Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Electronic Arts
Release Date: April 5, 2004
In this corner, weighing in on every platform from the Atari 2600 on, with a record of 0-43-0 with zero wins by way of knockout, wearing the pink trunks with the lacy piping, the loser…..EVERY BOXING GAME UNTIL NOW!
And in this corner, weighing in on the Xbox and PS2, with a record of 1-0-0, with one win by way of knockout, the undisputed, unified, heavyweight champion of the console boxers, wearing the trunks that hold a wallet that says “Bad Mother (expletive deleted)” on it… the one, the only, EA SPORTS’ FIGHT NIGHT 2004!!!!!!!
Enough Hyperbole? (Chuckle)
I have been a fan of the “sweet science” all of my life. Perhaps it’s a genetic throwback. Perhaps the idea of two highly-skilled, unarmed men engaging in combat appeals to all of our “caveman” instincts. I studied fencing in college for three years, and my instructor told us, (before cutting us to ribbons) that fencing was “chess speeded up 10,000 times”. It took me two years to understand what he meant, and it took the videogame industry much much longer to get that idea and carve a true boxing game out of microprocessors and video RAM.
In the past, boxing games have been not much more than button-mashing contests, or timing exercises. In the original Atari 2600 Boxing, we were treated (?) to a top-down view of two men (?) with abnormally prominent noses (?) with two abnormally large gloves (?) just jockeying for position, then mashing that one fire button (Yes, kids, there was a day when joysticks had but a single button) until the other guy de-rezzed. Intellivision had its own sad version, as did ColecoVision, and even a pitiful port for the Commodore VIC-20. “Ring King” gave it a good go in the arcades during the Reagan years, but its tiny boxers, and funnier-than-serious look didn’t quite cut it, either.
Then came along “Final Bout”. This was also an arcade game, later ported to first generation consoles, shown from behind a green wireframe of your boxer, against animated, very cartoonish fighters. The biggest challenge in this game was to identify you opponent’s “signature move” and know when to launch your counter-punch. Most of the time, you watched for an eye to blink, then counted to three (the three being the rhythm of all the movements in this game) and hit your punch button. It was about as close to boxing as “Spyro the Dragon” is to “Microsoft Flight Simulator”. But at least, it LOOKED like boxing.
Soon, “Mortal Kombat” was all the rage, (Even though I still maintain that “Eternal Champions” for the SEGA Genesis kicked its ass) and fighting games became more and more grandiose, with better, cooler moves, and deaths, and dismemberments, and blood, and blood, and blood……
Whatever happened to two guys getting in the squared circle, and out-thinking each other before a single punch is thrown? When you watch a classic fight, you don’t watch two guys just walking into the middle of the ring, and punching mindlessly until one falls. You see a subtle mind game. You see a battle of position. You see attacks, counterattacks and brilliant defenses. A seven-punch combo is, in its own way, as complicated as Luzhin’s Defense on a chessboard. But enough of Crappy Video Boxing 101, let’s talk about a winner.
EA Sports’ Fight Night 2004 is what all wannabe pugilists have been waiting for. Not only that, it’s FUN! To me, the measure of any simulation, be it flight, sport, racing, or whatever, is twofold. First, is it an acceptable simulation? That is to say, does it require the player to assess, react, and adapt as befits the task at hand. And second, is it fun and accessible to play? In this case, the answer is a resounding “Hell, Yes!”
Continuing their successes with virtually every sports genre there is (There’s even an EA Sports’ Cricket available in the UK) the gang over at Electronic Arts have succeeded where literally everyone else has failed. They have made a game that is both a hoot and a half to play, but is indeed a very accurate simulation of the sport. Counter-punching, ring position and timing are overwhelmingly more important than just slugging away. And button-mashers beware: YOU DON’T USE BUTTONS TO PUNCH! The “Total Punch Control” EA has developed makes use of the analog sticks to deal punishment. Your right stick controls jabs, hooks and uppercuts from either hand by way of pushing forward quickly for a jab, a quarter-circle for a hook and a half-circle for an uppercut. This is, admittedly a little strange at first, but trust me, after a few bouts, it becomes very intuitive. Just as it takes less time to throw a jab than a hook, and more time to throw an uppercut, so do the punches in FN2K4 require better timing and finesse to land productively. Holding the L1 button while punching, redirects those shots to the body, for a total of 12 standard punches, all by moving one little analog stick. Each boxer also has a few “signature punches” that are very entertaining to see, and potentially deadly if timed and executed correctly.
