Boxing games on the console have been
thin on the ground over the last couple of years. Codemasters, Mike Tyson's
Heavyweight Boxing frustrated the hell out of gamers and while Rocky boasted
superb visuals and gameplay it lacked what fight fans have been crying
out for years - a fully engaging boxing world with dynamic boxer rankings
and career management. So when EA Sports announced their shift of focus
from the Knockout Kings button masher to the more strategy focused FightNight
2004, it was welcome news to console owners.
Great Punch Control
Strong Career Mode
Can Create Any Boxer
The most dramatic change has been
to the controls in the ring. EA Sports have introduced what they call Total
Punch Control, something very new to the genre. Punches are no longer button
specific, but determined by the use of the right thumbstick. Jabs are performed
by pushing the right stick forward and slightly to the left or right, hooks
by pushing the stick fully left or right then arcing it around to the forward
postion and uppercuts the same way, but by bringing the stick back further
before arcing it back to the top. It might sound tricky, but it is surprisingly
effective and becomes strangely intuative after a short time. It really
feels as though you are channeling power into your punches, something not
experienced by mashing buttons.
So how does it play? surprisingly
good! Graphics are souped up from earlier titles. Some of the venues look
fantastic, though such detail does press the console hard however. It looks
like anti-aliasing has toned down a notch to keep acceptable frame rates.
The down side is noticable jaggies as the camera pans around the arenas.
This isnt surprising however, one of the venues has waitresses with trays
circling the ring others must have over a hundred animated sprites and
light bursts present - all very nice touches to the games atmosphere.
There are only two gameplay options
on the Xbox version. Play Now and Career Mode. Play now allows you to match
two fighters in the game or ones you have created ingame. You can choose
the venue, length of round, whether the three knockdown rule is in effect,
duration of the fight and yes, you can have the console simulate the fight
for you to watch. CPU vs CPU can be great fun if you wish to make boxers
not natively featured in the game. For example you can create Mike
Tyson, Vitali Klitschko, Audely Harrison and pretty much anyone from the
feature laden Create a Boxer mode. My only gripe here was many of the best
trunks, boots and other apparrel is not immediately available until you
unlock it in career mode. This does hamper any early accurate representation
of some custom boxers.
Now to the career mode. EA Sports
have done a very good job of incorporating a boxing world into the game.
There are six weight classes which each have 50 active fighters (between
5-10 real life boxers) at each given time. One thing to bear in mind is,
you can only have a one-division career, so you cannot do a Roy Jones and
jump between weight classes after a few fights. Each career is unique to
one of the six divisions. You choose your fights from the fight schedules
from various venues provided through the boxing calendar year. Fight offers
only come from boxers rated near you in the rankings, which isnt a bad
thing because once you starting mixing with the big 20 in the division
difficulty rises considerably. Unfortunately while the game does simulate
bouts in the background and alter the rankings accordingly, you have to
take the consoles word for the outcome. Some of the results do seem strange
(Almost random) and it is not uncommon for a journeyman with no punch or
chin to blitz a very capable prospect with high ratings. While this is
fine, I would've liked to have seen a full watchable fight card of all
of the bouts after your fight has been confirmed so you can actually observe
the computer controlled bouts. This is probably the weakest element of
the game. You know the boxing world is changing around you, with changing
rankings, boxer ratings, retirements, new boxers and title changes but
its easy to feel enclosed away from it all. Even highlights of major fights
each month would have been a great feature.
In addition to these modes, the
PS2 allows for online gameplay. Its not clear why this wasnt featured for
XBox Live as it would've certainly worked just as well.
The sounds is good too, though I'm
not sure why EA replaced the announcers and commentary with Big Tigger.
Jimmy Lennon Jnr or Michael Buffer and genuine commentators similar to
Teddy Atlas in KOKings would've been a better bet I think.
All in all FightNight 2004 is an
exceptional improvement on the Knockout Kings franchise. Just about about
everything KOKings lacked with its Career mode has been addressed and much
of what was good in the first place has been improved upon. The new Total
Punch Control is excellent and a fifty fight career certainly adds depth.
Add a more detailed and perhaps more open ended career mode and FightNight
2004 is probably the best boxing title available right now.