After years of hype and development time, TNA Impact delivers a poor experience that neither does justice to TNA’s extremely talented roster or to pro wrestling. The end product features gameplay that is broken, archaic and also suffers from some puzzling glitches while offering up very little new and not executing anything particularly well. While it’s clear from the behind the scenes videos included as extra features that a great deal of passion was involved in this product, that passion didn’t translate to a quality game.
Since this is a first effort, I wasn’t realistically expecting state-of-the-art gameplay across the board, but Impact’s gameplay is simply too outdated. Basic gameplay elements are missing, the mode selection is sparse, and the create-a-wrestler mode is overly limited compared to anything released in the past half-decade. Things that have been standard for a decade, like using grappling moves behind your opponent, such a belly to back suplex, or doing submissions to a face-down foe aren’t included here despite being standard since 1995, when Toukon Retsuden hit Japan as the first 3D wrestling game. Even Irish whip-specific moves, a standard since the 16-bit WWF games, aren’t included. Instead, you just do your basic standing grappling moves to an opponent bouncing off the ropes, which usually looks ridiculous.
Submissions also aren’t particularly well-done, as they’re few in number and the QTE-style mini-game required to make them work, where you and your opponent have to match a series of button presses to either apply pressure to or escape from the hold, isn’t fun to use. However, the QTE-reliance of the mode does make it very easy to use. Given how complicated the SmackDown vs. Raw submission systems have been at various points, a part of me is glad that’s the case here. I still wish there was more depth in the submission system, but what‘s here is done well.
Unfortunately, a slew of unblockable moves like hiptosses and jawbreakers that leave you vulnerable to ground attacks and unblockable chair shots do far more damage in very little time cripple the game. One common AI tactic is to use chairs right before a finisher, leaving you dazed, unable to counter anything, and usually forcing you to needlessly lose as a result of the massive damage caused by the chairs and the finisher. This is more annoying due to the auto-pin “feature” of most finishers, and is worsened by the lack of a rope break, a DQ (making those chair shots legal), and kickouts being too cumbersome since you have to violently shake the left stick back and forth, instead of just pressing a button repeatedly. It‘s not only physically taxing, the but this stick-based system isn‘t as responsive as it should be..
Those kinds of problems, combined with shoddy collision detection and game-breaking glitches further the feeling that Impact is a shoddily-produced game. The inconsistent collision detection is frustrating, as sometimes a move will miss by a mile and show up as connecting, while other times, a move will hit flush and the damage won’t register. Impact’s also fairly glitchy - the funniest one occurred when Christian Cage climbed up one of turnbuckles that wouldn’t allow him to win Ultimate X for a few minutes - allowing me to just take my time to win, but I’ve experienced other major ones as well, and while they enabled me to win because of how they interfered with the gameplay, there’s no excuse for game-breaking bugs making it in.
The story mode‘s also rife with unintended comedy - starting with your character (Suicide) getting facial reconstruction surgery in a cheap hospital in Mexico (allowing you to make your own character to use), and then morphing into a tale of betrayal, back alley beatings, and attempted murder. While this sounds serious, the end result can only be played for comedy, and its linear nature quickly leads to boredom.
This mode isn’t helped by Impact’s create-a-wrestler feature giving you very little to work with in any way. Visually - you can create okay-looking versions of guys who use simple-looking attire like Hulk Hogan, or who mainly wear street clothes like the Hardy brothers, but anyone with more elaborate gear is going to end up looking bad because there simply aren’t enough outfit choices, and you can’t customize the outfits beyond a handful of color choices. Even if you can make a decent-looking version of a wrestler, getting him to play as his real-life counterpart is nearly impossible since Impact doesn’t offer up very many moves. While Midway captured over 1,000 of them, they weren’t able to implement anywhere near that many in the final game. As a result, everyone’s moveset, including the in-game roster, tends to feel very generic with just a handful of moves being used to differentiate them - much like the historically-reviled WCW Thunder game.
You also have to unlock a majority of the game’s moves - some, like the Canadian Destroyer (flip piledriver) are perfectly acceptable unlockables , but most (like the head butt and backhand chop) aren‘t. This reeks of something done just to make people play the game longer since it has so little depth and very few modes. Even though the CAW mode is too limited to be of much use, and only offers up five CAW slots, it’s at least something that could theoretically extend the life of the game - the PS2 and Wii versions lack the mode altogether.
With only about 30 people included, Impact’s roster is quite lean compared to WWE’s games. It completely lacks TNA’s highly-regarded knockouts (women’s) division, which isn’t featured in the company’s first game beyond Christy Hemme acting as an interviewer in the story mode, and having one of the two game-only bonus matches as a knockouts elimination match seems incredibly odd given that the game has zero playable knockouts. Given that the packaged game allows you to play as color commentator Don West and Afro Thunder, but not the dominant knockout Awesome Kong, this is quite aggravating.
