Wrestling games are, on the whole, either above average or just plain average. Once you get over the novelty of being able to mess about with huge character models of your favourite wrestling stars, and perhaps dabbled in the creation of your own oversized muscle bound freak, you're left with little more than a poorly made, clunky and repetitive fighting game.
So it is that TNA Impact! arrives on the scene, a new player not only in video game land but in TV wrestling land too. And while TNA Impact! lacks experience, it certainly makes up for it in confidence, with a promise to revolutionise the stagnant wrestling video game genre and pretty much destroy the WWE Smackdown VS Raw franchise. The big question, of course, is whether or not that confidence is justified? We oiled up and threw ourselves into the hexagonal ring with wrestling star Kurt Angle to find out.
On the face of it there's little to suggest TNA Impact! will be any better than WWE Smackdown VS Raw, which has been getting poor review scores in recent years. You've got a 25-man roster, including Kurt Angle, Booker T, Sting, Jeff Tarrett, Christian Cage, Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, Rhino and Rick Steiner to name a few. You've got a story mode which allows you to create your own wrestler, customise him and embark on a career. You've got signature moves, over-the-top entrances, off-the-top rope action and online play. Everything you could want from a wrestling game in terms of features. But does it play well?
We had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours in the company of the Xbox 360 version of the game, playing some one versus one exhibition matches to get a feel for things. Unfortunately, this early build showed little to suggest the game will be any better than WWE Smackdown vs. Raw, which is a shame really, since there's definitely an opportunity to overtake it in terms of quality right now. It is worth stressing that the build on display was apparently a few months old, although we can only comment on what we played.
You've got the big character models, as you'd expect, with sweat and fairly realistic reactions to attacks (like holding their back after a suplex). But controlling the beasts is clunky and feels like trudging through treacle. The graphics too aren't anything to write home about. Kurt Angle says the thing which will set TNA Impact! apart from WWE Smackdown vs. Raw is the tremendous authenticity. From what we've seem the game looks and feels pretty much the same except with a six-sided ring and different wrestlers. Good for fans of THQ's series but not so great for wrestling fans wanting something different.
The controls in TNA Impact! closely follow those found in Smackdown vs. Raw. You have a punch attack, a kick attack, a grapple attack, a run, a pin and a counter. What our matches boiled down to was a race to see who could grapple who first, and thus who could perform basic wrestling moves like pile drivers and suplexes. We understand that special moves do become available when your Impact meter fills up, displayed underneath the wrestler names at the top of the screen, but we couldn't seem to trigger them. The counter button allowed us to swivel around our opponent when we were grappled, but apart from that the actual fighting, which all wrestling games are judged on, was basic and at times frustrating.
Because we haven't had the chance to get our hands on the final game, we'll give Kurt Angle's trash talking the benefit of the doubt. He talks about the motion-captured wrestlers, realistic facial expressions and a crowd that reacts to what's going on in-ring rather than just cheering all the time. He talks about all of these things without going into the finer gameplay details though, which is interesting. We'll see how things turn out come the summer, when the game is scheduled for release.
Here's hoping the development team is hard at work polishing the hell out of it right now, otherwise we feel the opportunity to wrestle the number one spot from WWE Smackdown vs. Raw, an opportunity WWE publisher THQ has itself gift wrapped, will slip right through its oversized, oiled-up fingers. Wrestling fans are screaming out for a solid game to come along and challenge the WWE series, if only to force THQ into making changes. Only time will tell if TNA Impact! is the game to do it.
TNA Impact! is scheduled for release on Xbox 360, PS3, PS2 and Wii in Summer 20008.