Developer: Midway LA
Release Date: 09/10/08
In the past few years, there haven’t been a lot of wrestling games popping up; aside from random oddities like Fire Pro Wrestling Returns and Rumble Roses XX, pretty much everything we’ve seen in the US in the past few years, wrestling-wise, has been WWE related, and further, in the past three years, has been from the Smackdown franchise. Gone are the days of different wrestling games for different systems. Gone are the days of WCW and ECW games (though in some cases those probably won’t be missed). The WWE franchise very nearly has a stranglehold on all things wrestling related, it seems, and has had no real actual competitors in the market for years… until now. TNA and Midway have teamed up to bring us TNA Impact, the first in what will presumably be a series of games based on (presumably) the number two wrestling promotion in America. Focusing on replicating the feeling of wrestling primarily, TNA Impact is noted by the developers to be a little light on features or characters, but promises to be a fantastic gameplay experience, with the theory that solid, high quality gameplay will put their product head and shoulders above the rest.
If that were actually the case, the assumption might be true. Sadly, it’s not.
The story mode in TNA Impact tells the tale of Suicide, a masked wrestler who was rocketing his way to the top of the card, but was told to “take a dive”Â in his big heavyweight title match. Well, needless to say, he didn’t, so after being beaten nearly to death by LAX, he ends up somewhere in Tijuana, where he ends up in the care of some plastic surgeons who agree to make him over pro bono. Thanks to the brutal beating, Suicide is left with amnesia, but just so happens to end up wrestling in some indy matches that attract the attention of TNA, and before he knows it, he’s back climbing the card once again, this time with the assistance of Kevin Nash. Now, generally speaking, wrestling storylines are often not particularly good on their own, so in comparison to some of the actual stories that have come from the industry, like, say, the whole “Lost In Cleveland”Â fiasco, the entire Katie Vick mess, and about half of the stories revolving around poor Eric Young, this isn’t all that terrible. We can generally forgive, for instance, the pro bono plastic surgeons who are apparently amazing at their work, largely because it’s an attempt to hang a lampshade on the whole “creating a character”Â mechanic, and that’s fine, mostly. The rest of the story is pretty much your standard “wrestling is real, you’re climbing your way to the top”Â underdog story we’ve come to expect from most video games of this sort, so it’s not awful, but by and large the storyline feels a whole lot like the story from Wrestlemania XXI, and that’s not a good thing. Insofar as game modes are concerned, you’ve got the choice of playing the game through Story mode, normal exhibition matches, playing on Xbox Live, creating a character, and screwing around with the options and extras in the game. The actual match types are fairly limited, unfortunately; you’ve got a choice of Standard one on one, Tag, Free For All (AKA 3 and 4-way Dance matches), Ultimate X (In 1 on 1 and FFA flavors), Submission, Falls Count Anywhere, FCA Tag, and Handicap matches. Online, your choices are further limited; you have the normal Quick Match (AKA find someone for a match at random), Custom Match (AKA find someone for a match with specific parameters chosen), Create a Match (AKA make a match for someone to find), or search for (presently non-existent) Downloadable Content. You can create or join Ranked or Private/Public Player Matches, in any ring, under Standard, Submission, Falls Count Anywhere, or Ultimate X rules, in one on one matches only. In other words: online play can only handle up to two players, and there is a general death of match types and gameplay options. As noted, this can be overcome, but it takes a lot of effort to do so.
