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Review of TNA iMPACT! for the XBOX 360

Review of TNA iMPACT! for the XBOX 360
TNA has a wrestling product that should translate well to video games. They have historically featured the fast high flying X-Division that has not been featured in other high profile American pro-wrestling games. However, TNA iMPACT! for the XBOX 360 does not live up to that potential. At every turn TNA iMPACT! reminds players that the game appears to have shipped approximately 2 years early and in the form of a glorified demo.
Midway is in bad financial shape. They have not been profitable in years. Their CEO resigned months ago and the company has yet to find a permanent replacement. They lost millions in the last quarter and are expected to lose millions more this year. Prior to the release of iMPACT! Midway had a round of massive layoffs that included closing the studio that had developed iMPACT! The fact TNA iMPACT! was beset by delays, and that cost overruns probably accompanied those delays likely doomed Midway Los Angeles. It is clear Midway decided to ship this game before it was properly finished.
The most annoying answer to gamers that publishers give when asked about a release date for projects they are working on is, "When it is done." However, that is the best answer they can give. It is much better for a company to hold a game until it is right, rather then ship it out to meet a financial deadline. Take-Two stated that Grand Theft Auto: IV would be released on October 16, 2007 in May 2006. However, the game was not ready and they decided to hold it. Their stock took a significant hit when they announced the delay. Still they held the game until April 2008, when the game was finished properly. When GTA: IV was finally released it received the highest average score of any game released for both the XBOX 360 and PS3. It had the highest first week sales of any entertainment product in history and the Take-Two stock price soared as the company turned a solid profit that quarter. TNA iMPACT! is not GTA: IV, but Midway should have learned the lessons from Take-Two's delay of GTA: IV.
TNA iMPACT! has been lauded for its outstanding graphics powered by the Unreal 3 Engine that Midway has licensed from Epic Games. However, the graphics for this game only look good superficially. When playing actual matches the graphics do not hold up, showing constant glitches that can cause constant frustration. Wrestlers pass through each other frequently. When trying a drop kick off the top rope my character passed through my opponent. A vertical suplex sent a wrestler through the mat.
This rush to release the game has meant that TNA iMPACT! has shipped bereft of even the most basic features that players expect in a wrestling game. It is the first major wrestling title to ship without a cage match since Legends of Wrestling in 2002. No wrestling game featuring licensed talent has ever shipped on a DVD with a smaller roster.
TNA iMPACT! attempts to use smoke and mirrors to hide the games small roster and lack of match variety. It fails to do this. The game requires players to face a seemingly endless string of jobbers to try to disguise the fact there are not that many actual wrestlers in the game. All of the jobbers are modeled after Chris Sabin. After a few matches, it is clear the player is only facing a series of Chris Sabins with different bodies.
Pro-wrestling organizations have spent over a century teaching fans to look for certain things in matches. In Midway's haste to get TNA iMPACT! out the door, it has ignored all of the little touches that make pro-wrestling look "right" to its fans. To begin with, there is no referee in the game. The count just magically appears on the screen. The first pro-wrestling game I owned circa WrestleMania XI had a referee. In a company where referees and ref bumps play such a big part of matches that is a major omission.
There are no rope breaks or disqualifications in this game. They are not options the player can turn on or off. It is automatically off. This creates some ridiculous pinning predicaments, where both players are completely under the bottom rope, and every match seems to feature chair shots. Chairs are the only weapon in the game. Again, the first wrestling game I owned had chairs and the ring bell. In Midway's haste to get this to market other forms of plunder were left out of the game.
The game features no blood. That call was made to make the game more appealing to children. That was a strange decision considering children generally do not watch iMPACT! TNA features a very violent adult product on television. To appeal to their fans Midway could have embraced what makes TNA different from WWE, instead they have chosen to run from that and make a WWE "light" game. The exclusion of blood from the game may sound like a small thing, but it creates scenarios that look ridiculous. There is a cut scene where on the outside the player is rammed head first into the post 3 times, then curb stomped. The fact that not does draw blood, simply looks wrong. Wrestling and video games require the viewers/players to suspend their disbelief of the unreal world they are partaking in at all times. However, the more someone watching wrestling or playing a video game is taken out of the experience, because it looks fake it diminishes their enjoyment of the experience.
