If you wanted to bring the pageantry and bone-crushing moves of professional wrestling to your console of choice, there's pretty much been just one game in town for the last several years. However, that's all about to change. TNA iMPACT! is here to officially end the monopoly on licensed professional wrestling videogames.
If you need a quick primer, Total Nonstop Action was founded in 2002 by former WWE and WCW star Jeff Jarrett along with his father. Since then, the organization has moved to a six-sided ring, landed a Thursday night spot on SpikeTV, and picked up a number of big time professional wrestling stars such as Kurt Angle, Sting, and Kevin Nash. Now, Midway is bringing the high flying moves of the federation to videogame fans across the world.
The first time I got the chance to sit down with the developers behind iMPACT!, they admitted that they couldn't match the competition's feature set their first time out of the gate but were focusing on bringing a brand-new, fun gameplay experience to the market.
In more than a few ways, Midway succeeded.
iMPACT! utilizes a simplified control scheme in an attempt to nail that "pick up and play" experience. The face buttons govern punches, kicks, grabs, and actions, while the shoulder buttons reverse, run, taunt, and modify moves to be stronger. The left stick moves your guy (sorry, gals and guys starved for female contact, there are no lady competitors), and in multi-man battles, the right stick changes targets. When you're pinned, you'll need to rock your joystick side to side to fill a kickout meter.
You take these easy to use/difficult to master controls into seven arenas and nine match types that are all no count out/no DQ as one of about 25 TNA wrestlers in front of several crowds. The results will be impressive at first.
Right off the bat, iMPACT! looks great. The character models are super-detailed with the sheen and shine you'd expect from their real life, sweaty counterparts -- watch Sting in the ring and tell me that doesn't look like it's ripped from SpikeTV -- but possibly more impressive is the animation system iMPACT! deploys. In the game, moves and grapples blend together so you can go from a suplex to an arm bar submission to a couple of stomps without having to stand there for a second while a reaction animation plays out. Anytime you're playing, you can break up a move or deal out an attack.
Now, when you're playing you'll have a three part heads-up display on the screen -- a silhouette to manage limb damage, an iMPACT! meter above your name, and a stun meter behind your name. As the match wears on, all the parts will change -- the silhouette parts will change from green to red as you take attacks, iMPACT! will slowly fill with yellow as you pull off moves, and the stun meter will slowly fill with red as you get tossed around by your opponent. When the iMPACT! meter is full, you can execute a strong grapple and pull off your finisher; every wrestler gets one finisher and it's preformed from the standing grapple. When the stun meter fills, your character will be left defenseless until the bar drains of the red juice, which you can supposedly expedite by rocking your joystick. Sadly, you and your opponents will never move any differently no matter how red your silhouette is.
When you get your opponent in a submission hold, a button combination will pop up below each of your HUDs. If you, as the guy in charge of the hold, get your combos in first, you execute the damage and maybe get a tap out if the limb you're working is damaged enough. If you're the dude in the hold and get your buttons in first, you break the attack.
This breath of fresh air is carried over to the reversal system. iMPACT! uses one button to get out of moves, and you can pretty much reverse any move outside of a finisher. If Shark Boy leaps off the top rope, you can reverse his cross body into a slam. If AJ Styles is spinning around your head on his way to delivering a side-Russian leg sweep, you can reverse the move into a shoulder breaker. If you're quick enough -- the shoulder button pops up underneath your HUD when you need to tap it to turn the tables -- you can reverse most reversals and chain together spots that are no doubt impressive.
Most of iMPACT!'s nine matches will be familiar to anyone who's jumped into a wrestling game before. There's a singles match, tag team, Free For All (a four-person bout where the first pinfall or submission wins), submission (the only way to win is to get the opponent to tap out), Falls Count Anywhere, Falls Count Anywhere tag, and a two-on-one handicap match. However, there is one exception to the traditional match formula that only TNA fans will know about -- Ultimate X.
In an Ultimate X match, a big red X is suspended above the center of the ring by two ropes connected to four posts. The first opponent to get up there and untie it wins the bout. The catch is the fact that there are no ladders. To get the X, you have to climb one of the four turnbuckles that has a X-supporting post behind it, grab onto the suspended rope, shimmy out, and untie the X while hanging above the center of the ring. Of course, your opponent or opponents (you can have a one-on-one bout or a three-way dance) can grab you while you shimmy and yank you to the mat, leap from the turnbuckles, or climb up to the ropes and battle you from there. This match also adds another meter to your HUD that tracks your progress in untying the X. See, when you get up above the ring and start fooling with the X, a mini-game will start where you need to stop a triangle that's bouncing side to side in a specific sweet spot. When you nail it, progress is added to your progress meter. If you miss it, you have to restart the game but keep any progress you've already earned. When the meter's full, you drop to the mat with the prize and are declared the winner.As fun as the controls and Ultimate X are, after your first few matches, that impressive first impression will wear off and the weaknesses that lead to iMPACT!'s downfall will begin to crop up.
Yeah, the move system is easy to use, but there aren't that many moves to do. When Midway made the announcement that it was bringing TNA to the videogame world, it boasted that it was mo-capping more than 2,000 moves for the game. Now that the launch date is upon us, Midway has admitted
that it couldn't get the majority of those maneuvers processed and into the title.
A lot of kids flipped out when it was announced that the game would only have 25 wrestlers, but I didn't see a problem with the roster if everyone felt different and original. Thanks to the limited move set, that doesn't happen. The same suplex, atomic drop, stomp to the crotch, and submission holds are shared by large portions of the TNA talent list. Worse, iMPACT! doesn't support character-specific taunts, so individuality has been scratched out there, too. I understand that real wrestlers share a pool of moves, but you can't tell me that everyone feels this similar with the exception of their finisher.
