Review by Odworth?

Reviewed: 08/08/05

See that, there? That used to be my opponent's face

Before Fight Night, Boxing never seemed all that appealing to me. In my views, the entire sport could be boiled down to a pair of muscular, sweaty, shirtless men pounding each other into bloody pulps, until one fell over and didn’t get back up. And, to tell the truth, the previous sentence is a quite accurate description of exactly what Fight Night Round 2 is.

The thing that still surprises me is how I managed to thoroughly enjoy it.

The makers of the game have managed to make me see boxing in a new light, a feat that I would have previously considered impossible. No more did boxing seem like a mindless sport. It became one filled with strategy, excitement, and exhilarating moments. Matches could be equated to battles between warriors. Such is the intensity of the sport. If Fight Night Round 2 depicts real-life boxing accurately, I am certain that my days of looking upon the sport with a condescending attitude are over. They’re over, baby.

At a glance, Fight Night 2 seems solid enough. You’ve got your standard quick play and two-player versus mode, as well as online play and a career mode which I’ll go into more detail on later. The selection of boxers is quite good, with a mix of current stars and all-time greats, from featherweights to heavyweights. You also have the option to create your own champion. Of course, this much is expected in just about every boxing game. However, once you get to the true part of the game- the actual gameplay, of course- the true brilliance of Fight Night 2 will start to show.

First of all, let’s get this out of the way: the game looks absolutely gorgeous. The amount of detail put into the boxers is stunning. If you know how the boxers look in real life, you will be able to recognize them instantly without having to take a glance at the names on their trunks. In the middle of a heated fight, sweat flows down the fighters’ faces with breathtaking realism. The boxing rings also have a nice amount of detail, too, complete with ropes that bounce realistically. However, the best thing about the visuals is not how good the boxers look at the beginning of the match, but how messed-up they look at the end.

There is a virtually limitless potential for damage to every fighter’s head and body. After a grueling 15-round battle, one boxer’s left eye may be so swollen that they literally cannot see out of it, while the other’s nose may be bruised, bent out of shape, and bleeding profusely. The short-term results of each individual punch are vastly satisfying. In the case of a swift hook to the jaw, the poor victim’s facial features will temporarily distort, and their head will snap backwards from the force of the punch. The sweat and blood may come flying off their face in little specks as they emit a low, hoarse grunt of pain.

The in-game sound, for the most part, compliments the graphics, resulting in a mind-blowing overall presentation. From the crowd, who will react realistically to a string of jabs or a particularly brutal knockdown, to the sickening crunch of a well-placed haymaker from a 250-pound monster connecting with the jaw of the soon-to-be unconscious opponent, the sound excels on all levels. Even the EA sports menu music, which I typically don’t enjoy, was catchy enough to have me humming the tunes at the most random times… like right now.

The one thing I didn’t like about the sound was the sound of the commentator. Not only is his voice mildly annoying, but in a fast-paced game like this, his comments are often late. My opponent might have landed a hard punch to me, for example, and while the commentator is describing just how hard that particular punch was, I may have already retaliated and landed a vicious five-punch combo, a five-punch combo which goes disappointingly un-commentated. Add that to the fact that he is completely UNABLE to sound excited at even the most exciting points of the match (sure, he tries, but it’s kind of obvious that he’s faking and would rather be somewhere else at the moment), and you’ve got one severely lacking commentator.

As of late, EA has been taking every opportunity to integrate the right analog stick into the core control scheme of their sports games. Fight Night Round 2 is no exception. Unlike most other boxing games, the face buttons don’t play a major role in the controls. Fight Night 2’s control scheme is heavily based around using the right analog stick to throw punches, block, parry in certain directions, etc. It’s actually quite innovative. The system is simple: flick the analog stick for a quick jab, move it in a “hooking” motion for a hook, and in an uppercut motion for an uppercut. By “winding up” the stick, you can pull off the patented “EA Sports Haymaker,” the most powerful punch in the game. To perform dodges, blocks, and parries, all you have to do is hold the appropriate button as you move the analog stick.

