Release Date: September 9, 2008
The PlayStation 2 has been home to many different wrestling games throughout its lifespan. From the hardcore (Fire Pro Wrestling Returns) to the nostalgic (Legends of Wrestling) to the oddball (Rumble Roses and Ultimate Muscle), the system has seen it all. One of the more well-known franchises when it comes to wrestling games is the WWE SmackDown series, which started on the original PlayStation and has seen itself improve and flourish in the PS2 era. For most wrestling fans, this series is the pinnacle of how wrestling games should be, and, in their eyes, no one has come close to that standard. Like the real life wrestling organization, however, SmackDown begs for competition from other wrestling games.
Enter Midway Games. With their new partnership with Total Nonstop Action (TNA), they're throwing their hat into the wrestling ring with TNA iMPACT! for the PS2. The game does not immediately steal the wrestling crown away from SmackDown, but it would have provided itself with a good basis on which to build future games if it weren't for the fact that it's appearing this late in the console's life cycle.
There are 25 TNA wrestlers featured in iMPACT!, including old TNA favorites like Jeff Jarret, Jay Lethal and A.J. Styles, as well as new faces to the company like Booker T. and Kurt Angle. Like a standard fighting game, other wrestlers must be unlocked through a combination of story mode and acquisition of style points. Style points are acquired by winning matches in any mode as well as pulling off different moves with your wrestler. In a way, this makes the fight more interesting, since you not only want to win a match but also pull off as many moves as possible to gain the style points needed to unlock a wrestler.
In both exhibition (single-player and multiplayer) as well as story mode, you'll go through several different match types. You have your standard layout of matches, ranging from one-on-one to tag-team matches to fatal four-way matches. Falls count anywhere matches are also included, though it isn't really much of a modification since there's no referee in the ring or a count-out system of which to speak. The one match type that differs greatly from what the competition offers is Ultimate X. Here, wrestlers have to climb up the girders to a rope, get to the middle, and try to untie the X to win the match. It sounds silly at first, but when you think about how many historical matches TNA has had around this gimmick type, you'll realize just how important it is for fans to have this mode. Sadly, there are no Six Sides of Steel matches in iMPACT!, another variation for TNA that produces great matches from time to time.
The story mode stands out here, especially since most sports games don't even try to get a compelling single-player story mode together. You play the role of Suicide, a huge star in the TNA world who finally gets his shot at the championship title. Instead of taking a dive like he's supposed to, though, he goes ahead and wins the match. As a reward, he gets beaten beyond recognition and wakes up in a Tijuana clinic, hell-bent on both recovering his identity and getting revenge on the people who did this to him. If this were a story for an adventure game, this would be a very basic one that covers just enough to justify the fighting. However, for a wrestling game, it works well enough and gives people a reason to play the mode in the first place. It doesn't feature the best dialogue, but the wrestlers and other voice actors don't sound like they phoned in their performances, either.
One thing that immediately stands out in TNA iMPACT! is the graphics. Much like Midway's earlier title NBA Ballers, TNA iMPACT! puts lots of detail on their wrestlers. It's not as graphically pronounced as the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game, but it definitely holds its own against some of the better-looking PS2 titles. The animation for each move is fluid, and it flows into the next animation very nicely, preventing you from feeling like you're fighting with robots. Unfortunately, the graphical system isn't perfect. While the animations are nice, you'll often see wrestlers magnetically attracted to each other when a grapple is initiated. You'll also see a good amount of clipping, especially when your wrestler rests at the turnbuckle or gets bounced off the ropes. Also, whenever a big impact move is used, the camera angle seems to be pulled a bit too far back and shifted to the right. You don't want to be taken away from the action in a wrestling game.
For the most part, the gameplay succeeds. The decision was made early on to go away from a very complicated wrestling system and make a much simpler one instead. To that end, it works. The face buttons are used for basic strikes and grapples, while combining it with the L1 button unleashes stronger strikes and grapples. You can even pull off tons of reversals, transforming any match into a good back-and-forth battle between two skilled players. With what you're given, you have plenty of moves in the game and can combo them together nicely. However, one glaring issue is that while you can pull of a good amount of moves, it all feels limited compared to the competition. Worse yet, you see that just about everyone has the same set of moves in the game. While it makes sense for X Division guys like Christopher Daniels and Chris Sabin to pull off a Huricarana with ease, seeing bigger guys like Abyss do the same thing is a bit unsettling. The AI is also another sticking point where it almost succeeds. Each wrestler you deal with manages to put up a good fight near the beginning of the match, but they suddenly become unstoppable when it seems like you could win, taking advantage of just about any reversal opportunity he may have. It is beatable, but don't be surprised if you get frustrated more often than not.
The sound is another spot that ends up falling a bit short in iMPACT. The effects are good, with punches and kicks providing just the right amount of sound to make it seem painful. The same goes for slams and other moves that cause a wrestler to smack the ring mat hard. However, not all of the effects are good. Hitting a wrestler on the steel ring posts or with a chair doesn't provide the same sound you would hear in other wrestling titles. While it was mentioned earlier that the wrestlers' voices are good, the same can't be said for the announcers. Whether or not you like Mike Tenay and Don West when they go on the air, you'll hate them in this title. The lines they give are generic and don't seem to really focus on who's in the ring at the time. For example, every wrestler is referred to as "he" and not called out by name. It would have been nice to hear something special if you decided to get Christian Cage and Rhino in the ring together, but that doesn't happen. Finally, the grunts from the wrestlers during matches all sound the same. It's not a big deal, but it would have been cool to have Alex Shelly and Sonjay Dutt sound a little different when they get hit.
Aside from graphics and sound, the feature list for the PS2 version of TNA iMPACT! is different from the newer consoles and, as a result, much weaker. The game has all 25 TNA wrestlers from the other versions of the game, but there is no Create-a-Wrestler feature. Even though the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions only featured five slots for their created wrestlers, at least they were there. Instead, the PS2 iteration gives you all of the pre-made wrestlers from the story mode and lets you play as them. While this is a cool feature, there's nothing like creating your own wrestler from scratch and having him beat up on your favorite stars. Another missing feature is an online mode. While most games on the PS2 are shying away from online gameplay, it would have been nice if this title bucked the trend and allowed PS2 owners the chance to tussle over the Internet. Finally, none of the bonus TNA matches are on this version of the game. It may be a small thing for some people, but it's a big deal for TNA fans who haven't upgraded their gaming consoles yet, and this just compounds the feeling that the PS2 version didn't get the same amount of attention as the others.
TNA iMPACT! is a good start for a new wrestling franchise. The fighting animations are fluid, and it's refreshing to see a wrestling game go back to the fundamentals as opposed to gimmicky matches and auxiliary items. Unfortunately for the PS2 version, not enough was done that would have made it stand out among the string of WWE games on the PS2 console, especially considering that this will probably be the last year that we'll see anything remotely high-profile on the system. Unless the system stays strong next year and the powers that be see fit to release another TNA game on the aging console, consider iMPACT! a strong rental — but you may consider buying the Xbox 360 or PS3 version.
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