Even if they use DLC to fill in the blank roster spots, there’s no guarantee that they will be executed well as the in-game roster is already represented poorly. Most are missing at least one major move and the large amount of shared moves between them results in everyone playing nearly identically except for their finisher/signature moves. Those are hit-or-miss, as some are missing (Sting lacking his Scorpion Death Lock, Angle lacking the ankle lock), and some aren’t correct (Senshi using a dragon suplex instead of his signature Ki Krusher).
Aside from Ultimate X, Impact offers up nothing new, leaving you with just one-on-one, tag team, three and four-way matches, submission-only, and falls count anywhere matches available. Of those, all but the tag matches and Ultimate X play nearly the same since standard matches lack count outs, DQs, and rope breaks. In the case of tag matches, they aren’t very fun, as your partner will rarely break up pins, and the lack of any double team moves cripples teams like Team 3D (who lack the 3D) and the Motor City Machine Guns, whose offense is almost all double team attacks.
The execution of the Ultimate X is one thing I was greatly looking forward to, as its real-life counterpart has produced some excellent matches. Unfortunately, Impact’s incarnation fails to do it justice, and reminds me a lot of the ladder and cage matches of earlier SmackDown games - something that gets the very basic idea across (climb a ladder and grab something/climb over the cage to win), but doesn’t really offer up the depth that has made those matches special. Here, you get a version of the match that allows you to do a handful of dives off of the cables, but they have no lasting consequence and the collision detection is so spotty that they don‘t look damaging anyway - completely contrary to a real-life UX match. Also, no matter how many big dives you do, the mode always breaks down to a long period where one guy tries for the X, fails, gets knocked down, leading to the other guy trying to get it going on until you‘ve succeeded enough times at the fast-moving mini-game required to take down the X. This gets old quickly and greatly hurts the mode.
On the plus side, this is the first U.S. game to allow you to target individual limbs, and while it ultimately doesn’t matter much as damage counts for both arms or legs even if you just damage one throughout the match. It’s not perfect, but at least provides Midway with a solid base to improve upon later. Reversals also look very smooth., although they’re limited in number and don’t always make sense (like countering a leg drop with a belly-to-belly suplex). Despite that, they at least look plausible due to in-between animation and some of the combinations of counters (like countering an Irish whip into a death valley driver, into a neckbreaker) look fantastic. Other games (like the Day of Reckoning series) feature good-looking counters and have more meat on their bones, the countering here is still worlds ahead of what’s presently in the SvR series.
Impact‘s also got the best-looking character models yet in a wrestling game. They’re lifelike and full of detail - especially with regard to the wrestlers’ faces. Hair, something that usually doesn’t look good in wrestling games, looks incredible here - especially up close. Everything else is similarly lifelike, with details down to scars that go through tattoos, being visible. It’s easy to tell that a great deal of work was put into making sure the roster looked authentic - at least on the surface.
Sadly, those impressive-looking models stop dazzling when they’re in motion, as character movement and move animation looks jerky and unrealistic. The wonky collision detection doesn’t help matters either, as it makes it harder to accurately hit an opponent, and while the Havok physics model at work here fits the Saints Row mini-game where you throw a guy around like a ragdoll for comedic effect, it doesn’t work well here since weight is supposed to mean something and a throw is used for dramatic effect. Sending the near-300 pound Samoa Joe flying through the air like a paper plane at the slightest contact from anyone - regardless if it‘s a 180 pounder like Sonjay Dutt or someone more his size like Scott Steiner looks completely absurd, and takes away what little drama one can actually build up during matches.
While the sound effects are largely quite good, especially when it comes to slams into the guard rail and onto the mat (which sound absolutely devastating in both cases), the effect work for striking blows isn’t nearly as convincing. Every strike sounds largely identical, and the effect used sounds far too light and feels out of place for most moves. Impact’s music is also unspectacular, as song variety is minimal and entrance themes are usually drowned out by the otherwise silent crowd and the ring intros. Commentary is also poor, with Mike Tenay and Don West repeating things far too often. Jeremy Borash’s ring introductions, however, are quite good and sound much better than the ones in the SvR series.
I hope that Midway really delivers a top-shelf game next time around, because their first effort is mediocre. If I want to have a fantastic AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe, or Kurt Angle vs. Samoa Joe match in a game, I’m not going to reach for Impact because other games like WWF No Mercy, WWE Day of Reckoning 2, and Fire Pro Wrestling Returns can do that job far better. I’ll have to make some wrestlers, do without a six-sided ring, and the TNA branding, but at least I can have a great match with relative ease. Impact simply doesn’t have the gameplay depth or moveset variety to offer up a satisfying experience. Unless this is later bundled with all of its DLC as a platinum hit (ala Forza Motorsport 2), Impact is strictly a rental.