STAFF REVIEW of Fight Night 2004 (Xbox)

Sunday, April 18, 2004.
by RichVGS

Fight Night 2004 Box art Ladies and Gentlemen! We have reached our main event! This bout has been years in the making! Can the young and unchallenged rookie defeat the crafty veteran? Before it is all said and done, only one of these dominate forces will be crowned king of the game! In the left corner, the crafty veteran that many have given up on. Managed by EA Sports, it?s Knockout Kings! And in the right corner, we have the newest fighter in the business. Also managed by EA Sports, we have Fight Night 2004. Ladies and Gentlemen, let?s get ready for controllers to rumble!

To answer the question going through your mind right now, no, this is not Knockout Kings 2004. While Knockout Kings wasn?t a bad series, EA recognized that the series had its problems that were dragging a good game right through the mud. So instead of scrapping the sport of boxing all together, EA decided to do to Knockout Kings what it did to the Triple Play Baseball series?start all over again. As a result, Fight Night 2004 plays nothing like Knockout Kings and because of that difference you should not be compared to one another (although comparisons will be drawn here). Now it is time choose between an established boxer or create-a-boxer.

In the Ring?

EA has provided one of the best lineups of any boxing game in Fight Night 2004. In addition to today?s best fighters, you can take your pick from the greats of yesteryear from Ali to Frazier (can you say Rumble in the Jungle 2). Not satisfied with the selection, or you just want to step into the ring yourself? Put yourself in the ring with the create-a-boxer feature. Fight Night features some of the most detailed appearance options available, so much so that you will be able to recreate your own face and it will look just like you. After that, you need to create your bio. In addition to the usual basics like your name, you need to select a nick name and a place of birth (both lists are very extensive), which the announcer will use to identify you to the crowd. Finally, it is time to add points to your abilities, which has no limit, but won?t carry over to career mode, so enjoy being invincible in exhibition matches.

The Following Contest?

Fight Night 2004 features two distinct modes of play. The first is exhibition, which is where you face a one time opponent with nothing to gain or loss except for a quick fight and practice for the real deal. This is also the mode where the stats you gave your create-a-boxer come into play. If you decided to max out all your stats, then you will be close to unbeatable in the ring. You should fight a few exhibition matches in the beginning in order to become used to the controls and how to move in the ring. Will you be a power hitter who takes a beating or a fast mover who comes in on the defensive? Finally, if you have a desire to recreate a classic fight or see a match between a current great and a legend from the past, exhibition will provide you with that ability. Can EA cover boy Roy Jones Jr. stand toe-to-toe with Ali? Make the fight and make it happen.

When you feel comfortable with everything, now it?s time to begin your boxing career. As you begin, no matter if you choose a featured fighter or a fighter of your own creation, you are a rookie, and as such, you have no real skills. While you are given a few stat points to use as you see fit, you will be nowhere near ready to be a major contender. After you assign stats, it?s time to schedule your first fight of your career. On an average, you will be given two or three opponents to choose from. Each fight has a different size purse (cash prize) and impact on your ranking. Will you take on the easy fighter in order to build your skill stats, or risk a lose taking on a more experienced opponent? The good news is that you?ll be able to compare your skills to each potential opponent?s skills and see which opponent you have a better chance against. Just remember a win is a win, so it is best to build yourself up a bit before jumping into the ring with a heavy hitter.

Once you?ve scheduled a fight, you have the option to go straight to the fight, or head to the gym of some training. The purpose of training mode is to not only get your boxer?s skills up, but it is also a good way to get used to the control scheme of the game. Within training mode, you have the potential to have four different training options. The first of these is the heavy bag, which you build up points by keeping the bag moving from side-to-side using hooks and uppercuts. The more points you build, the more skill points you are awarded (maximum points awarded is 15). Another training exercise is punching the mitts. This exercise works your speed and accuracy. Once the movement is down, move on to the point dummy and get those combos down to a science. Finally, it?s time to train with a living opponent and test all your offensive and defensive skills. Each of these training sessions will allow you to award particular skill areas based on the training session making sure you keep your fighter?s skills balanced in the ring.

Now that training is complete, you can go to the fight store and spend some of your hard earned cash. You can purchase the normal sort of boxing equipment such as ring outfits and gloves. In addition, you can enhance other aspects by purchasing visual and audio effects that will make your walk to the ring more impressive as you go further with your career. Can you say pyro? Also, in a very strange twist, you can use your green to acquire the services of a female valet to be a part of your management team. Finally, you can pick up some new punches and taunts to enhance your in-ring performance.

The final two options before walking down the aisle are Trophy Case and Options. Trophy Case is where you can view the belts and other things you?ve won throughout your career. Obviously, there will be no reason to visit your case until after you win some big fights. Options mode is where you can change the controls, as well as make certain decisions that will directly affect some of the fight rules. Three knockdown rule, if turned on, awards a TKO (Technical Knockout) after you have successfully knocked down your opponent three times within a single round. Saved by the bell as an active rule (whether set for all rounds or final round) interrupts the referee?s count when a the round ends. But of all the options, perhaps the most important to the game is your decision to turn on auto recovery. This will cause your fighter to try to automatically try to stand without you taking any action (manual recovery will be covered later).

