TNA iMPACT! Review (Xbox 360)
After years of being trapped in a genre monopoly, wrestling game fans thought they might have something to stand up, cheer, and perhaps even make crude posterboard signs about when TNA Impact finally released.
Midway’s TNA Impact hit store shelves recently, primed to end the long-lasting title run of Yukes’ WWE titles. Grappling gamers have been eagerly anticipating some true heavyweight competition for the Smackdown vs. Raw (SvR) series since Impact's official announcement in 2005. Unfortunately, those fans will have to wait for another game.
Although TNA Impact is an absolutely gorgeous looking product, its beauty is only skin-deep. A minuscule roster, clunky gameplay, and cripplingly limited create-a-wrestler and story modes hamper any chance Impact had of meeting expectations.
Impact’s impressive visuals are its main strong suit. The wrestler models are spot-on, down to the beads of sweat dripping from their brows. It is obvious that the long development time was well-spent making the game as beautiful as possible. But, there is a noticeable difference between wrestlers themselves and the largely 2-D renderings of audience members. However, this is only a minor drawback, as your eyes will seldom stray from the in-ring visuals, which are an absolute masterpiece.
There are a few clipping issues, but nothing overly severe. As is the case with most wrestling games (even on current-gen consoles), you will occasionally see a wrestler’s body part pass through his opponent’s torso. It’s not nearly as bad as SvR’s recent offerings, but it is present nonetheless.
Overall, TNA’s graphics are very impressive, trumping the competition by a wide margin. If you happen to be able to view this game in glorious 1080p HD, it’s worth a quick rent just for the graphics. They really are that good.
Yes, this game does look pretty. That's the one good thing going for it.
When judging a wrestling game’s sound, gamers tend to lean on the announcer commentary as the cornerstone for their opinion. To do so for TNA Impact would be rather unfair, as the game has more to offer in the sound department.
The commentary itself is pretty much what you would expect from a wrestling game. Very few specific comments and many, MANY annoying, repetitive comments that are humorless the second time you hear them. You can expect to hear such gems as, “he knocked him right on his butt!” and, “right in the Family Jewels!” routinely.
The other aspects of the game’s sound are, by contrast, quite good. The in-ring sound effects, while being way over-the-top, are VERY satisfying. Every forearm chop to the sternum and Jackknife Powerbomb to the canvas is exaggerated to a near-deafening volume, and I have no complaints. The crowd noise is also overdone, but seems to fit well within the context of the game. It’s all part of the Barnum-esque hype that surrounds professional wrestling, and I dig it.
The music is largely forgettable, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The menu interface is accompanied by a harsh score of power chords, searing riffs, and even a few violins here and there. The eclectic mixture all seams to fit the attitude of TNA quite well. Whereas some wrestling games (and sports games in general) have a repeating collection of songs, the lyric-less, hard-rock soundtrack of TNA Impact is something you can simply ignore -- rather than some lyrical nonsense that will get stuck in your head. There is no in-game soundtrack -- with the exception of the occasional two-power-chord jolt that indicates a move reversal -- which can be either aggravating or exhilarating depending on who is doing the reversing.
The lack of a custom music option for your created wrestlers is a bit of a drag, especially since it was such a fun part of last year’s Smackdown vs. Raw. However, the wrestler entrances are so short that custom soundtracks would not have served much purpose.
Once you get past the bells and whistles, you get to the meat of the game which, unfortunately, is mostly fat and gristle.
The early buzz was that Midway was drawing heavily upon a little game called WWF No Mercy for inspiration. No Mercy is largely regarded as one of the best wrestling games of all time. Its simple-yet-satisfying gameplay and overall depth made it the benchmark for all wrestling games thereafter. Upon reading these reports, I was highly optimistic.
In reality, the only resemblance Impact’s gameplay bares to the N64 classic is centered around the face buttons. The X, Y, A and B buttons control the basic striking and grappling mechanics of the gameplay -- a welcome change to some when compared to the thumbstick-controlled grappling system of SvR. The problem is that many of the game’s maneuvers require you to press the left bumper on the 360 pad, a direction on the left analog stick, and a face button simultaneously.
It may sound like a trivial nuance that can be easily corrected after a couple of matches, but that is simply not the case. The timing needed is so precise that even after hours of gameplay, you may still feel like a flailing beginner. Midway’s history of fighting games is abhorrently apparent in TNA’s control system, as nimble thumbs and the eye-hand coordination of a fighter pilot are mandatory tools for consistent success.
The gameplay can be summed up with one word: horrendus.
