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When most wrestling fans think of the top dog in sports entertainment, they think of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), with the upstart Total Nonstop Action (TNA) promotion finishing a distant second despite their innovative six-sided ring and unique brand of action. Likewise, when most gamers think about the best wresting games on the market today, they most likely also turn to the WWE and the immensely popular Smackdown series of games. However, TNA has teamed up with Midway Games to challenge the current reigning champs. Can they pull off the stunning upset, or should the TNA Impact video game be relegated to jobber status?
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Graphics and Sound
The graphics were impressive enough. The in-ring character models look fairly realistic, and the arenas (particularly the Impact Zone in Orlando) are visually pleasing. Likewise, the sound effects are good. At the title and match option screens, before play actually starts, the theme songs of different wrestlers play, which is a nice touch in this reviewer's opinion. Also worthy of note are the introductions, which are good quality CG, as well as voiceovers by a high-quality ring announcer. They also feature realistic entrance styles for most of the TNA roster, although for some reason tag teams like LAX don't come out together. Finally, during entrances and in story mode, subtitles are included, which again are a nice touch. Overall, this is a solid effort with a few key flaws. One, during matches, some moves can be interrupted, which result in unnatural movements. Also, the play-by-play commentary is terribly generic. I don't once remember commentators Mike Tenay and Don West addressing a wrestler by name, which is simply unacceptable in this day and age.
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It will take anyone who is a Smackdown veteran some time to get used to the controls in TNA Impact, but on the whole they are pretty solid. I'm not crazy about having the running function mapped to the R2 button, or being forced to hold L1 and then hit triangle just to pick someone up off the ground, but after a few hours of play, you get used to it. Using the right stick to change targets, on the other hand, is an improvement over past wrestling titles as it feels more natural and is easy to get to. The controls aren't a major problem. Unfortunately, the limited movesets are. There are just a handful of moves each character has, and many of them are shared, so expect to see and do the same moves over and over again. Over time, it really begins to sap the fun out of the game.
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Gameplay Depth and Features
Limited is a good way to describe the number and variety of the available characters as well. Players start off a handful of different TNA stars to play as, including A.J. Styles, Samoa Joe, Kurt Angle, Sting, Christian Cage, Booker T. and more. More are unlockable, but there are some extremely questionable decisions here, such as making Brother Devon of Team 3D available from the start but not his partner, Brother Ray, or having the initial roster include Shark Boy but not main event stars like Abyss or Kevin Nash. Why bother including two characters no longer featured in the company (Christopher Daniels and Senshi) over a guy like Petey Williams and his amazing made-for-video games finishing move, a flipping piledriver called the Canadian Destroyer? Why bother making the generic characters unlockable at all? Seriously, who wants to play as these guys? And where are the immensely popular TNA Knockouts? I, for one, was seriously looking forward to wreaking some havoc as Awesome Kong. Terrible, terrible roster choices; Midway truly dropped the ball on this one.
It should come as no surprise, then, that this sort of bare-bones approach continues into other aspects of the game as well. There is only one arena available at the start (the TNA Impact Zone), but there are a few others that can be unlocked in story mode. That is, if you can stomach story mode. Unfortunately, the developers saw fit to make it so that the PlayStation 2 version has no create-a-wrestler mode, nor are players allowed to select an established company star to play as. Nope, there's one wrestler and one wrestler only that is usable in story mode, and that is an original character named Suicide. According to the plot, Suicide once dominated the sport until he refused to take a dive in a title match. He was roughed up and left for dead, and now must climb his way back to the top of TNA. Unfortunately, doing so requires that the player start off fighting several other homemade characters before getting a crack at the big boys. It is easy, short, and an endless bore.
You'll want to play through story mode to unlock some of the characters, but to have fun, your best bet is the exhibition matches, which in addition to the usual suspects (single matches, tag-team battles, handicap matches, falls count anywhere and three-way dances) also includes the innovative Ultimate X match. In Ultimate X, two or three competitors have to battle to be the first to climb up the turnbuckle, shimmy along a steel cable to the center of the ring, and unhook a hanging "X" icon hanging above. Unhooking the "X" is challenging, because not only does the player need to get to it without being pulled down from below or kicked off the cables, but they also need to have good enough timing to hit the X-button and stop a moving meter at the right time on multiple occasions. This is the best play mode in the game, bar none, and it is particularly good when you're battling against a friend or two.
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I really wanted to like TNA Impact. With the company's six-sided ring, their innovative match-types and some of the extreme moves their guys do, it seemed like this could have been video game gold. Sadly, though, the game just isn't all that good. The WWE games have featured create-a-wrestler since the PlayStation 2 launch, and even the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of Impact have it, so how can the developers justify its absence in the PS2 version of the title? That, plus the weak roster, the limited movesets, the mind-numbingly dull story mode, and the poor match commentary all combine to ruin any potential for this upstart product. There are older wrestling video games on the market that look and sound just as good, play better, and have far greater depth for less money. For those reasons, it's impossible to recommend TNA Impact as anything more that a possible rental, and even then only for those who are serious fans of the company or wrestling game completists.