Platform(s): PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, Wii, Xbox 360
Developer: Midway Studios Los Angeles
Publisher: Midway Games
Note: The 360 version of the game was played for this review.
There is no "T&A" in TNA Impact!. That's right, there's not a single female wrestler or "manager" in the game. This was the first disappointment this wrestling game offered but it was far from the last.
TNA Impact! is the first video game based on the upstart pro wrestling league Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. And you know what? It shows. The game feels like a first draft. It's as though the developers said, "Okay, let's just focus on finishing it first. We'll have plenty of time to fix all the problems and put in all the fun stuff afterward!" Then they all died in a boating accident so some Midway exec shrugged and sent it to stores.
First of all, it's a very bare bones game. The fact that there's no female wrestlers is part of that problem though it's not really the end of the world that there's no virtua-funbags to ogle. There's also not a whole lot of male wrestlers, either. There's around 25 total and you'll only have a fraction of those unlocked at the very beginning. I have to say all the wrestlers are drawn well though; apparently each individual wrestler was scanned for the game and the extra effort paid off. The crowd looks fake and stupid but A) when's the last time you played a sports game where the crowd didn't look like copied and pasted ass, and B) would the game really be better if the crowd looked good? The frame rate seemed fairly smooth in spite of how shiny the wrestlers were, though with the typical trade-off: long loading times. There aren't many arenas, either, but again - who gives a shit? A ring's a ring.
You'd hope that a small wrestler roster would mean that the developers had more time to devote to capturing each wrestler's unique fighting style...but no. The wrestlers fall within three different categories, the names of which I forget but were essentially "fast guy", "strong guy", or "grappler." Thus, there's a great deal of overlap in moves between wrestlers and the only truly unique thing about them is their finishing move. On the bright side, the controls for executing moves are very simple and before long you'll have a pretty good grasp on how to do every sort of move in the game.
I also liked how the game handled submission holds; whenever you start to, say, twist an opponent's arm, a series of buttons will pop up underneath each of your IMPACT! bars (which I'll explain later). If the wrestler twisting the arm finishes pressing his series of buttons first, his opponent will stay in the hold. If the opponent finishes his button sequence first, the hold is broken. After three of these sequences, the hold will automatically broken. Each player has a diagram of their wrestler's body above their side of the screen which shows the damage to individual parts of their wrestler. If a limb gets too damage, they'll throw in the towel during a submission hold.
The game also uses button-mashing for getting out of a pin - you have to rock your left analog stick back and forth extremely quickly to squirm out before the three count. Then there's the reversal system. Every move in the game can be reversed by a timely press of a button (the right bumper, in the case of the 360 version). The problem with this is that you'll just end up mashing the reversal button non-stop; I guess they could have made the reversal controls more contextual (a different button for standing reversals, etc.) but that probably would have complicated the control scheme unnecessarily.
I don't mind any of this button-mashing and it can be quite fun when you're playing with a friend. Unfortunately, you're not always playing with a friend. In Story Mode, which you'll play to unlock characters/arenas, you face a series of A.I.-controlled opponents who don't have to deal with the stress of button-mashing. They'll still perform reversals, break pins, and squirm out of submission holds like a normal human - but without the discernible effort. Every time I went to body-slam a CPU opponent, it felt like there was some sort of TNA Impact Dungeon Master in the room rolling twenty-sided dice to determine whether or not the opponent reversed it or not. As you advance in Story Mode, the chances of an opponent breaking a hold/pin or reversing your moves shoot through the roof.
This dependence on blind luck doesn't feel harder so much as it feels "cheaper." It just doesn't go well with the IMPACT! bar system. As you beat up your opponent, you'll fill up an IMPACT! bar above your side of the screen. When the bar is full, you can then perform your finisher. The problem is, performing your finisher on an A.I. opponent once often isn't enough to pin them successfully. If they break out of your pin, they just have to top off the last bit of their own IMPACT! bar while you have to refill an empty bar. Unless you just completely dominate them and manage to get another finisher off, they'll end up breaking out their own finisher on you and quite possibly win because well, you actually have to work to get out of that pin. Yes, I realize it's impossible to make the CPU "button-mash" but when your opponent can simply reverse any move you throw at them and quickly fill up their IMPACT! bar without ever having landed an attack of their own, it's pretty goddamn frustrating. I don't remember the last time I swore at a video game this much - and bear in mind I just played a game where you spend half an hour trying to pull a fucking spaceship out of the sky.
Are all of these mistakes easily correctable in a future installment? Yes. Will the next TNA game be much better just by dint of fixing these errors? Yes. But why bother releasing a game if you can make a game good enough to be considered a sequel to that game with a few more months of development?