The reliance upon the game’s face buttons also becomes a hindrance, as each button will perform different tasks within different contexts. To give a personal example, I was involved in a tag-match within the game’s story mode. My wrestler became worn-down, and I walked over to my teammate and pressed the B button along with the Left Bumper to tag him in. Instead, my digital grappler decided to climb to the top rope, as the B button also causes that specific action when near a turnbuckle. This process repeated several times until my opponent came to and knocked me down from the turnbuckle and made the cover for a three count. Similar issues occur when trying to apply the pin, pick up a weapon, or enter/exit the ring.
Compounding the control frustration is the unforgiving A.I. Although CPU-controlled wrestlers will suffer their fair share of brain-farts during matches (like randomly leaving mid-match to grab a chair, only to stroll back into the ring to stupidly walk into a running clothesline), their propensity to capitalize on your face button flubs is positively pestilential. For instance, if you happen to mistime a basic backhand chop, your opponent can conceivably wail on you for five minutes before you can recover. It is both unrealistic and irritating.
The game’s reversal mechanics were also highly touted. Even the game’s short training video makes a point to say that “everything can be reversed.” This is mostly true (sans a few moves like the hip toss and jawbreaker), as there are reversals for everything from punches to springboard-moonsault-DDTs. Some of these reversals are eye-popping wonders that capture the essence of TNA’s high-flying antics. Others are completely unrealistic and don’t flow well within the game’s animation system, such as reversing a front backbreaker into a hip-toss. The game makes a point to help players with reversals by displaying the right bumper icon (the reversal button on Xbox 360) below your wrestler’s HUD at the appropriate time. However, to parallel the rest of Impact’s gameplay mechanics, reversals require precise timing. You will spend more time watching CPU opponents perform these picture-perfect counters on you, rather than the other way around.
Impact’s submission system is actually one of the gameplay’s high points, in that it makes submissions a somewhat tangible commodity. When entering a submission hold, both players enter a mini-game. A progression of face buttons pops up underneath your respective HUDs, prompting both players to press these buttons in the correct order. Depending on who does this the fastest, the submission hold is either broken or continued. A submission occurs when a hold is successfully applied to a body part that has taken a significant amount of damage, as indicated by the color-coded body diagram in the HUD. SvR has a similar system utilizing analog sticks, but, I prefer the Impact system because seems much more logical and easier to execute.
Pins, on the other hand, are a bit of a stinker. Pinning your opponent only requires pressing the B button when your opponent is down and on his back. Breaking a pin, however, can be darn near impossible. When you are being pinned, you are required to wiggle the left analog back and forth as rapidly as possible. Doing so fills a meter, which when full, allows your wrestler to kick out. The more worn down your wrestler becomes, the harder it is to fill the meter. In fact, after your wrestler has taken only a marginal amount of damage, kicking out will become exceedingly difficult, and you will lose many matches prematurely. After a while, you will find yourself violently thrashing the analog stick back and forth, inadvertently pausing the game or bringing up your Xbox 360 Dashboard menu.
One final gameplay note that cannot go without mention, the collision detection is also spotty at best. Running attacks and striking attacks often are extremely awkward, and often just get lost in the shuffle. This has become a trend in next-gen wrestling games and Impact does little to nothing to reverse or even improve this trend.
Ultimate X Match
Aside from the traditional singles, tag-team, handicap, and four-man free-for-all matches, TNA Impact boasts the exciting, jaw-dropping spectacle known as the Ultimate X Match.
For those unfamiliar with TNA, the Ultimate X match consists of two ring-ropes mounted on elongated ring posts that extend high above the ring. These two ropes intersect, forming an X. A belt, or in this case, a large plastic X hangs from the center, the objective being to climb up and retrieve it.
Many wrestling games that include specialty matches stumble into the pitfall of making the matches themselves too linear. In reality, most specialty matches like Hell in the Cell or Ultimate X are known for their mind-blowing unpredictability, a trait that does not translate well into the digital realm. Wrestling games often provide only a single method of achieving victory in such matches, which to be blunt, sucks.
Although the Ultimate X match does present only a single way to win (which is another timing-based mini-game), the unique environment of Ultimate X allows for some extra-curricular shenanigans that are quite enjoyable and make up for the linear way to complete the match. In stark contrast to the rest of the game’s controls, the ability to execute death-defying and devastating moves within the Ultimate X Match is actually quite easy. A simple push of a button allows you to tear down a dangling opponent or leap from the “X” onto a downed foe. I will actually go out on a limb here and say that the Ultimate X Match almost touches No Mercy-like levels of enjoyment, especially when facing human opponents.
