When it comes to licensed professional wrestling titles in recent years, WWE Smackdown vs. Raw has been the reigning champion. Those times may be changing. TNA iMPACT! is here to challenge that champion to a no holds barred match in the hopes of claiming the title of best professional wrestling videogame series.
Total Nonstop Action (TNA) burst onto the wrestling seen in 2002. Since then, the show has landed a Thursday night spot on SpikeTV, and has some of the best wrestling stars of the past and present; such as Sting, Kurt Angle, and of course founder Jeff Jarret.
You can immediately tell the difference between the franchises. The developers behind iMPACT! obviously were putting a lot of effort into bringing something fresh to the genre. In a lot of ways, Midway does succeed in reaching that key goal.
First things first – iMPACT! uses a simple control scheme. The face buttons cover punches, kicks, grabs, and actions, while your triggers reverse, run, taunt, and make moves stronger. The left stick moves your character while right changes targets. I was able to jump right in and feel in total control of my wrestler, grappling and punching my way through each opponent. I have to admit I was surprised how easy it was to jump right in and play this game.
You’re going to notice right away that iMPACT! is a good looking game. While the models are crisp and detailed and the likenesses of the wrestlers are pretty spot on, what are really impressive are the animations. Moves and grapples smoothly blend together the ability to chain together moves. Doing a suplex to an arm bar is ultra smooth. It really makes a bout flow nicely not having to stumble between each movement or attack.
Now for the interface – Your heads-up display is broken up on the screen thus: a silhouette to manage the damage to your limbs, a stun meter, and an iMPACT! meter. Through the course of the match, all these meters will change. The silhouette’s limbs will change from green to red as you take attacks and the stun meter will slowly fill with red as you get your ass kicked around the ring. Once the stun meter fills, your character will be left defenseless. Similarly, the iMPACT! meter will slowly fill as you pull off moves, as you grind your opponent’s face into the matting. And once your iMPACT! meter fills up, you can perform a strong grapple to pull off your finisher.
Anyone familiar to wrestling will be accustomed to iMPACT!’s match types: Single’s Match, Tag Team, Free-For-All, “Falls Count Anywhere”, Submission, Two-On-One Handicap, and for TNA fans, “Ultimate X”.
In an “Ultimate X” match, a big red X is suspended above the center of the ring by two ropes connected to the four turnbuckles. The first one to climb up there and untie it wins the bout. To get the X, you have to climb up one of the turnbuckles, grab and climb one of the ropes, and try to untie the X while hanging above the center of the ring. Of course, you cant just simply do this; assuming your opponents aren’t inclined to let you climb unmolested. They can grab you while your climbing, leap at you from a turnbuckle, or climb up a rope and meet you half-way, It’s pretty sweet. When you finally get above the ring and start untying the X, a cool mini-game will start where you need to stop a triangle that bounces side to side in a specific spot. If hit it correctly, progress is added to your progress meter. If you suck and miss it, you have to restart the mini-game but keep any progress you may have already earned. If you manage to fill the meter, you will drop to the mat and be declared the winner. It’s a fresh and entertaining match-style.
But as fun as the controls and match types are, you will eventually begin to notice TNA iMPACT!’s many shortcomings. There just aren’t many moves to perform in this game, and this was a major disappointment to me. Midway originally boasted that there was going to be more than 2,000 motion-captured moves in the game. Obviously, a large portion of these moves were left out for one reason or another. This was a huge mistake in my opinion. With so much going for this title, subjecting it to too few moves results in a feeling of repetitively, and that is a real shame
The wrestlers (roster of 25) also feel the same with limited move sets. The same suplex, stomps, and submissions are shared by a very large portion of the list of wrestlers. undoubtedly, for fans wanting to play there favorite wrestler, there isn’t much separating one from another. Worse, there isn’t even Character specific taunts, so again individuality is hampered with a repetitive move list. There are also no grapples from behind in iMPACT!, they start in the front and move to the back via an animation. Seriously, with such a fluid animation system that blends moves together so well, grapples from behind should have never been left out, it almost feels lazy on Midways part. Speaking of lazy the create a wrestler feature is so bare its not worth mentioning.
I wouldn’t go as far to say TNA’s online mode is not fun, it is not amazing but is enough to satisfy the need to beat your friends butt online. Online only supports the one on one matches and only lets you play with the official TNA roster ( sorry now created wrestlers). I also thought it would have been great to be able to challenge or be challenged for a championship belt online in fact, there are no belts to be worn in any mode online or offline; you win a belt in story mode, but you never see them outside of photos ( again lazy). If you enjoy the single player portion of TNA’s gameplay, you will enjoy the online gameplay. However, if your playing the PS3 version has no voice support, which is lazy again.
TNA iMPACT! had lots of potential, but just didn’t reach its full potential. Maybe with another release, Midway can hash out the many problem’s that hamper this would be strong title. Beyond the repetitive/limited moves, horrible create a wrestler, decent online, iMPACT! is a decent title, with a very solid control scheme and interesting new match types. But overall, TNA iMPACT! ends up somewhat shallow. For the hardcore fan’s of TNA: I say go ahead and take a crack at it but for the others you may want to wait and see what’s around the corner in the professional wrestling video game genre.