After you have gotten yourself all ready to go, it is time for the main event. As your career begins, your fights will occur in local gyms and small venues until you become more popular, or start taking on the major players. Once you and your opponent have entered the ring and been announced, it is time to fight. Each fight will carry with it different sets of rules concerning the length of the fight (how many rounds) and what exactly is on the line as far as advancing in rank and purse size. Another bit of good news is that the annoyingly easy A.I. of Knockout Kings has been thrown out the window. While normal mode is a great way to get used to the game for beginners, higher levels are reflected with much smarter fighters. If you only throw from the right, eventually your opponent will keep covering his left side and force you to target the stronger right side. These are experienced fighters and know how to handle themselves in the ring. The question is will you be able to handle yourself in the ring? Now that it is time to rumble, let?s get to the most important issue at hand.

Overall, the gameplay is fantastic. EA has been able to capture the world of professional boxing in its most accurate form to date. Don?t expect to just step into the game and go right after the Heavyweight Championship of the World. Get real rookie. You need to earn your way up the ladder, and that means you need to slum it for a while. The good news is that EA keeps the fights challenging and makes the player look forward to the next brawl. About the only downside to the gameplay is that once your fighter turns the age of 40, you are forced to retire, whether you are the champ or still stuck in the local gym. Also, once you have built up your stats to a maximum level, you have little to no reason to train except for the joy of training. EA should have made it next to impossible to max the stats, but if you train hard enough, you should be maxed out with in five or six years of your career.

Taking Control?

One of the biggest complaints about the Knockout Kings series was that the controls were stale and out dated. The sort of basic button meshing might be accepted in arcade fighting games, but it is not going to fly anymore in the world of Fight Night. With the exception of your illegal shot and your signature punch, all other punching occurs using the right thumbstick, better known as Total Punch Control. Pushing diagonal right will throw a right jab, diagonal left a left jab. To perform a hook, simply push to the right and rotate up to for right (and of course to the left to throw a left). Finally, to uppercut, go pull down diagonal and rotate up from which ever direction you want to throw from. This sort of control will take a player some getting used to, but once you get the hang of hit, you?ll see combos are supper easy to pull off. If you?re not convinced, you can select to go back to the old days of button meshing until you get more comfortable.

While Total Punch Control is a great new feature, the recovery control is a real pain to deal with. In almost all previous boxing games, if you get knocked down, you simply hit every button like a freakin? lunatic until you get back on your feet. In Fight Night, when you get knocked down, you look up to see the referee standing over you, only there are three refs counting you out. So how do I get my sorry !&%$@#* back into the fight? Using the left and right thumbstick controls, you have to realign the three ref images to form one in order to stand again. Okay, aside from this being insanely difficult to do even if you are a master of the Xbox controller, try doing it in about ten seconds. After fighting twenty-seven fights, I still can?t seem to get this down. Thankfully, the option to auto recover is available before each fight. Until you get used to these controls (after about fifty or so fights), I?d suggest you use the auto recovery option.

Graphically S the graphics don?t stand out as anything new and innovative. It seems to be more and more common that EA games just look a bit better on Playstation 2. But the major standouts in Fight Night 2004 are the small details. As the fight continues into the later rounds, you will start noticing the fighters sweat more and the sweat will fly when the hits land. In addition to that, focusing on certain parts of an opponents body will result in cuts and bruising. Is there blood? Oh yes, there is blood. Open up an opponent and the flying sweat will be accompanied by flying blood (although the blood just disappears as opposed to staining the ring). One major aspect that caught my attention is that audiences look more three dimensional and animated when fighting in the small gym settings as opposed to when you hit Madison Square Garden. This seems to be becoming a common problem in EA games when related to large audiences.

Sounds Like?

Hip-hop fans rejoice. Fight Night 2004 has a fantastic soundtrack featuring some of the biggest rappers in the industry, including Jay-Z and David Banner. For some reason, EA seems to be as against custom soundtracks as it is against Xbox Live. The announcer, Big Tigger, sounds outstanding, even though I kind of felt out of place with Michael Puffer announcing the big fights. Concerning the fight sound effects, EA has got it down pat. Instead of the same punch sound over and over, sounds vary depending on the hit location, the speed and force, and whether or not the opponent moved into the punch. In addition, the audience doesn?t just react at random. If you deliver a sucker punch, the audience will let you know that they are not happy. Another place the audience sound is realistic is their reaction to you coming to the ring. For your first couple of fights, the audience will have little to no reaction to your presence, not until you build yourself up a bit. The audience has such good A.I. that you had better impress them if you want to be cheered.

Final Thoughts?

EA Sports Fight Night 2004 has taken the legacy of Knockout Kings and has given it a major beat down. While the control scheme is a bit tricky to get down, once you get the hang of it, you won?t want to go back to button meshing ever again. The career mode is one of the most comprehensive modes ever designed, even though it is limited by a retirement age. About the only thing that could be improved on is not allowing stats to be maxed out, and therefore making training important at every stage of your career. Even the best need to train all the time. Nonetheless, Fight Night should satisfy boxing fans of all sorts, from the passive to the hardcore. So throw on the gloves and see if you can make a name for yourself in Fight Night 2004.

Overall: 8.8 / 10
Gameplay: 8.8 / 10
Visuals: 8.4 / 10
Sound: 9.4 / 10


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