Boxing games over the past few years haven't lit up the gaming world to a large extreme. They weren't the worst games out, but they also weren't games that made non-fans of boxing want to play them. EA had a franchise called Knockout Kings which has been forgotten about and under a new development team, they are recreating their boxing franchise under a new name; Fight Night. The 2004 iteration will be the first game and we went hands on with it for a little while to check out just how it's looking.
Fight Night will feature two main game modes for the single player version of the game; career and fight now. The career mode will be the flesh of the game and where you will take a custom fighter all the way to the number one ranking. Starting at rank fifty, you slowly progress through fighters working you're way to the top. You will only be able fight boxers a few ranks above you, and sometimes you can be challenged from below you, so once you have a certain rank there is no certainty that you're going to hold onto it for a long period of time. The career mode allows you to either create your own boxer or choose one of the actual famous boxers featured throughout the game with average statistics which you have to build up. You are given some to spend at the beginning but from there nothing but hard work is going to help you get the number one ranking in the world. You don't buy your stats like in Tiger Woods, but rather build them up from points earned via numerous mini games which will be featured throughout your boxers career.
There are a few decisions which have to be made when creating the boxer. Like Tiger Woods 2004, you can highly customise your boxer at the beginning ranging from hairstyle, to eye colour, build etc. As the game features numerous classes of boxing such as featherweight, heavyweight etc building your boxer may become a crucial aspect to actually completing the game. Also like Tiger Woods as you progress you can buy new clothing and other things for your boxer. Your name is actually printed on the trunks and you're given a nickname which is used during the introduction to the game.
The atmosphere of the game is already on the right track and the game will feature a wide variety of venues to fight in. The current build only had a few unlocked but we were able to see the huge variety that will be on offer once the game ships. Crowds will dynamically react to what is occurring in the ring. If the crowd can sense that one boxer is about to take it all and knock the other guy out, they will start chanting his name pushing him on to land that winning blow. The boxers also have stylish introductions much like those seen in the WWE games from THQ. They will walk in and pyrotechnics, dancing girls and the whole shebang will be unleashed to your senses. As you're boxer becomes more and more famous in the career mode, you can build your own pyrotechnics display and introduction to help customise him from the rest of the fighters.
The engine from Knockout Kings has been completely scrapped. The key feature of Fight Night 2004 will definitely be the control system which is definitely impressive. Rather then being a button mash fest like some other boxing games on the market, some actual strategy can be easily implemented into the game. The system works somewhat like the freestyle system in games such as FIFA and NBA Live. The left analogue stick is used to move the boxer with the right analogue stick used to throw punches. The R1 and L1 buttons act as modifiers. So the action you perform with the analogue stick is the punch that is performed by the character. So if you move in a circular motion you will perform a hook, where as just pushing the stick diagonally will perform a normal punch. Its a system that works incredibly well and adds a lot of depth to the title. You can also punch at the head or towards the body, the L1 button modifies this. When you get decked in a big way, the controller will shake violently from the force feedback
With the impressive game engine in use, EA was obviously going to licence some big name boxers and this is exactly what they have done. None other then Muhammed Ali himself is included as well as Evander Hollyfield, Lennox Lewis, Roy Jones Jr and others. In all the game will feature thirty two real world boxers as well as the ability to create your own. The boxers also feature a damage model. When vicious punches are landed you may see blood fly across the screen, and then see damage on the boxers face in the eye or mouth region. The boxers also fall like a sack of potatoes once they finally hit the deck. When fighting, the boxers feature two meters. These indicate their current health and also power of their punches. As you become weaker from taking to many blows you won't cause as much damage when you land a vital punch which makes defence an even more important aspect of the game.
Inevitably the boxer you are fighting as will eventually hit the deck and one of the most unique features of the game comes to the fore here. Whilst you're on the ground a blurry image of the referee appears, and you have to move the left and right analogue sticks to line up the three pictures before continuing to fight. The more you go down the harder this becomes and if you can't do it within ten seconds the fight ends. Other graphical features include the venues. Venus ranging from a local gym all the way up to the famous Caesars Palace are included and many of them in the final game are going to be officially licensed boxing venues. The boxers already look highly detailed and very lifelike with some excellent animations coming to the fore during fights. There is nothing like watching two boxers go at it toe to toe, punch to punch until one falls in a flurry of fists.
The game is also presented in quite a cinematic format. When boxers hit the deck, slow motion replays are shown and you can see the big punch landing and sweat or blood flying off the unlucky recipient. As you or your enemy becomes close to being knocked to the mat, a heartbeat sound effect starts up warning you that you are or in trouble or giving you the indication its time to go in for the kill. This blocks out all other noise and adds a nice touch to the already impressive sound effects of the game.
Fight Night 2004 is going to surprise a lot of people. Even if you're not a boxing fan, it is definitely a game to look out for due to the unique control system. It could be a game for you and your mates to have a quick bash on time to time and the added strategy of the control system as well as the realistic animations and damage modeling should see it become the premiere boxing game upon its release in a few months time. Fight Night 2004 is also set to ship on the Xbox system.