Boxing games aren't exactly ones which have had a great deal of fans in the past. Not because they haven't been great, but more the niche factor of the sport and the lack of following in comparison to larger sports such as soccer and gridiron. However with Fight Night, EA have completely ditched their old franchise Knockout Kings and started again from scratch. The difference is they have tried to appeal to a wider market with one of the most innovative control systems in years, and it has worked. Fight Night 2004 will not only please boxing fans, but casual gamers will get a kick out of it to.
Fight Night 2004 contains two main game modes to keep you entertained. A career mode and the ability to play in exhibition matches. On paper that doesn't seem like much and perhaps it would have been better if EA have included something like classic matches, but to be fair you can reenact classic matches under your terms due to the vast number of boxers on offer. The career mode really is the meat of the game and can be both entertaining, but frustrating as well.
In the career mode as is becoming a common occurrence in games like this, you can build your persona from scratch in terms of player model etc or choose one of the pre-defined characters such as Roy Jones Jr. If you choose to go with one of the pre-made professionals, they are started on the same level as an amateur boxer so there is no advantage in this other than you'll save time not having to create your own character. Once this is completed you start the lengthy task of becoming the best in the world. Using a system like Amped, you begin at rank fifty and work your way up by beating fighters lower than you. You can lose rankings however so even though it is possible to get to the top in about 40-50 matches, it is highly unlikely.
Between matches your character builds up their skills via training. One disappointment may be the fact that you can't knock back matches and just build your boxer up, you have to accept a match to be offered the chance to train. Training sessions can be manual or automatic, if you select automatic you are given the opportunity to spend four skill points on the two skills the game decides your boxer has practiced. Obviously using manual gives you much more control and therefore more influence over how your boxer develops. It is possible to beat boxers three or four rankings above you, but its a big chance to take as it will take a lot of skill and the risk is losing rankings after a defeat.
As mentioned before it is possible to create some classic matches from history. Boxers such as Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Evander Holyfield and Roy Jones Jr are available in the game but some have to be unlocked as you progress. These boxers can be selected to fight each other in a exhibition game, and it is possible to mix different weight classes. Watching a heavyweight pummel a featherweight displays the rag doll physics of the game quite well. As players drop, they drop like an anvil and make a loud thump as they hit the deck. Should you be the one hitting the ground, one other unique feature comes into play. You are shown three blurred images of the referee. To continue you have to line them up, the more you've hit the deck and been pummeled the harder it becomes until it becomes verging on impossible.
The character models of the characters are also highly impressive and the animations used are superb. Watching different styles of punches link together seamlessly gives the player a great deal of enjoyment and the game a level of authenticity not seen in a boxing game before. The player models also feature damage and eventually you will see a fat lip, cut eye, bulging eye socket etc plus as the fight goes on the fighters show visible perspiration which doesn't add much to the game other then an aesthetic touch.
The single most impressive aspect of Fight Night 2004 is the control system. To put it into perspective, the buttons are only used to taunt the player, all movements are performed with the two analogue sticks. The left one moves the boxer, whilst the right one determines which punch you throw. If you want to throw a hook, you have to move the stick in a hook movement, the same applies for uppercut and other punches. The system works really well and makes you feel that at all times you are in control of the boxer and not just butting mashing. The only downside to this system is the tutorials provided are non-interactive videos. Also it takes a little while to learn, so frustration can ensue in the first half hour's gameplay, but stick with it because it is definitely worth it. Three difficulty levels are included, and the lowest is quite forgivable to mistakes but crank it higher and be prepared to duck and wave or get your head smashed in.
Proving that EA really have left no stone unturned with this new franchise, they have also included a variety of arenas to fight in. Starting off in the local gym, you eventually work your way up to huge stadiums with fans cheering. Also to go along with the culture of boxing, you can buy new clothes for your fighter with the money earned in fights and also buy pyrotechnics for your fighters introduction etc showing the money side of the modern sport. As mentioned before the graphics and character models are great but as expected do lack in comparison to the Xbox version of the game. Sometimes the fighters have a few small issues when falling to the ground as well with legs occasionally ending up in what would be very painful positions but none of this really takes the shine off what is a great looking boxing game.
For the audio side of the game EA have bucked the trend and decided to not go for a respected boxing commentator. Instead they have DJ Tigger who does a fairly decent job it has to be said, but some people would have no doubt been expecting a more traditional commentary style. Tigger doesn't say much except when big hits are landed, and in reality it suits the style of the game quite well. Just before the boxer is about to hit the deck, the sound drops out, and all that can be heard is a heartbeat indicating you either have to hide, or time to get that last big hit in. Music is a mix of rap and R&B but if you're not a fan of those genres the sound effects suffice well as a substitute.
Fight Night 2004 is one of the surprise packets of the year so far. The Xbox version is superior to the PS2 version but those without the choice will still get some great gameplay out of Fight Night 2004, even if they aren't the biggest fan of boxing.
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