The wrestlers also feel the same in terms of their limitations. There are no grapples from behind in iMPACT!, but the game does a fine job of masking the issue and keeping you from noticing it -- there are German suplexes in the game, but they start in the front and move to the back via an animation. However, the game does nothing to hide the fact that there are no grapples when your opponent is lying face down on the mat and you grab at his legs or arms. If you try to grab the prone opponent; you bend over, your arms go through the enemy, you stand back up, and the opponent rolls to his back so that you can do moves.
Seriously? Couldn't they have programmed the game so that a face down enemy would roll to his back automatically? The fact that Midway has this fluid animation system that blends maneuvers so well means that this omission sticks out like a sore thumb and really takes you out of the experience -- especially because it happens to everyone.
The fact that everyone starts to feel like everyone else could be excused if iMPACT!'s Create A Wrestler knocked my socks off, but it didn't.
You can create one of your five CAWs -- yeah, just five create slots -- from the main menu, but you'll probably be creating the dudes in TNA's Story Mode, which you need to compete in to unlock everyone in the game. Your start to this give-or-take eight-hour experience is a video introducing you to the wrestler known as Suicide. Seems Suicide was an up and comer in TNA, but when he got a title shot, LAX told him to take a dive or else. Suicide said screw that, won the title, and was nearly beaten to death by the big bad tag team. Suicide wakes up memory-less in Mexico where plastic surgeons agree to recreate his broken body in any way he sees fit.
This is where you come in. The create process begins with you deciding if the big guy'll be a brawler, high flyer, or grappler. From there you need to choose skin colors and tones while sticking to the general height and weight of the original Suicide. You'll need to choose clothes from a moderate selection (30 shirts, 23 pants, etc.) that you can occasionally modify with preset decals; there are the traditional goofy hairstyles and kneepads and such. The system is in no way as deep as the create programs we've seen in the past so you can't sit down and create whomever you want, but there's enough lucha masks and tattoos to make some original guys.
That optimism doesn't apply to moves, however. When you jump into your CAW's moves for the first time, you'll see that all of his punches, kicks, and seven grapples are set to default moves and that there are a handful of locked moves for each position. When you win a match, you'll get a stat screen after the three-count that tallies your strikes, grapples, and so. Your performance will then be rewarded with Style Points that accrue and unlock those CAW moves at preset intervals. This system sucks. Don't think I'm hiding something here, you start with everything set to nameless default moves that you can't preview, and everything else is locked. You have no choice as to what moves your guy has. Now, you get Style Points from every match in the game, so it's possible that if you played exhibition matches with your friends for a few days before starting a CAW Story, you'd have more options, but if you're looking to just jump into the structured story and start unlocking the entire TNA roster from the get go, disappointment lies ahead.
Anyway, you begin this story with your generic created player, and iMPACT! immediately tosses a bunch of computer generated CAWs your way. The good news? They all have the same moves as you! Oh, the parity! Eventually you'll start running into TNA guys and the story will get interesting as you go under the wing of Kevin Nash, but the game will then toss you into a tag team career with Eric Young.
Tag matches in iMPACT! aren't fun.
To begin with, the game pulls the camera back to show the entire ring and then just sits there. The camera cuts and interesting angles from the singles matches are gone. On top of this, the AI is dumb. I've had my own tag partner break up a move I was doing outside the ring, I've seen the opponent's partner attempt to walk from one side of the ring to where I was pinning his partner, I've lost matches because Eric refused to come in and help me when pinned, and I've pinned people in front of their partner -- literally inches away from them -- and watched as the illegal opponent did nothing.
Eventually you'll get past the tag part of the tale and head back into singles competition. The AI doesn't get much smarter then (e.g. you can run past the steel steps outside the ring and nine times out of ten the opponent will give chase and trip over the stairs), but it definitely gets cheaper. By the time you've worked your way though the X Division and to the main eventers, you'll find that you haven't unlocked a ton of moves. It might not seem like a lot, but when you start going up against Sting and Jeff Jarrett, you'll find your moves aren't doing much damage. These guys refuse to sell any move, pop up way too fast, and seem to drain their stun meter faster than I ever could. In one of my final Story matches, I lost to Sting even though I was the only one landing successful grapples. When the stats popped up, it was clear that I had trounced him in moves, strikes, and everything else except reversals. The cheap jackass had 11 reversals and had beaten me off that alone. Seriously, my entire torso was red because every time I'd go for a chokeslam, he'd reverse it and pull me on top of his knees.
Not being able to perform moves is not fun.
Although I wouldn't go as far to say TNA's online mode isn't fun, it definitely isn't anything to make you run out and pick up the game. Online only supports the one on one versions of matches and only lets you play them as the official TNA roster (e.g. no CAWs). There are leaderboards but no championships -- in fact, there are no championship belts for your character to wear in any mode of this game; you win the belts in the Story mode, but you never see them outside of photos. As far as actually playing the game, the controller input seems a bit slower than its offline counterpart and I got stuck in a run animation for a few seconds once, but it seems solid. If you dig TNA's gameplay, you'll dig online.
When you're done slamming steel chairs -- these are the only weapons in the game and they are strewn around the ring with no rhyme or reason -- into people's skulls, iMPACT! packs behind the scenes videos and two TNA matches on the disc for you to check out. Midway has also promised to deliver new wrestlers via DLC.
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