On the defensive side of the glove, the left analog stick controls your boxers’ physical movement around the ring, and when used in conjunction with the L1 button, controls his bobbing and weaving, as well. When the R1 button is held down, your fighter will bring his gloves up to block incoming shots. The standard buttons control a pair of taunts, illegal punches, (use too many times and the ref will first warn, then deduct points, and eventually disqualify your fighter) and the aforementioned “signature punch”, which can also be thrown with the R2 button.
That’s it. Simple. Piece of cake. Right?
(A Buzzer Sounds)
When your opponent is also bobbing, weaving, moving, and throwing 14 individual punches, the pace can get wonderfully frenetic. But this game is so good, that even a long, close bout won on the judges’ cards can be (and usually is) remarkably exciting.
The game looks amazing, as well. The venues range from seedy back-alley gyms to the illustrious Caesar’s Palace, and are rendered in fabulous detail. The spectators react to the action in the ring in a more realistic manner than I have seen in a video game. Nail a few good combos, and a handful of people get to their feet. As you continue to dominate a round, more fans stand up, and they get louder and more animated until the whole arena is chanting your praises.
As far as sound is concerned, the effects of the crowd, the slap of leather on flesh, and the slam of face on canvas are realistically portrayed, but here is where one of my few complaints with FN2K4 comes in. The announcer for every bout in the game is a hip-hop emcee who fits in with the earlier bouts in the seedy gymnasiums, but is decidedly out of place in Caesar’s Palace. He sounds like Chris Rock, which isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, but it takes away some of the seriousness and grandeur of the sport. Your corner men dispense advice between rounds, which is mostly good, but gets repetitive after a while. I know licensing is a nightmare these days, but it would have been great to see Michael Booker and hear his trademark “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!” before a title bout. A small complaint, but it gets in the way of this game getting 10 out of 10.
The roster of available fighters spans the generations, and the weight classes, allowing you to play as, or against, the likes of Muhammad Ali, Rocky Marciano, and Lennox Lewis, or you can get into the detailed “Career Mode” where you can customize your boxer to look pretty much any way you like. While it’s not as powerful as the Create-a-face in Tiger Woods 2004, I managed to make my fighter (nicknamed “Straightjacket”) to look enough like me, that my wife did a double-take when she first saw him in action. The historical fighters are immediately recognizable, and great care has gone into reflecting their individual styles, strengths and weaknesses.
Career Mode starts you out as a lonely pug, ranked 50th in the world, with a long list of famous folks to beat on your way to the belt. My only complaint here is the inability to switch weight classes during a career. In reality, many fighters start out in the lower classes, and move up as their skills and bodies grow. This feature would have been greatly appreciated.
Before each bout, you are allowed to better your stats in two areas by use of Training Camp. Four minigames (Combo Dummy, Target Gloves, Heavy Bag, and Sparring) let you tweak and improve your boxer’s skills, as well as honing your punching, timing, and ducking skills.
I only have two other complaints about FN2K4. The first is nitpicking. I would have liked to have seen a moving referee in the ring with the fighters. I have always been fascinated by those little men who stand between two behemoths and step right in the middle of the fray. My other nag is a little more pertinent. Where is the clinching? Over the years I have seen hundreds of bouts where holding on to your opponent could buy a much needed rest, and at other times, is a last resort defense against having your head separated from your body. Clinching is also an effective way of interrupting your opponent’s rhythm. I hope that Fight Night 2005 will remedy this. C’mon, as good as 2K4 is, this will be a long-lived franchise by the PS2 King of Sport.
All things being said, this is, without a doubt the best boxing game ever made for any platform. A few touches here and there will no doubt bring perfection. As it is, it’s a knockout!..
Score : 9.9/10
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