The control system gives you a superb feeling of… well, control in the ring. Throwing five-punch combos feels completely natural, without having to memorize lengthy button presses as is the case in most boxing games. With a little bit of practice, you’ll be executing complicated jab-hook-jab-uppercut-duck-body blow-haymaker sequences without a second thought.

Of course, as a result of the tight controls and the excellent presentation, actual matches are pretty darn fun, even when playing against the computer. This is due mainly to the intelligent and varied AI. Different boxers will come at you with different boxing styles, whether it be dancing around the ring, making you lose energy trying to catch them, taking a defensive approach, blocking first and punching later, or simply punching as hard as they can without even thinking of defense. This adds an extra element of strategy to the game, as (at least on the harder difficulties) you must interpret the style of your opponent and find out a way to exploit it.

The game mechanics aren’t all that complicated. Both boxers start out with a full energy bar, which depletes every time a punch is landed. Of course, the energy recovers pretty quickly, but take too much of a beating, and the maximum amount of energy your boxer can have will decrease. If one boxer’s energy falls to zero, then the game will enter a phase called the “KO moment.” The camera zooms up close, the crowd and announcer sounds fade out, and every punch landed on the soon-to-be-down boxer will result in an echo that resonates through the entire arena. Once the boxer is finally knocked down, a replay will ensue, which is arguably one of the best parts of the game. A close-up of the knockdown punch will be shown, as well as the effect it has on the falling boxer. And what an effect it is. The boxer’s eyes will roll up into their head, their facial features will stretch and distort due to the force of the punch, and the sweat and blood will fly in all directions. All of this is done in slow motion and from a camera angle that creates the maximum effect. And then the whole thing is replayed from a different angle, which somehow always makes it seem even more brutal. And then once more, from a different, somehow even MORE brutal angle.

One thing worth mentioning is the little “EA Sports Cutman” feature. In between every round, you are treated to a close-up shot of the carnage that used to be your boxer’s face. Your job is to take on the role of the cuts/swelling guy, and, in a simple minigame, try and clean up the cuts and reduce the swelling. The worse of a beating your boxer received, the harder it is to get the total damage down to zero. This minigame could have turned out to be tedious and unnecessary, but it was done quite well. It’s actually kind of cool to see the swelling on your boxer’s cheek go all the way down due to skillful application of the iron.

There is one thing about the gameplay that I didn’t like, however. No matter how evenly matched the two fighters in the ring were, even if they were literally the same boxer, I have never (I repeat: NEVER) seen a match go the distance, that is to say, complete all of its rounds and have the winner chosen by a judge’s decision. ALL of the matches I have ever played in the game, ever, have ended either in knockout or disqualifications for low blows and the like. But this doesn’t really detract from the game experience, since the matches can still get pretty lengthy between two evenly matched fighters. Just know that the outcome will most always be a knockout.

The main part of the single-player experience is, of course, the career mode. The basic premise here is that you create a boxer (or choose an existing one) and take him on a journey to become champion of the world. Of course, you’ll be starting as an amateur, with nonexistent skills and low-budget management. Once you start winning and turn pro, however, the money starts rolling in, and you can buy better trunks, gloves, even ring girls, who will provide you with a hefty stamina boost upon your entrance to the ring.

Career mode is probably the mode that will be taking up most of your time for single-player, so it’s definitely a good thing that it’s fun and will be able to keep your interest for weeks, even months. There is a whole LOT of stuff to unlock. Clothes, items, special trophies, it will all keep you busy.

In addition to your bank account, your boxer will improve throughout your career. This is largely because of the training minigames, which you can complete before each match. There are different minigames that will improve different stats, such as strength training and speed training. One cool feature that I will never get tired of is the ability to actually see the results of an extensive training period. If your boxer was a fat tub of lard before, and you just went through a particularly strenuous period of training, seeing him with about ten or more pounds less fat and a lot more muscle is amazing.

Fight Night Round 2 is truly a great game. Note that I said game, not boxing game. Why? Because still stands alone as a great game, not just a great game of the boxing variety. I wasn’t the biggest boxing fan in the world, but I was completely sucked into Fight Night 2. A great game, whether you think boxing is an art or a sport for barbarians.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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