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KNOCKOUT KINGS 2002    ( XBOX & PS2) 
82%
Visually Outstanding
Lots of Special Punches
Career Mode Lacks Depth

Having played earlier versions, I was excited to get the chance to review EA Sports newest installment of their Knockout Kings series on my new XBox console monster. Once the soundtrack and movie are through, you get presented four main modes featured in the game, Play Now, Exhibition, 8 man Tournament Mode and Career Mode - I'll get back to them later. Let me first focus on the game in the ring. The moment Richard Steele barked 'Box!' and the camera zoomed in on the action I knew I was in for a treat. The graphics and visuals are absolutely stunning. There is no question EA have used some sort of motion capture here for the boxers to bob, weave, throw punches from so many angles. Just watching your pug move around the ring with remarkable fluidity is a sight to behold. After the initial splendor of the scenery has sunk in.. after I had already been nailed three times by my German journeyman opponent.. I got to work. The gamepad buttons represent the long jabs and the inside hooks. The use of the right trigger allows for the use of uppercuts, rather than jabs - which is a welcome addition when ripping the head back of numerous low crouching adversaries! The commentary, while a little repetitive adds a nice atmosphere to the fights, especially when your fighting in the big venues at Caesars Palace or Wembley where the crowds go nuts. 

It's fun, very fun, but once you get out of the ring and manage your man's training and career, everything takes an unexpected nose dive. Let me explain. In career mode you are limited to 15 fights. There are 3 sparsely populated tiers of opposition with Ali at the top as champ. Then there are the ratings.. Well.. there is none... thats the big problem with Knockout Kings 2002. I know right now, the lack of dynamic ratings, thin number of opponents and heavy arcade bias is going to irate the boxing fans who are familiar with the sport. To put it in perspective - Imagine a football game being released without league tables implemented in the game. 

If you're looking at new prospects coming up into the game to knock you off the top when you do get there - forget it. The 15 set fighters in each of the 3 divisions, is simply not enough opposition to have a fulfilling "career" in the game. What makes this so surprising is that EA Sports have created games in other sports with incredible depth. The game just cries out for new randomly generated boxers to come in periodically and add a little variation.

While not as linear as many boxing games of the 80s and 90s - Knockout Kings 2002 's rise up the ranks is horrificly rigid. Simply put - if you beat five of the six journeymen you can fight one of the five moderate fighters like Vitali Klitschko. Beat four or them and you fight the three contenders like Holyfield, before you can lock horns with Ali for the title. Ali is always the champ - he fights no one else to keep that mantle, only you and only then if you beat the three other set contenders. 

I tried to be cute and create my own boxers to pad the division and add a little varience to the game. Imagine my surprise when I found I could only load one custom made boxer at a time for exhibition or tournament mode, making it a pretty lengthly job. To add insult to injury, while all opponents in the game are correctly named, custom boxers are deprived of having spaces in theirs.. so forget about creating "Mike Tyson". I can only assume EA Sports have intended this game to be a rental, rather than a buy. 

That said, the shear excitement of mixing it with fantastically detailed opponents like Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield and both the Klitschko brothers, rises it above the game's limited depth and makes this worth a look by all fight fans. With its career mode limitations it has left the market wide open for a wave of new fight games coming out very soon. Time will tell if they can bridge the hulking gap between punchout action and immersive management in a boxing game - maybe Knockout Kings 2003 will!

Screenshots
 


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