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April 27, 2004 > Fight Night 2004

Fight Night 2004

Platform: Xbox, Playstation 2

by Jeremy Inman

Imagine yourself in the shoes of a boxer; dancing around the ring, surrounded by thousands of cheering fans and flashing lights, ducking in and out of the way of the fast-flying punches of your opponent. You strain to hear your trainer in the corner, shouting at you to keep your hands up, but you can hardly hear him over the roar of the crowd. After 7 rounds with no knockdowns, you and your opponent are moving sluggishly when suddenly a left hook lands on your face. The sound cuts away as you slip closer and closer to unconsciousness, but before your opponent can land a second hit, you duck low and swing back with an uppercut. Your opponent's legs turn to rubber as his head snaps back with the force of your punch. He topples backward and crumples to the mat. You step back to catch your breath and wipe the blood from your eyes as the referee counts to ten, announcing you the winner.

This is the experience that EA Sports has brought to its fans with the recent Fight Night 2004. Fight Night allows players to create their own boxer, all the way from hair and facial features to what he wears in the ring. Then, players can train their boxer and enter him in a scheduled fight. As the boxer gains more training and wins more fights, he earns skill points to upgrade his various attributes and money for buying new clothes, entrance effects (such as pyrotechnics and entrance music) and all new signature punches. The training system puts players through one of four exercises before each fight. Each exercise is specifically tailored to focus on two of the boxer's main attributes. For instance, score high enough points on the punching bag and you'll earn points to upgrade your boxer's speed and strength, while going a round with combo dummy will allow you to upgrade your agility. The system allows players to watch their boxer steadily mature and become a professional athlete. The ranking system allows the boxer to move up (or down) the list of both fictional and real-life opponents, including Roy Jones Jr. and Mohamed Ali as they either win or lose fights. The game progresses in years, each year consisting of four fights. At the end of the year, awards are given out to the boxers based on performance and statistics, and your boxer's income is calculated and displayed for you.

Aside from the entertaining advancement system, Fight Night has one of the most fluid and intuitive control schemes of any fighting game around. Dubbed by EA as the Total Punch Control system, Fight Night's control scheme uses only the two analog control sticks and the shoulder keys. To perform a right hook, for instance, the player must press the stick out to the right and swing it around to the front. The shoulder keys act as modifiers, allowing the boxer to dodge in and out and block. Each fight accurately incorporates your boxer's attributes, but impressive statistics aren't the only thing required to become the champ. The Total Punch Control system actually requires players to become proficient with the game's boxing controls. As you move up in rank, you'll find that the fighters become much more difficult, and in order to win you'll need to use all of your abilities.

Fight Night not only controls exceptionally well, it also looks spectacular. Each boxer is modeled with incredible detail, all the way down to cuts and bruises inflicted during each fight. Every landed punch is accompanied by a mist of spit and sweat or even blood. Each time a player is knocked unconscious, the game uses the recently popular rag doll physics technique to realistically display the effects of gravity on an unconscious person. What results are some of the most eerily realistic knockdowns ever to be seen in a video game. Moreover, the collision detection (or ability of the game to recognize when rendered objects come into contact with one another) is very accurate. Every punch lands when it should, and every dodge matters. Each punch lands realistically on your opponent, causing his head to snap back or to the side. Every time a boxer is against the ropes, the elasticity causes them to bend outward and snap back into place when the boxer moves, adding an incredible amount of realism to the environment. At the end of each round, players are instructed by their trainers as the statistics of the round are reported. If your boxer is knocked down and forced with the task of returning to consciousness, instead of merely tapping the punch button repeatedly like in most boxing games, the player must use the two analog sticks to align the split images of the counting referee through the haze of his double vision. Depending on your boxer's stats and the amount of times he is knocked down in a fight, this can be a very difficult task.

Fight Night 2004 is by far the most impressive boxing game on the market. It looks great, plays incredibly smooth, and has enough variety to keep players addicted for a very long time.

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