Mike Tenay and Don West have been much maligned for their announcing of the actual TNA product. In this game it seems as if they are almost out to be embarrassed at time with some horrible dialogue that appears to be geared toward 12-year-olds. They have more lines about low blows then any other subject in the game. Mike Tenay even makes a high pitched "yelp", similar to the cries a puppy makes when it gets stepped on when calling one of the low blows. To counter their plethora of dialogue about low blows they make no reference to the wrestlers by name during the matches.
The story of this game shows the continued trend that not enough time was spent developing this game. It opens with LAX jumping the protagonist "Suicide" who has just won the TNA World Heavyweight Championship using the "D.O.A." at the iMPACT! Zone in Orlando, Florida and dumping him in Tijuana, Mexico. This makes no sense for a number of reasons.
First, naming a character Suicide in a wrestling game, when the sport has featured so many suicides is in such bad taste that it is hard to believe that someone would do it. Then to have his finisher be called the "D.O.A." when sadly that term has been used to describe about a half dozen of the employees who have worked for TNA in its short history (the last time being in June) is at the least insensitive.
Next, to have LAX who are babyfaces in TNA attack the protagonist when the company is being sued for racial discrimination against Latinos is incredibly short sighted. Then to have the protagonist dumped in Tijuana reinforces that the company has no understanding of Latinos. Tijuana is literally the farthest point on the US-Mexico border away from Orlando. It is about a 3 day non-stop drive from the iMPACT! Zone. The game even announces Homicide from Brooklyn, New York and Hernandez from Houston, Texas. Neither place is any where close to Tijuana. It is probably a 36-hour drive from Houston to Tijuana. If the game had to start with the player being dumped in a city on the US-Mexico border, the game could have at least used Juarez. It is on the border with Texas and a lot worse place to be dumped then Tijuana.
It would have made a lot more sense considering the place TNA is in for the character to be named Bob or something else simple. The main character could then have been jumped by Christian Cage following an argument over socialized medicine and dropped outside Scott D'Amore's place in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. It is possible to do that drive in under 2 days, and getting free medical care to get fixed up following the beating in Canada would make sense as opposed to the English speaking doctors working pro bono in Mexico. It would also make sense for why the character would end up back in TNA.
In the real game, to get back into the United States the player is then forced to go through a gauntlet match. The gauntlet match in TNA is a royal rumble match, that when it comes down to the final 2 competitors the match becomes a traditional match decided by pinfall or submission. However, this game cannot handle more then 4 players on the screen at one time. Therefore, the player does not get the TNA gauntlet. They get the traditional gauntlet of beating several opponents in a row. However, unlike the challenge of traditional gauntlets where a player is progressively more warn down with each match, the player starts fresh in every match. Therefore, it is not a true gauntlet, but just a string of matches against random jobbers that got a fancy name.
Once the player arrives in TNA they begin in tag matches with Eric Young, while they are mentored by Kevin Nash. Nash' comedic dialogue is one of the best features of the game. He plays the same role he plays to Samoa Joe on iMPACT! and his comedy works well in the game. Eric Young is funny at times, but can be too over the top at others. When it works, it provides a very nice break from the frustration that is the wrestling in the game. This is easily the best story period in the game and possibly the best part of the game.
Unfortunately, before the player progresses very far into the tag team division they will start getting beat repeatedly, because the computer essentially cheats. The tag matches are functionally broken. The game only lets the player heal the partner on the apron for about 15 seconds forcing frequent tags. However, the opponents continue to heal the entire time they are on the apron. Therefore, if the player isolates one opposing wrestler and he makes a tag, the player is now facing a completely fresh wrestler that is probably ready to deliver their finisher. In addition, the partners on the apron have a cut off point where they will no longer make a save. If the wrestler in the ring has taken whatever the computer deems to be too much damage, the player's partner is not going to make the save. It does not matter if the player is in their own corner, no one is coming to break up the pin. However, the computer is forced to play by that same broken rule. When the computer says the opponent is done, their is no save coming for them, either.
