Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Sports
Release Date: March 1, 2005
You know the old expression, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it?" Well, that seems to be a mantra for the folks over at EA Sports. Game after game, they seem to add new features to their titles, without altering the gameplay to a point where it is unrecognizable to its predecessors. So is the case with what I have seen so far in the highly-anticipated sequel to my favorite sports game of last year, Fight Night Round 2.
The preview build I was fortunate enough to get my hot little gloves on was fairly limited, but enough of a taste to have me salivating in Pavlovian glee at the prospect of the full game, set to hit stores March 1.
Like its predecessor, Round 2 is stocked with over 30 classic fighters, each fully playable and customizable. All of the familiar feels of the innovative "Total Punch Control" is intact, with a few new tweaks. The arenas are more lavishly decorated, and the commentary much more suitable to the sport than in FN2004. I had a problem with that Chris Rock wannabe spouting off no matter the locale. In a boxing club in da Bronx, that'd be fine, but there'd be someone a little more "high-rent" once you are fighting at Caesar's Palace. This time around, there's more of a feel of respect than street fighting.
In the only fight available to me, I got to play as either cover boy Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins, or the legendary "Sugar" Ray Robinson. The size differences are apparent from the outset, and the "tale of the tape" seems to be much more serious in the sequel. The difference between the two fighters' heights and reaches makes for a very interesting battle of wits.
"Wits" is an interesting term to use when speaking of what is customarily a button-mashing affair, but trust me, you can't just walk in, arms flailing, hoping to get in a lucky shot. You'd be better off just punching yourself silly. You must time and choose your shots correctly, because a miscue could set up a deadly counter-punch slamming your face into the canvas faster than you can say "Roberto Duran."
The speed of the game has also been kicked up a notch. While there was no time to breathe in FN2004, there's barely time to blink in FNR2.
This year also introduces the ability to block on the move. This, in and of itself, adds several layers of complexity to what is already a deep sports sim.
The attention to detail that was so evident in the original has also been lovingly upped a level or three. Individual muscle movement and a nice sheen of sweat are but two of the many graphical enhancements made available. Even the ring girls have a little more "bounce to the ounce," if you know what I mean…
Also undergoing cosmetic surgery is the "Create-A-Champ" feature. As opposed to last year, when you needed to play with a range of sliders to mold your custom pugilist, this year, you have more direct control using the analogue sticks to shape your guy's every feature. With a little patience, and a mirror, you can get pretty darned close to re-creating yourself in the ring.
Those of you who read my glowing review of FN2004 last year may recall I wanted to see more boxers. Check. What a way to spend an evening, going mano-a-mano with the likes of Roberto Duran, Arturo Gatti, Floyd Mayweather, Shane Mosely, and even the immortal Jake LaMotta! Hear me now and believe me later when I tell you that the fighters represented look uncannily like their real-life counterparts! I could almost hear Jake LaMotta asking Joe Pesci about marital infidelities (if you don't know what I'm talking about, then go out right now and rent "Raging Bull").
I also really wanted to see clinching… and guess what? Check! This was one of the more glaring omissions from last year, and it is here with a vengeance. What better way to stop your own slaughter (if only for a few breath-catching seconds) than holding on to your opponent, and what better way for him to break up your rhythms than by slow-dancing with you!
The training modes are back, and still a great way to build your custom fighter in career mode. While they always seemed a little stilted, they still help to reinforce the basics of the sport; precision, timing, and power. Each of the individual training regimes allows your fighter to boost the rating of one of many realistically applied stats.
The damage model employed here is another major face-lift. Individual punches will affect, swell and cut the areas they hit, so if you start getting a little mouse under your left eye, be prepared for your opponent to start popping away at that wound, trying to get it to open up and bleed.
Speaking of bleeding, EA Sports promises a few other features that weren't present in my preview build, most notably the cut man, which is a great idea! Being able to stem the tide of defeat by patching up your fighter between rounds… However, with the advent of strict physician's supervision, I doubt we'll have a "Cut me, Mick, I can't see outta my eye" moment.
Also promised in the final release is the Haymaker, a devastating one-shot punch that can send your opponent to the floor in a single shot. However, if you should take this shot and miss, you will find yourself as wide open as church doors on Easter Sunday.
From what I have seen and played, and with what EA Sports promises to add, Fight Night Round 2 will not only be a worthy contender to its famous father, it may just knock it out of the ring!
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