Version tested: Xbox 360
- Publisher: Midway
- Developer: Midway
Wrestling games have long been dominated by one brand - WWE - and that's meant there's only been room for one wrestling videogame series - the one officially endorsed by, and licensed from, the WWE. Yet SmackDown has been treading water for several years, bloating its back-of-box claims with lots of peripheral fluff but doing little to address the fundamental flaws in its now-creaky game engine.
TNA iMPACT! wreaks havoc on my spellchecker, and now hopes to land similarly painful body blows on THQ's lumbering franchise behemoth. Based on the televised rival to Vince McMahon's gaudy carnival, the pace is faster, the glitz a little less overbearing and the wrestlers themselves...well, they still have mullets, growly voices and tight pants. One step at a time, eh?
There's no denying that iMPACT! (and that's the last time I type it like that) offers a more immediately satisfying gameplay experience than SmackDown. It sounds a little ludicrous, but it's much closer to being an actual wrestling game, rather than a race to see who can pull off the most outrageous submission moves. Submission holds have come to dominate SmackDown, but here the focus is on wearing your opponent down through sustained attacks before going for the pin when they're at their weakest.
Counter-moves and reversals also play a big part, with all your defensive options wisely mapped to, or modified by, the RB button. At its most basic, hit the button when it flashes during a hold, and you'll instantly turn the tables on your opponent. Get two well-practiced players in the ring and there's a real back and forth as they grapple for the upper hand.
Where TNA loses marks is in its rather featureless presentation. Multiplayer is decent, but the no-frills framework doesn't leave you with much to do. The story mode is fun, but no replacement for a genuine career mode, while the available options can't help but pale alongside SmackDown's over-stocked buffet. That's not always a bad thing, but with a similar weakness for clipping effects and occasionally awkward animation interactions, it's not enough to topple the champion just yet. TNA does offer a robust and instantly gratifying wrestling engine, however, and future instalments should see it become the Pro Evo to SmackDown's FIFA.