On the plus side, the game generally looks like wrestling. The character animations are largely solid, the various licensed wrestlers look like who they’re supposed to look like, and the arenas look solid enough by and large. There are the occasional visual glitches and clipping problems here and there, however, and created characters generally don’t look as good as the actual TNA wrestlers, but by and large the game looks solid. The sound quality is also mostly okay, if somewhat spotty in places. The in-game music features the standard TNA entrance tunes when browsing the menus, the voice acting in story mode is hit or miss depending on which wrestler you’re listening to (much like in real life), and the general action sound effects sound, well, loke someone hitting someone or slamming them or what have you. Mike Tenay and Don West provide solid commentary of the matches, as well, and the commentary here is about on par with something like the more recent Smackdown versus Raw games. The in-ring grunts and groans from your wrestlers are REALLY generic, however, and really annoying after about the third match, and while the ring announcer’s delivery of the normal wrestler’s entrances sounds fine, the generic ring introductions are, well, generic. Sorry, but Raw 2 had better introductions, largely because in that game I could assemble a goofy ring name to come out to, instead of hearing the ring announcer make a bizarre Conan reference. No, really. Oh, and also of note: despite the fact that this IS an Xbox 360 game, there is no custom soundtrack support for your character entrances… which, as we will note later, is not as bizarre as you might think.
Now, the biggest make or break element of any wrestling game is the gameplay, and the gameplay in TNA Impact is… well, it’s interesting. Basically, you’re given two attacks (the game describes them as punch and kick, but the kick button occasionally also delivers punches, oddly enough), a grapple, and a climb the turnbuckle/pin/pick up weapons/do your finisher/climb into and out of the ring button on the face of the pad, a strong modifier on the left bumper, a counter on the right bumper, and the run button on the right trigger. The left stick controls your movement, while the right stick controls your targeting, and the d-pad and left trigger don’t really do anything. Pressing different directions with the attack and grapple buttons will produce different strikes and grapples, but a good portion of your attacks will require the strong modifier button to be used in tandem with a button. The strong modifier is used for a lot in the game; using it with attacks produces stronger attacks, using it with a grapple performs a lockup (from which other attacks may be done), using it with the climb/pin button initiates submission attempts, and it also factors into rope spring attacks, jumping to the cables in an Ultimate X match, attacking opponents on the ground in an Ultimate X match, and tagging your partner in a tag team match. It might seem like there’s a lot going on, but you’ll only really every end up using, at most, three buttons at any given time, so it’s not too bad.
The major selling point of TNA Impact is the fact that every move can be countered, and this is mostly true, though some moves have a far smaller window of counter opportunity than others. When the option is available to counter a move, the right bumper will appear below your life bar, showing you that, with proper timing, you can counter it. Pressing the button at the right time will initiate a counter, which is usually set up in one fluid animation of you attempting the move and the opponent countering. Further, some counters can also be countered, meaning if your timing is solid, you can actually counter a counter attempt, thus allowing you to turn a loss into a win in a particular exchange. Another interesting mechanic is the submission system; instead of the normal “spam lots of buttons”Â or “try to get a moving ball into the center of a meter”Â sort of mechanic, TNA Impact instead asks you to press various buttons as they pop up on screen, ALA a DDR minigame. Both you and your opponent have to complete three sets of these button presses; if the person using the hold wins, the damage is done and the victim may tap, but if the victim wins, they escape. Also, every wrestler has a finishing move they can use, IE the Angle Slam, the Muscle Buster, and so on, which works as you might expect; fill up a meter over your character’s name (called the Impact meter), and when it’s full, you can use the move. This isn’t a huge revelation, per say, but it works perfectly fine, so fans of other wrestling games with similar mechanics will get it instantly. Then there’s the matter of the Ultimate X match, which is basically TNA’s answer to the ladder match. Basically, the mode works like a regular wrestling match, except that there are two sets of cables hung over the ring, with an object hung from them, and you have to climb ontp the cables, then climb hand over hand across the cables to the object and dislodge it, which plays out like a “try to get a moving ball into the center of a meter”Â minigame. You can, of course, be knocked off of the cables by other opponents, either on the ground or on the cables with you, though you can also attack your opponents to dislodge them.