The name talent on the TNA roster posses better moves then you do and superhuman countering abilities. Therefore, this will result in frustrating periods where the player is forced to play the same match over and over, again. The game awards the player points for pulling off special moves in each match. The player uses those points to unlock new moves. However, the player only gets to keep those points if they win the match. The simple tweak of letting the player keep the points, even if they lost would allow them to gain more moves and quickly even the playing field to allow the player to advance more rapidly. Instead the game seems intent on punishing players for the fact that the game was not properly play tested.
The ridiculous imbalance in how the computer takes damage and the player does has been written about everywhere. Therefore, this article will largely skip it. However, a few quick examples. The computer will not sell chair shots. Every match is no disqualification with 5 chairs that are capable of delivering 4 blows before breaking spread around ringside. Using all 20 blows from the 5 chairs up on the computer will not result in a pinfall. Similarly, the computer even at the beginning level seems obligated to kickout of your finisher and should the player take one of the computer's finishers it is game over.
The player will only face jobbers in the Ultimate X matches. However, when a jobber takes a significant bump when they are trying to take down the X, 15 feet in the air, they will just stand back up and not sell the fall. For all of its criticism, the one thing that TNA has consistently reinforced is that if a wrestler takes a significant off the Ultimate X structure, they are out of the match. Frankie Kazarian has taken a Styles Clash, neck breaker and delivered a leg drop off the Ultimate X structure. Following all of those moves he never returned to the match. The computer will fall a dozen times off the cables onto his face and sell it each time like a weak punch.
After the player wins the tag belts they move on to the X-Division where they will face the same jobbers. The highlight of the X-Division is supposed to be the Ultimate X. However, it turns into a frustrating mini-game that seems to have no relation to the rest of the game. The computer here can be easily beaten. It will climb up and try to take down the X and wait for you to knock them off repeatedly, after you back off the X. The computer never figures out to knock the player off the cables then try to take down the X. This makes these matches mostly a chore of knocking the computer down, until the player can beat the mini-game.
At this point the player will notice they are facing the same jobbers over and over, again. Some jobbers will appear at least once in Mexico, the tag matches, the X-Division matches, and the heavyweight matches. However, during their intros the jobbers names are not announced. This sounds like a small thing. However, all of these little details add up to show that the game never received the attention it deserved to be finished properly. To have Jeremy Borash announce Savage B, would be a small thing, but would make the game seem more realistic. After the fourth of fifth time Savage B comes out and receives a 3 sentence description of the type of wrestler he is, it becomes annoying that Savage B was not be tacked onto the end of that description. It is an incomplete introduction to go along with the incomplete game. Similarly, none of the wrestlers actually walk to the ring after being introduced. They get to the top of the ramp take a few steps, and then the game cuts to the next entrance or the ring. The slide that said "Character Walks to Ring Here" seems to almost flash whenever that happens.
Christopher Daniels was originally scripted to be in the game as part of Triple X. They then rewrote part of the game to make him the X-Division Champion. However, the player wins the X-Division title from Christopher Daniels without wrestling him in a match. The player builds up to facing Christopher Daniels with a series of Ultimate X matches that culminate against Savage B. When it comes time for the match with Daniels, Samoa Joe jumps Daniels from behind in a cut scene. Then the player is shown holding the belt as a continuation of the scene. (The player never gets to wrestle Daniels in the game or Scott Steiner for that matter.)
The player will then move to the heavyweight division, where miraculously the opponents move faster then the X-Division wrestlers. When the player faces Nash near the end of the game, the big man is the fastest opponent the player will have faced. Nash delivers drop kicks off the top rope and moves around faster then AJ Styles. Nash probably would have been laughing at a likeness of himself doing those. Vinny and Bryan asked why would it not be more fun to play with this Kevin Nash, then the real Kevin Nash? The answer is that if a player wants to use a wrestler that uses this style ,they can play as Chris Sabin. In a wrestling game, the reason players play as Kevin Nash is to be able to do "snake eyes" and hit the big boot. The game does not need 2 Chris Sabins. It needs 1 Chris Sabin and 1 Kevin Nash. If a player thinks it would be more enjoyable to play as Sabin they will do that. However, some people would like to play as Nash and they should be able to do that, rather then Chris Sabin disguised as Kevin Nash.