Jay Lethal with the elbow drop. At least the game looked nice?
Despite the long development time, Impact only sports a roster of 31, many of which are locked at the beginning of the game.
Although the character models are nothing short of spectacular, the wrestlers themselves do not feel that different from each other during the game. There is not a great deal of variance between wrestlers’ different move sets, apart from the finishers -- which, by the way, are all performed from the front grapple position. There are no ground submission finishers or top-rope finishers, etc. Thus, other than the aesthetics, you don’t feel very different when taking the ring as Sting or Booker T. You will find yourself doing the same collection of Atomic Drops and Death Valley Drivers with the bulk of Impact’s roster.
Recently, I mentioned that I can, at times, look past a wrestling game’s mediocre gameplay if it has robust create-a-wrestler (CaW) and story/career modes. Impact has neither. In fact, the two modes are actually mixed together in a cocktail of drudgery and disappointment.
The story mode puts you on a completely linear path as a masked wrestler named Suicide (which aesthetically, appears to be a slight homage to WCW/NWO Revenge’s AKI Man). After winning the TNA World Championship, Suicide gets jumped backstage, and ultimately ends up in a Mexican hospital with a severe case of amnesia. No longer masked, Suicide begins his path back to TNA as your created wrestler, competing in a small town in Mexico and a U.S. military base before making it back to Orlando to tangle with the big boys.
The shallow roster really rears its ugly head within the story mode. You will often face nameless wrestlers instead of actual TNA stars, even after you make it back to TNA televised competition. It is hard to get enthused about pummeling some nameless fat guy in the six-sided ring as opposed to, say, any actual real wrestler.
The shameful thing about the story mode is that there actually is potential. Although the voice acting in the cinematic sequences is less than adequate, the sequences themselves are actually well executed and entertaining. If the mode had more depth and was less linear, I could definitely see an enjoyable story mode taking shape.
As I mentioned, you begin the story mode as a fictional character, rather than an actual TNA wrestler. Obviously, this is yet another drawback to the mode because it is impossible to play through the story as your favorite TNA grappler.
Create-a-wrestler is completely dictated by the game’s story mode. You begin by selecting your attire and appearance from an underwhelming selection of outfits, facial features, and body types. But in order to create a customized move-set, you must unlock moves within the game’s story mode. (Or at the very least you need to play many matches in the various modes to build up "style points," which unlock moves and so forth.) That’s right, you heard me correctly. You are restricted to a default set of moves from the mode’s onset. Moves are unlocked at a painfully slow rate too, meaning that you must play through much of the game using moves you don’t want to, including your finisher. And when you finally are able to unlock moves and assign them to your wrestler, there is no visible demonstration of said moves within the create-a-wrestler interface. So essentially, you are forced to choose blindly.
I have only one word to describe Impact’s CaW system: unacceptable. CaW is often one of the most appealing features in any wrestling game. But, rather than make it a focus, Impact makes it a mere afterthought.
In the end, TNA's video game is filled with potential but just falls well short. Kinda like TNA itself.
There’s little to be said about Impact’s online features, as there are not many. Online players are restricted to singles matches, and can compete in a standard match, submission match, falls-count-anywhere match, or (thankfully) Ultimate X Match.
It would have been nice to see Impact’s online system support four-player contests, or maybe even some sort of online league interface. More things to add to our 2009 wish list, I suppose.
Unfortunately for many of us, TNA Impact is not going to be the game that raises the bar for wrestling games to come. Like many of you, I had high hopes for Impact, but sadly it fell short of those hopes, and did so with authority.
Despite its aesthetic prowess, the clunky and unresponsive gameplay, small roster size, and overall lack of substance make Impact a one-weekend rental at the very best.
In the Ring:
Face button focus is an improvement for some, but plays awkwardly overall, making for a generally frustrating experience. Also there's a severe dearth of actual moves in the game.
Outstanding. Have not seen any better in a wrestling game to date.
Commentary is predictably sub-bar, but the blend of sound effects and crowd noise is nice, and menu soundtrack is acceptable. Lack of custom entrance music is a bummer.
Minimal. Apart from the graphics, there are a few cheap pops here and there, but nothing to stand up and shout over.
Rather steep, even with the adjustable difficulty. Timing-based controls make for an inconsistent experience.
Forgettable. Singles matches only, without any discernible depth.
OVERALL SCORE: 4.5 (Poor)