The game features seventeen wrestlers unlocked to start, and additional fourteen locked wrestlers, for a total of thirty-one wrestlers, and for those who are fans of TNA, many of the more popular folks from the company are in the game, like Sting, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Jay Lethal, and Kurt Angle. For those that prefer to make their own characters, you’re also offered a Create a Wrestler mode, which also ties in with the Story mode. You can, as noted, make a character, which allows you to dictate their wrestling style, appearance, entrance, and so on, though you’ll note immediately that most of the moves are locked. By competing in Story mode or Exhibition matches, you’ll earn Style points, and as you earn more and more of them, new moves will be unlocked for you to assign your created character. You can also more or less modify the appearance and moveset of your character at any time, either directly from Story mode or from the Create menu. Now, while Style points unlock a pretty large amount of the content in the game, you’ll also have to play through Story mode in order to unlock most of the locked characters and arenas. Story mode basically throws you into various matches of different types against a number of different opponents, as you might expect, and you’ll probably be able to clear it out in around eight to ten hours, depending on how good of a player you are.
Beyond Story mode, as noted, you can also jump into matches on or offline with friends and strangers in various match types, and there will be DLC available for the game (focused mostly on new wrestlers, by all indications), which should mean new content and moves for created wrestlers as things move forward. Further, there are also various tutorial videos (though an actually interactive tutorial would have been preferred), each featuring different voiceovers by TNA wrestlers, as well as a couple of TNA highlights matches on the DVD for those out there who might have missed said matches or might not own them in some form or fashion, which is a nice addition to the product.
And that’s the good. Now take a deep breath, because we’re about to get into the bad.
Let’s discuss the controls first. As noted above, you can certainly figure out the controls, given a little time, but they are not even REMOTELY intuitive, and even after watching the tutorial videos I had to refer to the controls section of the options menu four or five times to figure out what I was supposed to be doing at any given time. First off, despite what WWE Main Event Style would like us to believe, wrestling is not about punching and kicking opponents, and as such, we really didn’t need two striking buttons on the face of the pad when one would have been sufficient. Further, making the left bumper the modifier button is largely awkward, as is having to hold down the right trigger to run continuously. Oh, and why is the B button set up to do so many things? What’s the purpose to that? Because the end result is that you end up, say, pinning an opponent instead of trying to pick up a weapon like you intended, which is really annoying when you are outside the ring in a match that isn’t FCA. And WHY are submissions and your finisher mapped to this button? Couldn’t you have simply set the grapples up such that, say, pressing in a direction with the button did different moves? It works fine for Yukes, Aki, and Spike, so what’s the problem with it? Yes, technically this also works in TNA Impact, but to nowhere near the same extent. Also, one of the more awkward control mechanics in the game is the pin/dizziness break system. Now, it bears noting that, instead of in normal wrestling games, where your character gets injured and takes longer to get up as a result, in TNA Impact, you can pretty much pop up from normal moves in a couple of seconds if left alone, until the stun meter under your Impact meter fills up. When this happens, you’re left defenseless until the meter decreases, which you can help along by wiggling the sticks back and forth. When you are pinned, you also wiggle the sticks back and forth to fill up a meter that pops up on screen in an attempt to kick out. Now, the first, and most significant, problem with the whole dizziness mechanic is THAT IS NOT HOW WRESTLING WORKS, EVER. If I hit a guy with a steel chair, he should stay down longer than five seconds. I am not having a match with Rob Van Dam here, people, so I do not understand why no one in this game sells worth a damn, as it’s incredibly ridiculous. The second problem is that this meter cannot be decreased by outside means, meaning that you can’t, say, take a breather and let it reduce or anything like that, you have to simply hope it doesn’t fill up, which seems fairly counter-productive. That said, this mechanic could potentially be re-worked into something functional… but the control stick wiggling mechanic isn’t so lucky. First, the game tells you to use BOTH sticks to try and escape pins or dizziness, which is not very good in tag team matches when I end up breaking a pin only to stand up FACING THE WRONG WRESTLER. Second, it doesn’t work very well, largely because it’s difficult to get the left-right motion down, which is what the game wants you to do, meaning that pinfalls you could easily break by spamming buttons end up costing you the match because the stick mechanic is not terribly responsive. The Ultimate X match also doesn’t feel particularly well thought-out, either; while the cable climbing and attacking mechanics work okay, the minigame you have to play to dislodge the object is awful, and using the button pressing minigame that submissions use would have been significantly better than the minigame we are given.
