable animations, an entirely new submission system, and a streamlined grappling mechanic, we were ready to believe it. The early release we played had some technical issues, but overall, felt like it just might be a contender for wrestling game dominance. The final product has arrived, and, sadly, the promises were left unfulfilled. What we have instead is an unfinished, unpolished game with a serious lack of features, game modes, and characters.
Midway said that their control scheme would be totally different than the one found in the WWE’s games, and on that front, they were right. Pretty much every command is different than the competitor’s. A and X serve as your standard attack buttons, B interacts with environmental elements, and Y initiates grapples. All of these commands can be turned into stronger versions by holding the left bumper while inputting them. For example, pressing A while the opponent is down causes your wrestler to stomp on the opponent. Adding in the left bumper makes you leap in the air and crash down on them, causing significantly more damage. The right bumper serves as your defensive button. Pressing it causes you to attempt a counter, which reverses your opponent’s attack. Pressing it while holding back will simply block the attack. Holding the right trigger makes you run. In general, the control scheme feels pretty instinctive, and after a match or two, you shouldn’t have to think about it much, which is nice. In practice, however, the controls tend to be unresponsive at times, especially the right thumbstick, which targets different opponents. There are also times when it feels like the counter button simply doesn’t work. Perhaps it’s just my poor timing, but I often miss counters that I feel I should have hit, and vice versa.
Of course, a decent control scheme doesn’t mean much if the gameplay itself is flawed, and TNA Impact’s is decidedly imperfect. Collision detection is an absolute joke. You’ll constantly see punches and kicks that end up more than two feet from the opponent, yet still manage to connect. On the flipside, you’ll often watch as your wrestler attempts a grapple that goes right through the opponent. The heavily touted “interruptable animations” that Midway promised are spotty at best, and, on occasion, infuriating. It’s true that if you have your opponent in a suplex or powerbomb position, the animation can be broken up by another player attacking you. This doesn’t apply to pretty much any other animation in the game, however, and opponents are basically untouchable while they’re standing up or getting into the ring. This has always been a problem in wrestling games dating back to the N64, and while Midway claimed that TNA Impact would change all that, it’s actually more of a problem here than in the Smackdown vs. Raw games.
Collision detection and clipping issues are expected in wrestling games; they’re a necessary evil when you consider just how many cooperative animations there are in the games. TNA Impact, however, has less of an excuse than most. Wrestlers’ movesets are a fraction the size of WWE’s characters. While the competition features at least four different grapple moves from each position (facing opponent, running toward opponent, facing opponent’s back, etc.), TNA gives you a total of eight, and none of them are rear grapples. Weapons make an appearance in the game in the form of folding chairs, but they are so poorly implemented that they are often more of a hindrance than a help.
Game modes are limited to Story, Xbox Live and Exhibition modes. Sadly, more recently introduced modes like Create-A-Pay-Per-View and Tournament are nowhere to be found. Story mode is where the meat of the game resides, and while it’s shallow and unpolished, there are some nice elements to it. The story starts off with your character, under the name Suicide, working his way up the TNA rankings to become World Champion. After this, he is attacked by a tag-team called LAX, and beaten so badly that he develops amnesia and needs plastic surgery. It’s a plot device that’s certainly been used before, but in this case it does a decent job of explaining why your character has a new name and face. From there, your character wakes up in Tijuana and starts wrestling locally, eventually working his way to the States and, finally, the big stage of TNA Impact. The narrative is delivered through cinematic cut scenes and voice-overs during load screens. All the voice work is of a surprisingly high quality, and many of the cut scenes are genuinely funny. My only complaint with the story is that you’ll spend a lot of time fighting made up characters like “The Red Devil” and “The Bulgarian.” This wouldn’t be so bad if these characters looked like pro wrestlers. Instead, they are usually overweight, dopey looking schmucks in jeans and a sweatshirt. To make matters worse, none of them have their own introductions; instead, they all share a rotation of generic intros that refer to them as “a superstar who puts his body on the line,” or “a true technician in the ring.” If there’s one thing that will keep you playing TNA Impact, though, it’s the surprisngly well-written, well-told story. Exhibition mode is just what it sounds like: you vs. a friend, friends or the computer in various match types. Online, the game suffers from moderate lag issues. While the slowdowns aren’t constant or crippling, a game that requires split-second timing will always suffer from even the slightest lag, and TNA is no exception.
One of the best features of recent WWE titles has been the customization options. Creation options for characters, factions, belts, and pay-per-view events have always been full-featured and rewarding, offering tons of replay value. TNA Impact allows you to create custom wrestlers, but the depth of options is more comparable to SoulCalibur IV or Mortal Kombat Armageddon than Smackdown vs. Raw. Instead of detailed sliders for body parts, you have three options of body type. Seemingly standard options like height and weight are nowhere to be found, and options that should be robust, like facial morphing, are reduced to a handful of predefined settings. The layering system found in Smackdown vs. Raw is also absent, replaced with simple torso, arm, leg, hand, and foot options. Worst of all, selecting your wrestler’s ring intro is an exercise in trial and eror. There are ten intros to choose from, but no way to preview them, forcing you to start a new match to see what intro you’ve chosen. It’s just one of many examples of poorly conceived features found in the game, and it smacks of lack of effort.
If you discount the game’s serious clipping and collision detection issues, it’s actually quite nice looking. The high-poly character models are well-textured, and they animate quite smoothly, thanks to motion-capturing of every athlete in the game. Certain canned animations, most notably reversals, look exceptional in action, with the wrestlers connecting perfectly with one another. Other times, however, you’ll see wrestlers teleporting to a spot so that they can connect for a maneuver. The animation inconsistencies are absolutely glaring, taking you out of the game and making certain attacks almost unblockable. Created characters look significantly less impressive than the real TNA stars, especially during cinematics, but this has been the case in just about every wrestling game ever, so it’s excusable.
Presentation is bare bones to say the least. For example, there is exactly one type of loading screen in the entire game, featuring a picture of the beautiful Christy Hemme. While I understand wanting to feature one of wrestling’s most popular women, a few different shots of her would have been nice. Other than the standard menus, there are really no bells and whistles other than the bonus disc included with the game, featuring a few “classic” TNA matches and some behind the scenes footage.
Despite Midway’s (and Kurt Angle’s) claims of TNA Impact changing the face of wrestling games, there really isn’t much here to sway anyone from the WWE franchise. Light on content, strategy, and presentation, this mediocre title fails to innovate in any real way, and instead strips away a lot of what has worked in the past. It’s obvious that this is a first effort for the franchise, and while there is the skeleton of a decent game, we’re years away from TNA having any chance of challenging the WWE for wrestling game supremacy. TNA fanatics will certainly want to pick this game up, if just to see their favorite stars in action, but pretty much anyone else with even a passing interest in wrestling will be better served by any of the WWE titles. Besides, in those games, you can just make the TNA stars with the character creator, then pit them against each other in a fully functional game.