Electronic Arts is a company known for notoriously releasing their annual sports games with nothing more than new rosters and menu layouts. For whatever reasons, such as competition from rival companies, or a newfound moral commitment to their extremely large consumer base, some of their titles have received the complete overhaul treatment.
The first game to benefit from this was the Triple Play series, which has since blossomed into the game now known as MVP Baseball. EA’s next game to get this treatment was the Knockout Kings line, their flagship boxing title. With a completely revamped engine and better game plan, Fight Night was born, so does this game continue the new tradition of excellence?
One of the main things that hurt Knockout Kings in the eyes of boxing fans is that it was intended to be a realistic boxing simulation, but turned out to play more like an arcade game. Thankfully, these concerns have been addressed in Fight Night with the addition of the Total Punch Control scheme. Using the right analog stick, players will be able to better control their punches, giving them a firmer grasp of the fight. While the option is there to switch the new controls to the face buttons, try the new layout first. It offers a new challenge to a previously stale experience. To block and counter, the left analog stick is used to bob and weave in order to get better defensive positioning on an opponent. After you’ve got the controls figured out, you’ll discover that the AI has significantly improved as well. Roy Jones will fight like Roy Jones (not counting a few weeks ago), Ali will dance around the ring before starting the beat down, and Evander Holyfield does his best to knock you out quick without going for your ears.
Fans will be happy to know that Fight Night has gotten some love in the graphics department, too. From the detailed option menus to the look of the boxing rings, EA has done some serious work on making this game look better. Unlike previous games, you’ll be able to tell more boxers apart and not just the cover athletes and superstars. Another thing being introduced is rag doll physics for the boxers. In the past, when players got a knockout, they would see a pre-rendered animation that would more than likely repeat itself after a few fights. Now, taking into account body position and where you are hit, countless animations are possible. One small gripe I had while playing through Fight Night was that the rag doll physics are, well, a little too rag doll in nature. When the knockout animations start, fighters will do some initial wobbling before falling smack into the ring as if they just got hit with a brick from behind. As I said, though, that’s nothing big to worry about and it shouldn’t detract you from playing.
There’s not too much to complain about when it comes to the game’s sound. From the opening sequence of P. Diddy’s ?Rocky’ sampled song ?Victory’, the atmosphere of the sport is portrayed accurately with all of the authentic elements you would expect from a boxing title. For Xbox owners, Fight Night is presented in full Dolby Digital sound, so the quality won’t be lacking. As anybody who has read my previous reviews on sports games knows, one of my favorite features, audio-wise, is custom soundtracks. Sad to say, for reasons beyond me, they’re not present in Fight Night. Electronic Arts’ EA Trax is still present with an all hip-hop soundtrack. This isn’t really a bad thing, it’s just that many gamers would surely have loved the option to change it. For announcing duties, EA has enlisted BET’s Big Tigger to call the action – something this reviewer thinks is inappropriate for this type of game. If they were going for a realistic sim, why put someone not associated with boxing on commentary duties? They’ve had Teddy Atlas and others before for Knockout Kings, why not now?
While not as deep as it could be, Fight Night offers a slightly above average career mode to keep gamers playing. After creating your own boxer, you take him on a journey through several matches that will hopefully end up with an eventual title shot. Also, with the added training camp mode before and after each fight, you’ll be a lot better prepared for upcoming bouts. The one problem with that is, it becomes really easy to win the championship if you’ve learnt the controls and know what your doing. I’m sure EA could have found a way to expand on this and make it a more fulfilling experience, but it looks like they didn’t really pay attention to this area this year, which brings up another problem I have with career mode. Probably the main thing that hurts this mode – for me at least – is the fact that you can’t have a fighter move up or down in weight classes. I mean, Roy Jones has done this numerous times over the last few years, so he didn’t consult with the developers that this might actually happen in real life so it would be vital to any real boxing game’s career mode? With the obvious lack of detail to the career mode, most gamers will look to take this title online, but before you start getting excited about that, let me be the one to burst your balloon: there is no online play for the Xbox version. EA may have just recently announced support for Xbox Live but that doesn’t start until the 2005 season of games, so Xbox customers are, once again, left out in the cold, hopefully for the last time. So, in closing, Fight Night is a very good game that I would compare to last year’s MVP Baseball, a game that made serious strides in its first year, with a few minor bumps to hinder it. I definitely recommend a purchase for hardcore boxing fans, but a rental may be enough for casual followers.