Next, let’s talk the AI, or the lack thereof. The only thing the CPU is any good at is countering. That’s it. They will literally counter you all the live-long day, if given the chance to do so, and most of your matches through Story mode or otherwise will largely see the CPU win counter competitions, even if they don’t win the match. Now, it certainly is possible to learn how the countering system works such that you could eventually learn to counter the CPU, and it’s certainly true that other games have been counter-fests that were genuinely well received (most AKI wrestling games fall into this category), but in those games, counters were largely used by opponents to prevent you from abusing tactics and techniques; in this game, when your opponent counters the very first thing you do in a match (Brother Ray, and a kick to the gut, FYI), that’s just absurd on principle, especially considering how early into Story mode this match was (about a quarter of the way in, again, FYI). On the other hand, the CPU isn’t very bright in almost all other respects. In tag matches, your CPU allies and enemies will make half-hearted attempts to save against pinfalls and submissions, but in many cases they will use moves that can’t hit at the level they’re attacking (IE high dropkicks on grounded submissions), or they won’t even make the attempt at all, despite the fact that the time in question is guaranteed to be the finishing sequence in the match. CPU opponents will constantly trip over the stairs when outside of the ring, will be more than willing to run outside and grab a weapon only to have it kicked out of their hands once they get in, and will actively avoid going after you in Ultimate X matches if you move away from the X a little, allowing you to then kick them off and continue going after the X yourself; in other words, the fact that they counter everything is the ONLY reason you will lose matches in most cases, which is pretty sad and significantly unbalanced.
Now, even beyond the above, there are further general issues that make the experience even less exciting. For one, despite the fact that your character has moves and entrances at their disposal, you can’t preview these things from the CAW menus, leaving you to read the descriptions, if provided, which is something most games have had for years now. For another, you can’t customize taunts, and most taunts are fairly generic, which, again, is a feature most games have had for upwards of a decade at this point. For a third, the Style points system, while it seems neat in theory, in practice takes forever to get anywhere with; you might go through ten matches before you unlock anything, and it takes far longer than that to unlock anything USEFUL, though, oddly, if you’re interested in getting to a specific move, all you really need to do is wrestle a single match against someone weak (say, Eric Young), beat them by using lots of stylish actions, choose Rematch after every win, and BAM, you’ll eventually unlock all of the moves you would want, which in some cases is the only way to progress through some Story mode matches. There’s a term for that: GRINDING. This sort of thing is bad enough in RPG’s, but in a wrestling game it’s nearly unforgivable. For a fourth, created and default wrestlers are limited to standing finishers only, and while this isn’t entirely the WORST thing on Earth, the way it’s done here certainly is, since your wrestlers are further limited to one, and only one, finisher. The fact that the game could have been designed to allow two finishers (one by pressing B independently, one by pressing it with a direction, for instance) combined with the fact that the game could have been set up such that characters could do their other finishers from a standing base (Sting could, for instance, grab the legs, take his opponent down, and tie them up in the Scorpion Deathlock) makes the whole product feel fairly amateurish considering how many other games have done this thing to compensate for such a problem. For a fifth, also on the topic of CAW’s, why are there so few moves and costumes in general in the game? There are plenty of finishers to choose from, absolutely, but regular moves are generally much more limited, to such an extent that games like WWF War Zone and the second Smackdown game feature more in-depth CAW modes. Also, on some more general notes: why are there only five CAW slots? Why can’t we have custom soundtracks? Heck, why can’t we choose our own soundtrack at ALL? Why is every match fought under no DQ rules (can use weapons, no rope breaks)? Why are there no TNA Knockouts in the game anywhere (especially considering one of the bonus matches on the DVD is a Knockout Gauntlet)? Why are there so few novelty matches when TNA has so many (King of the Mountain, Six Sides of Steel, Lethal Lockdown, etc), and the world of wrestling has so many others (Ironman, Tables, Two out of Three Falls, etc)? Why can’t I use CAW’s to play online? Why can’t I make female CAW’s? Why is the game buggy (IE, a character grappled an opponent, randomly flew over the opponent’s head and glitched down to the mat; the game started playing two songs simultaneously during one of the menus; etc)?
