A solid first effort with some room for improvement.
Total Nonstop Action Wrestling made its debut in 2002, to a wrestling landscape devoid of any real competition. WWE was the only real game left in town, and TNA was Jeff Jarrett’s attempt to fill the void left by the collapse of ECW and WCW. From the beginning, I was pulling for this upstart company to step up and challenge the WWE, and to do so by focusing their efforts more on the in ring athleticism of Professional Wrestling. When TNA announced that they would be releasing a game, I was very excited to see how their vision of the “sport” of professional wrestling would translate into the videogame realm. Impact is very true to its source material in a lot of ways, although that statement is unfortunately equal parts redeeming and damning.
The first thing you’ll notice when you boot up Impact is that the graphics are very well done. Character models look incredible, and the arenas are fairly well detailed. The entrances look just as good as you would expect, although there was some minor slowdown present during several of the entrances with an abundance of pyrotechnics. Impact also excels in the animation department, and most every move looks exactly as it should. The mo-capping is incredibly seamless, which gives the game a very natural flow. Overall the game does a fantastic job of selling the action, which is very important for a wrestling title. Some technical issues persist however, including some clipping issues both with the ring and other wrestlers. These issues aren’t common enough to be game breaking, but they can be annoying when they lead to cheap damage and missed moves.
In terms of gameplay, Impact opts for a different control scheme than Smackdown vets may be used to. You’ll have two attack buttons, a grapple button, one button for reversals, a run button, and a Strong grapple/attack modifier. Like most wrestling games, attacks and grapples can be varied by pressing different directions on the control stick while pressing the appropriate attack button. The strength modifier works similarly to the “hold in the button” technique of the old AKI wrestling games on the 64, allowing you to mix up your attacks with some more intense maneuvers.
Matches play out in typical fashion, including an indicator which displays damage levels for the limbs, torso, and head. There is a decent variety of moves in the game, although not enough to make the roster feel as varied as I would like. The moves that are in, however, are fun to pull off and look fantastic. Another flaw in terms of gameplay is a great degree of cheapness, especially at higher difficulty levels. Opponents seem to reverse just about everything, and you’ll go long stretches without any possibility of offense.
Submissions are very well done in Impact, thanks to the innovative system in place. When you put an opponent into a submission, you and your opponent will be prompted with a sequence of buttons to press. Successfully press your sequence before your opponent presses his, and you’ll ratchet down the pressure and be treated to another sequence. Allow your opponent to input his sequence first, and he’ll reverse the submission. This mechanic does a great job of putting over the struggle of a submission hold, without resorting to the standard inaccuracy of button mashing. Overall matches have a very realistic ebb and flow to them which adds a lot to the accuracy of the gameplay.
Most of the game modes and match types in Impact will be instantly familiar to wrestling game vets. All the usual suspects are here, with the addition of the Ultimate X match, which is a TNA exclusive. In this match, two cables are strung high above the ring in the shape of an X (a symbol for the promotion’s high risk X-division which is, in their own words, not about weight limits…but no limits). An X is suspended in the middle of these ropes, and the goal is to grab the X and pull it down without the benefit of a ladder. This match plays out very well, thanks to some great controls for climbing the ropes and grabbing the X.
Like the Smackdown series, Impact features a story mode, albeit not like the ones you may be used to. Unlike in other wrestling games, you cannot select an existing superstar to go through the story mode with. You’ll be playing as Suicide, a wrestler who was asked to take a dive in his world title match (wait, what…a wrestler taking a dive?!?!) and refused. After your victory, you’re beaten senseless and unrecognizably by LAX and dumped across the Mexican border. There, a plastic surgeon will make you look anyway you want, which begins the create-a-wrestler process.
Customization options are decent, although a step back from the ones presented in the Smackdown series. Most frustrating however, is that you are completely unable to edit your characters move set when you start out. The moves are fixed at first in a template determined by the style of wrestler you picked. This comes across as a lazy excuse for players to invest time in the story mode so they can unlock a cursory amount of customization options for their character. The story mode is also disappointing in scope. There’s no branching storyline paths, no real choice, no change from one play through to the next. As such, most players will probably invest enough time in it to unlock all of the available wrestlers and moves in the game, and never go back.
Story mode is just one example, however, of an overall sense of incompleteness in TNA Impact. With 9 match modes, a linear story mode, and a measly 25 wrestlers, one can’t help but feel dissatisfied in the diversity of content presented here. The game feels fundamentally unfinished in most cases, and it overshadows the generally solid ring work. It feels much like the first iteration of Madden on next gen systems, like a rushed framework for a more complete game down the line. This is great news for the next game in the series, but not great news for the people who spent $60 on this one.
Like the real life product, Impact is mostly very solid in terms of in ring action. Also like real life however, is the fact that several major flaws and a general lack of polish keep it from competing on the same level as WWE’s product. Sure, diehard wrestling fans will enjoy the fluid gameplay and the chance to play as some of their favorite TNA stars, however more casual fans will become quickly dissatisfied with the lack of variety. Assuming they can work on a substantial addition in the content department, the groundwork has been laid for a very solid game next time out. As it stands however, Impact is an enjoyable, but disappointing grappler.