Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Sports
Release Date: March 1, 2005
Loyal readers (you sad souls…get a life, ok?) will recall that I gave last year’s Fight Night 2004 a near-perfect 9.9 out of 10, and raved, "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!"
Here’s the scoop: The new incarnation made so many improvements I started thinking about how to beat a 9.9 score while stubbornly holding on to my mantra about the "impossibility of perfection." Then, after taking a Middleweight to the title bout, I sat back and seriously reflected. Stellar as it is, there are still little nit-picky things that (whew) keep it from perfection. But let’s not kid glove ourselves; EA Sports' Fight Night Round 2 (hereinafter referred to as FNR2), is the all-time Heavyweight champion of the world of boxing games.
Back in the day, all boxing games were a marathon of slamming on the buttons until you won the fight. Yawn. Yes, you could stiffly move around the ring, and yes, you could perhaps spot an opening for your "special" punch. Did I say "yawn?" I won’t re-list the games we have all played. You’re welcome.
Let’s start at the beginning for those of you who aren’t familiar with the Fight Night franchise. No button-mashing. Period.
"Total Punch Control" is the heart and soul of this game. Throwing punches is as "simple" as flicking and moving the right analog stick. Your punches are thrown in an extremely accurate manner based on your movements.
Tapping upward gives a few jabs; quarter-circling awards you with hooks; and half-circling delivers the uppercuts. The triggers are used for the secondary controls. The left trigger (used in tandem with the right stick) allows you to swap between head shots, and blows to the body. When not punching, the left trigger doubles its duty, allowing you to bob and weave out of harm’s way by leaning. The right trigger (again with the right stick) controls the blocks and parries. It may sound confusing in print, but trust me when I tell you; it’s very natural and second-nature in practice.
The main addition to this year’s edition (what grammar law says you shouldn’t use two homonyms in the same sentence?) is the haymaker, a potentially devastating punch that has the ability to take your opponent to the canvas in one shot. It could be argued that the haymaker is too powerful in the context of a professional fight. In fact, I myself argued this point (to myself, which gives you an idea of how sad MY life is) until I recalled the $59.95 I once spent on pay-per-view to see Buster Douglas take out Mike "You’d-Be-A-Fighter-Too-If-You-Talked-Like-This" Tyson in 12 seconds or so.
(Chuckling wanly to himself) You know folks… It’s really interesting to see how far into the minutiae a critic has to occasionally delve. If you love everything, you’re Gene Shalit with a new can of moustache wax, and if you hate everything, you’re Roger Ebert with hemorrhoids.
One of the nits I picked off of FN2K4 was the lack of clinching. Any fight fan will know the importance of being able to hang on to your opponent for a few precious seconds of respite from having your head caved in. FNR2 fills this void nicely. Whenever your fighter is in danger of kissing the canvas, you can try to slow dance with your opponent when he is exposed. This can be dangerous, but the need at times like that can outweigh the potential risks.
Another problem with FN2K4 was the ersatz Chris Rock announcer’s voice. This time around, the ring announcers’ tones are more suitable to the big arenas, but I have to admit, in the basement of a building in New York, a more "street" voice would have been more appropriate. Perhaps they went a little too far to one side and neglected the appeal of a more realistic voice in certain venues. Regardless of style, the game’s voiceovers are a little repetitive. You will be able, after only a few fights, to parrot back the play-by-play.
My only significant negative feeling in this amazing sequel is in the way the training modes were overhauled. Instead of a sweat-soaked gym, your training now takes place in a state of the art, computer-monitored facility. The problem, (and here, it is glaring) is that the individual mini-games aren’t as focused as they should be. There is pretty much only one regimen that is truly necessary (unless you are being uptight about the trophies and stats and that entire 100% completion thing) and that is the heavy bag.
Doing well in this mini-game (consisting of throwing combos at a big bag until the red lights go out) will grant you equal boosts in all but ONE stat. Can you say "imbalanced?" I knew that you could.
The combo dummy returns, now looking more high-tech, and we are treated (?) to weightlifting. I just don’t get it. I can’t even describe it. You move your left stick up, then your right stick, and watch the power bars. This is the weakest link in FNR2.
In FN2K4, there was a training mode wherein your trainer called out individual punches (i.e., "Left Hook Head" – "Uppercut Body") and the faster you executed those punches, the higher your stats would rise. Why couldn’t that been revamped with, oh, say, combo commands?
Now, with the nit-picky minutiae (it hurts my journalistic pride that every time I type that word, I have to spell-check it and am invariably wrong) out of the way, let me tell you why FNR2 is still far and away the greatest boxing game ever created for any platform.
Graphically, this game does more than rock. It rocks, it rolls, and it bangs groupies after the concert! The fighters’ musculatures are breathtakingly rendered, down to the point where you can actually see a bicep flexing as a hook is thrown. There is a neat sheen of sweat on each fighter, and boy howdy, is the damage noticeable!
Take a few too many shots to the head, and you can easily see the cuts and swelling that are imminent. And here we chat about the newest of the features of FNR2, the cut man. Between rounds, your fighter needs attention, and not just the attention of a wiggly round card girl, but attention to his damage. Utilizing your sticks, you can help control the bleeding and swelling on your boxer’s face. This is a fantastic addition and adds further to the realism.
The new venues are astoundingly rendered, and the crowds are more than cardboard cut outs that react uniformly. To speak plainly, I have never seen a sports game look so realistic in my life.
In the original FN2K4, the gloves, trunks, entrance effects and entourages were strictly aesthetic in nature. That is to say, they had no real effect on the outcome of the fight. Now, you must keep an eye on your budget, to make sure you can hire the best, the brightest and the hottest.
Your corner men can range from a simple dude to a specialist in the art of power or speed. You can choose from a master of swelling, or a genius in the stoppage of blood. Your entrance effects give you more of a pump when it comes to avoiding KOs, and your ring girls boost your stamina.
I could go on and on about how beautiful this game is, how perfect the controls are, and how deep the gameplay has become. For example, you can now change weight classes many times during your career.
I am going to stop talking now, so you can run out to your local video game shop, and tell the clerk, "Alanix from WorthPlaying.com told me to buy this game, or he will find me and kick my ASCII."
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