Now, more than a few people will compare this to the Smackdown franchise, but that isn’t entirely fair; Smackdown has had something like ten games to get its mechanics in place, so of COURSE any game that’s going to come out is going to pale in comparison to it. However, it’s entirely viable to compare this to, say, Rumble Roses XX based on their similarities; both feature a limited amount of matches, both feature a limited character creation system, both operate under No DQ/No Rope break rules, both take forever to unlock things, etc. Sadly, even making this comparison, Rumble Roses XX, despite being a relatively limited game, is actually even more developed than TNA Impact:
– Rumble Roses XX offers up to four players online. TNA Impact offers two.
– Rumble Roses XX has Single, Tag, three and four way matches, Street Fight, Queens, PHM, and Handicap matches. TNA Impact has Single, Tag, three and four way matches, Submission, Handicap and Ultimate X matches.
– Rumble Roses XX offers up forty two characters (the ten default characters, in their face and heel variants, in normal and Superstar versions, plus two hidden characters). TNA Impact offers thirty one. What’s worse here is that, while the Rumble Roses XX characters are all largely variations of one character, the characters actually have MORE diverse movesets than do the wrestlers in TNA Impact.
– Rumble Roses XX offers the use of custom soundtracks. TNA Impact does not.
– Rumble Roses XX, working off of a modified Yukes engine, offers finishing moves from multiple areas, is easy to learn for new players, and features adjustable difficulties that the player can actually adjust to. TNA Impact offers only standing finishers, a convoluted control scheme, and opponents who counter constantly.
There are more comparisons that could be made here, but the point has been made: a two year old novelty game that no one bought and everyone trashed is generally more user-friendly and more in-depth than TNA Impact.
Now, if you’re a TNA fan, or a huge fan of wrestling games in general, then fine, it’s entirely possible that TNA Impact might offer you something you’ve never seen before, or something you like. The game generally looks solid, all in all, and it’s most likely the only opportunity you’ll have for a while to see the stars of TNA in their own game. The control mechanics aren’t terrible, and with some patches and DLC, the game might possibly end up being worth the asking price for the more dedicated fans of the promotion, and with some tweaking and fine tuning, a sequel could even have the potential to be good. That said, most people will have little to no use for TNA Impact. If the limited match types, limited volume of wrestlers, lack of Knockouts, limited move options, limited CAW parts, limited online options, and lack of custom soundtrack support don’t turn you off, the bizarre CPU AI, befuddling control setup, needless grinding, No DQ only rules, and general lack of the things that make TNA different from its competition (outside of the Ultimate X Match) most likely will. TNA Impact is, at best, a game for the hardcore fan of the genre or the promotion, and at worst a limited, shallow, buggy, frustrating experience that will leave most players scratching their heads in disbelief.
Story/Game Modes: POOR
Sound: ABOVE AVERAGE
Final Score: POOR.
Short Attention Span Summary:
TNA Impact tries very, very hard to be something new and different, but still manages to make most of the same mistakes most new wrestling games make. If you’re a really big fan of wrestling games, or TNA, you could certainly find something worth your time here; there are plenty of top-tier stars in the game, the gameplay is functional enough once you learn how it works, and the game certainly looks like wrestling by and large. If you’re looking for the next No Mercy or Smackdown, however, you’re going to be disappointed. The character rosters, move lists, creation options, match types, online match types, and general variety are all very limited, the AI is unbalanced, there are no Knockouts or options to create them anywhere near the game, the gameplay is awkward to adjust to and isn’t intuitive, and the product is buggy. For the hardcore few, TNA Impact might be worth a look, and a sequel might certainly be able to refine the issues and present an enjoyable, worthwhile experience, but for most, even with DLC and bug fixes, this is a wrestling game you can safely pass by.