I went into Midway's Atlanta TNA Impact! wrestling event fully expecting to be underwhelmed by the game. After all, the current and previous gen offerings haven't exactly been the best the sport had to offer the video game world. I fully believed that wrestling games had reached their peak during the heyday of Wrestlemania 2000. Well after spending some time playing through Midway's new baby on the Xbox 360, I am pleased to discovery that I might have been wrong on that point. The game strikes a very satisfying balance between gameplay, graphics, and animation that I've not witnessed in the genre for quite some time.
Ultimately the key for me here lies in the animation. I've played too many wrestling games were highly detailed portrayals of the sport's superstars promise amazing action only to discover that they ultimately move as they are marionettes controlled by an arthritic puppeteer, jerking from one motion to the next. It's like typing in a cursive font...everything looks pretty but nothing really connects. Midway has taken there impressive animation tools from titles like NBA Ballers and Blitz and applied it to the wrestling genre with pretty sweet results.
As far as control goes, the game is easy enough to pick up and play that I looked like an old hand at it by the time I played my third bout. Unfortunately my opponent looked like an even older hand, but I'll chalk that down to the fact that he'd been drinking and I had not. Drinker's luck is real I tell you. Characters were quick to respond to button presses...another pet peeve of mine from previous games taken care of.
The graphics, despite being not quite in a finished state, were quite impressive indeed. Along with the highly detailed players themselves, almost everything was rendered. Crowds, the ropes themselves, shadows...all dynamic. When a wrestler is launched out of the ring the lights playing over the crowd play themselves over the character's skin as well, and as he climbs back in the ropes realistically part and spring back into place as he passes.
A few of the more acrobatic moves brought a little bit of slowdown, but the game is still being tweaked and for the most part runs at a lovely 60FPS throughout.
All in the only real problem the game faces is consumer familiarity, but with former WCW star Sting becoming TNA's World Heavyweight Champion at yesterday's Bound for Glory event (at nearly 50 years old no less!), buzz can only grow for the relatively young wrestling organization.
I feel really good about TNA: Impact!. Once all the moves are finished and the stadiums are complete, it truly has a chance at being one of the best wrestling video games of all time. However, winning critics over is one thing. Winning over fans is something else entirely.