We Got a New Contendah!
Most of the boxer's in-game counterparts are picture perfect, some more so than others (i.e. coverboy Roy Jones). The size differential is obvious from the start, especially if you throw a featherweight in the ring with someone like Lennox Lewis. And unlike many other fighting-type games, the size really does factor in on collision detection. A Lennox Lewis right hook might go clear over a featherweight's head, and I must say the animations are very fluid. The face scanning is a mixed bag as some guys obviously had more attention in development, but for some reason the eyes tend to make everyone look like zombies. After a couple rounds the boxer's eye sockets will get poofy, which is expected, but for some reason their eyes become almost solid white, which looks very odd. Other than the eye thing though, the facial animations like breathing heavy (you can see their cheeks expand) and adjusting a mouthpiece are great. Lastly, the environments are great. Everything from Caesar's Palace to an old run-down gym are included.
In a word...revolutionary. Fight Night uses what they refer to as Total Punch Control where you use the left analog stick to move your fighter, around the ring and to bob and weave while stationary, and the right analog stick to throw your punches. Want a right jab? Tap the analog stick up and to the right a bit. Left hook? Push it left and rotate it up to the top...just like the motion of left hook. This may sound clunky at first, especially after playing other games which have tried to utilize the analog sticks (i.e. Jet Li), but after a fight or two, it becomes natural. The Total Punch Control adds an immense amount of strategy to a game which Knockout Kings lacked completely. Instead of just mashing buttons like a 7-year old kid playing Eddy in Tekken, you have to time your punches correctly and react to your opponent with precision in order to succeed. Going toe-to-toe just throwing a flurry of punches will get you nowhere but face first in the mat real fast. Blocking, dodging, and ring location are all highly important. You can choose to use the old way of playing, but that defeats the entire purpose of scrapping Knockout Kings in the first place. Force yourself to play a couple fights with the analog sticks. You may get your ass handed to you at first, but once you get a handle on this new, innovative style of gameplay, you'll love it. Now, although it is truly revolutionary, it's not as tight and responsive as it could be. But the fact that EA took boxing games to whole new level is far more important.
Definitely the low point of the game. The sound, from the soundtrack to the commentary, makes you believe this game was targetted for one specific audience. And obviously not everyone who watches/enjoys boxing likes rap music and BET (the commentator is Big Tigger from BET). While Puff Daddy's "Victory" is a perfect song for the opening theme to a boxing game, I would've liked the option to pick some other type of music, other than rap, for my fighter's entrances. And as Bonzoso mentioned, the Chris Rock sound-alike gets rather annoying. Someone like Max Kellerman (since he's not on ESPN now) or even HBO's analysts would have been alot better. The fact that they market the game like Def Jam Vendetta is rather lame. Otherwise, the sound effects (audience, corner advice in between rounds, etc.) are great.
The Career mode is rather short, and they force you to retire at 40, which is rather sad. It would be kinda fun to see how far your old-fart boxer could make it before breaking his hip. Although it's short, it's fun and tends to take a page from Tiger Woods' Pro Shop with the Fight Store, where you can spend your earnings on things like new trunks, new entrance music, new valet/ring girls (and outfits), new gloves, and a whole lot of other stuff. Career Mode also allows you to choose who you want to fight, but rather than just picking a random guy, you can scout their stats and see how well you think you would do against each one. After scheduling a fight, it's off to the gym to train. Do NOT pick to Auto-Train, because doing so will only earn you about 4 points to put into your attributes. True, you may only earn a couple points on your first try at some of the skill tests, but over time you will become very good at them and earn up to 15 points per training. Not only do you earn points, but the training sessions actually do help you learn how to play the game correctly and help you in the fights. But like I said, the Career mode is rather short, so thankfully the PS2 version has online play with stat tracking and all sorts of extras which will keep this game in your console for a lot more time.
Once you get the hang of it, the game is a blast. The career mode is entertaining enough, and the online play is great as well. The most fun you'll have with this game though is when there's someone else in the same room as you. Being able to knock someone out with a single punch, no matter how much "health" they have, is a great feature. It doesn't happen often, but it gives every fighter a small chance at a comeback even if they're getting their ass kicked. Special Punches, while devastating, leave you wide open for counterpunches, so people who overuse them will die by them. The whole environment, minus the commentary/soundtrack, fits perfectly with the world of boxing from the bikini-clad ring girls to the spurts of blood coming off a guy's head who just got blasted on his cut eye. Building your very own fighter is fun as well with tons of stats and info you can alter as it pertains to your background and appearance, but it doesn't stand up to Tiger Woods 2004's create-a-player. Overall, Fight Night 2004 is a great game simply because of all the things it changed and did right. It's not for everyone, but I can honestly say I'm already highly anticipating Fight Night 2005.
*** This review was written for Flamevault.com shortly after the game's release. ***