Review by Johnus Maximus
TNA iMPACT! Total Nonstop Action Wrestling is the first, exclusive video game representation of popular weekly “sports entertainment” tv show TNA iMPACT!. It was released on the 12th of September 2008 and is also available on PS3, PS2 and Wii.
Developed by Midway Studios Los Angeles and published by Midway Games, TNA iMPACT! aims to provide wrestling fans with an exciting alternative to the WWE titles currently on the market. Despite being a technically competent game, it’s not really that much fun.
If, like me, you’re a child of the 80’s then you couldn’t possibly have grown up without knowing about that slightly homoerotic and over-the-top “sport” from the USA that brought us such classic characters as Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker and Macho Man Randy Savage. However, unless you’ve stayed a fan of wrestling then you’ll have probably never heard of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling before.
Over the years various wrestling franchises tried to compete with but ultimately wound up becoming a part of the mega-global WWE franchise (formally WWF) which dominated the television ratings for wrestling. So when a bunch of wrestlers on a fishing trip decided to start up a rival franchise that would exclusively screen on pay per view television, that was the birth of TNA.
Much like any other wrestling game, TNA iMPACT! includes a roster of regular, popular characters from the weekly tv show, a selection of match types for one to four players, and a story mode that follows the exciting journey of your made up character from the character creation mode. How TNA differs from other wrestling though is the signature hexagonal ring that the wrestling takes place in, as well as their Ultimate X match.
Translating what can essentially be described as a niche market into a popular video game is always going to be a difficult task, there’s a loyal fanbase to please and a swathe of unfamiliar gamers to win over. In order to do this Midway had a lot of involvement with the wrestlers to recreate their likeness authentically on screen, this also includes the voice overs. Powered by the Epic Unreal engine and Havok physics, the wrestlers do look very much like they’re supposed to, as do their movements when executing their various high-flying maneuvers.
The skydiving suplex is a tricky move to pull off
When you start the game you’re able to access all of the game modes in TNA iMPACT!, but you’ll find your choice of characters and venues limited to begin with. There are nine game modes available; a standard 1 on 1 match, a 2 vs 2 tag team match, a free for all for up to 4 players, the ultimate X match for 2 or 3 players, a submission match for 2 players, a falls count anywhere match for both 1 vs 1 or tag teams, and also a handicap mode where 1 player faces off against 2 opponents.
If you want to play alone you can assign a computer controlled opponent, but given the simplistic nature of the AI the most fun is had when plugging in some extra controllers for your friends. If you have no friends then there’s a whole world of players out there on Xbox Live, but be warned, many of them will use the cheapest moves possible to take you down, or even worse quit the match just as you are about to win.
Controlling your wrestler is simple enough, but as well as standard kicking and punching moves, you can do various grapple moves, submission moves when your enemy is grounded, some super-duper off the rope backflip style moves, finishing moves (which don’t really ever finish your opponent until the second time you use it) and also reversals. Mastering the reversal button is one of the keys to winning this game, but sadly is a feature overused by the computer controlled opponents. I got fed up with the amount of times they reversed my reversal of their reversal!
And that leads on to the woeful AI. After getting my butt kicked here there and everywhere for the first few match types I soon developed a knack of how to beat the computer, and after implementing this I realised it worked in every single match! No matter who the opponent was, no matter what their fighting style, I literally got through the whole game in one day by spamming the strong attack button (even if they block it they recoil and take damage), never attempting a grapple until my opponent was dizzy (they can’t do reversal), doing a running jump-kick whenever they got a chair, then proceed to pound them with it, and using my finishing move as many times as I needed to win.
Taking a break from fighting, Samoa Joe and Abyss have a cuddle
In addition to the exhibition and Xbox Live modes, there is also a story mode. In this you take the moniker of fictional wrestler “Suicide”, who looks a bit like Spiderman with a skull mask on. Our boy Suicide is hugely successful, but rather than follow the pre-planned title match outcome he decides to do a Butch Coolidge and thus incurs the wrath of his employers. Following this he gets a serious beating and is left for dead in Mexico.
Luckily he is saved by a pair of plastic surgeons, and with their expert reconstructive skills they offer to make Senor Suicide into a new man. This is where you step in and get to create your characters look, choosing from a fairly limited range of options which pales in comparison to level of customisation in the Smackdown games. Once you’ve picked an outfit you are thrust into a series of lucha libre style fights. Complete these and you’re awarded a ticket back to the USA, and can commence a path back to being a TNA wrestler.
While the wrestlers look very realistic, the acting is pretty wooden, but to be honest this is pretty much like the sort of thing you would see on the wrestling tv show any way. The storyline is unengaging and most of the exposition takes place on the loading screens so can be easily missed if you accidentally hit the A button. Not that it matters, you’ll get the gist of it fairly easily, under his new identity Suicide works his way up the ranks until ultimately beating the guys who nearly killed him, getting the champions belt and finding out that his princess is in another castle.
Playing the story mode will help you unlock a lot of the games hidden content. As you perform attacks in the fights you are awarded style points, with the most brutal and overly extravagant moves being worth the most. As you reach certain point totals you are given new moves to enhance your characters wrestling style, new wrestlers to play with in the exhibition matches and also new wrestling rings to fight in.
Shark Boy can smell a wrestlers sweat from 100 miles away
You can’t play this game for very long without getting a feeling of repetition, you’re hardly being drenched in moves and match types as the makers suggest. As well as the limited create-a-wrestler options, there’s a distinct lack of outside objects to incorporate into the matches – the only weapon available is a chair – the entrance movie for each wrestler doesn’t show them actually getting into the ring and when you have a tag team it shows each partners entrance movie separately, rather than them both coming in together.
Extra match types could really have helped to keep things interesting, but there were no cage matches or the locker room brawls, just bog standard fights and the ultimate X, which isn’t that exciting. Then getting onto the total roster – only 25 actual wrestlers, and 6 non-TNA characters, that’s about half of the current roster. They didn’t even include any of the female wrestlers in this game, with the exception of the appearance of Christy Hemme on one of the loading screens, where you are given game advice in a section called “Christy’s Tips”, I kid you not.
There are so many competitive fighting games out there that TNA really fails to make an impact, I think only hardcore devotees of wrestling will get any real lasting pleasure from this game. For those not interested in wrestling I can tell you that it will only be fun for a while, but before long you’ll be wanting one of the many better competitive fighting games currently available, one that will deliver the bone crushing intensity that TNA wanted to give, but didn’t.
TNA iMPACT! is awarded two chokeslams out of five