TNA iMPACT! is fighting an uphill battle against Smackdown vs. Raw, in more ways than one. The TNA promotion isn’t as popular as Vince McMahon’s WWE, and Midway’s TNA iMPACT! is a debut effort that will be compared directly against a franchise that has been refined and improved upon for close to a decade. The good news is that this undertaking has resulted in a generally enjoyable wrestling game that hearkens back to the beloved wrestling games of previous console generations, with a focus on well-tuned action and rock-solid gameplay. The bad news is that some real head-scratching decisions were made during the game’s development that result in a compromised overall experience.
Midway’s focus on TNA iMPACT! was clearly to get the basics down, and to hope for enough success to bring the extra features into future iterations of the franchise. In this endeavor it has generally succeeded. The graphics and gameplay are both relatively good, thanks to attractive character models, smooth animations, and an entertaining grappling system. The location damage system allows you to key in on an opposing body part with submissions through a button-pressing mini-game, and the style point system rewards you for varying your moves and keeping the action from getting stale.
The biggest problem that players will find in TNA iMPACT! is that it’s insanely difficult to kick out of pins. The manual is unclear as to how to go about this, so we had to contact Midway directly to find out how exactly to keep from taking a dive every match. The instruction manual says to quickly move both sticks left or right, but this never seemed to work. According to Midway, the proper tactic is to shake the left stick as fast as possible from left to right. Using your thumb won’t cut it, so we were advised to place the palm of our hand on the stick. This worked to some degree, but AI opponents are far, far better at kicking out of pins than a player could possibly be, even when beat to a pulp. We’re actually concerned that trying to kick out of many more pins will result in busted sticks on our controllers. We would have much preferred mashing a button on the controller, because at least those were made to stand up to some abuse.
Another downside of the grappling system is that it’s relatively basic. Wrestlers come in only a couple of basic varieties: grapplers, brawlers, and high-fliers. They share move sets to a large degree across the roster, and you may get tired of seeing the same suplexes, DDTs and chinbreakers. There’s little difference between playing characters like Sting, Kurt Angle, or Samoa Joe, even though they have radically different styles in the ring. Wrestlers only have the one finishing move out of a front-face lock as well, so if you’re looking for secondary character-specific submission finishers like Sting’s Scorpion Death Lock, Angle’s Ankle Lock, or Samoa Joe’s Coquina Clutch, you won’t find them here.
TNA iMPACT! players will likely be torn about how they feel about the countering system, as it’s easy to learn yet difficult to master. Nearly everything in the game can be countered, from punches and kicks to most grapples and even the high-flying moves. When you first grab an incoming high flyer out of the air and slam them down to counter their aerial assault you can’t help but love it. But when nearly every grapple attempt and plenty of your strikes are countered by the AI (even on the lower difficulty settings) you may call foul.