Finally, the game culminates with a match against Jeff Jarrett. That is one of the most ridiculous end bosses in video game history. Jarrett has been off television for 2 years. However, he returns to step over the guys who have made TNA profitable to show them who the real star of this company is. The equivalent of this would be if at the end of the women's storyline on SmackDown! vs. Raw the player had to face Stephanie McMahon. (There currently is no women's storyline in SmackDown! vs. Raw.) The game leaves players with a final reminder that Jeff Jarrett is TNA and he will book himself on top whenever he can.
The online mode in the game features the same broken unfinished features that plague the rest of the game. The game frequently disconnects the player during matchmaking. The wrestlers are unresponsive in the online mode. The wrestlers frequently feel like they are moving in molasses. The system was not working when trying to set up a match with Crumbley.
There has been a big deal made about this being the first wrestling game with downloadable content. However, downloadable content is only good when it is expansions to extend the life of a game, not stuff that should have been in the game in the first place. Petey Williams who has been with TNA for about 5 years and had been the X-Division Champion for months when the game was released is not in the game. Williams will be available for sale as a download in a few months, though. Players should not have to wait months, let alone be excited to pay extra money to download a wrestler that should have been in the game in the first place. This is not a positive for the game. The Canadian Destroyer and all of Williams' signature moves are already in the game and nothing is being added to story mode. This is just a way to get players to pay extra money for an unfinished product.
An unofficial poll of video game industry media projected that TNA iMPACT! will need to sell 600,000 copies to break even. A recent Wrestling Observer Newsletter reported that TNA is viewed in 800,000 homes in the United States. That is some unfriendly math. TNA is basing their projected sales on the sales of SmackDown! vs. Raw. However, SmackDown! vs. Raw is available on 2 additional platforms then TNA iMPACT!, the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS. Furthermore, WWE has been successful in changing the culture of wrestling. There are fewer wrestling fans today. The younger fans today are WWE fans, not wrestling fans.
Midway had the opportunity to focus on what makes TNA different from WWE in an effort to appeal to the older wrestling fans, who are statistically the ones who buy the majority of the video games. The X-Division, women's wrestling and more true hardcore wrestling could all be included in the game to target the adult wrestling fan that still exists and feel neglected by SmackDown! vs. Raw. Instead, Midway has made a second rate WWE game.
The unfinished state this game has shipped in is likely to turn off consumers who would have been open to buying a sequel. TNA iMPACT! has been poorly received by critics, which will discourage buyers who took a wait and see attitude with the game. If TNA iMPACT! turns into a money loser, for a company that is hemorrhaging money, it is likely to get canceled before there can be enough installments to get it right. TNA iMPACT! could be good in 2 or 3 years, but it is unlikely to get that time. If Midway cancels this game, it could be years before TNA has another video game deal. At that time TNA would have to earn back the trust of the consumers who may believe that TNA video games are not good, following this piece of shovel-ware. TNA has likely done themselves more harm then good by releasing this game.
Final Score and Explanation: 2/5
The game has some redeeming qualities. The graphics are at times top notch and the dialogue can be genuinely funny. This game could have been something great had Midway taken the time to finish it properly. SmackDown! vs. Raw 2007 was a 4/5. SmackDown! vs. Raw 2008 was not as good as 2007 and was a 3/5. TNA iMPACT! does not have the features to measure up to SmackDown! vs. Raw 2008, hence the 2/5.

Jereme Warneck
Boxing and Video Game Correspondent for f4wonline.com
Hidden Valley Lake, CA
I can be reached for feedback and comments at ZurRoadie@aol.com or as JeremeW on XBOX Live. I read everything.
Posted on Monday, September 29, 2008 at 04:26PM by Registered CommenterJereme in , | CommentsPost a Comment | References5 References

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