Fight Night 2004 was by almost every account the most realistic boxing game to date. So how do you top perfection? That's the question the developer behind Fight Night Round 2 has asked for the past year following the first game's release. Now that we're a month away from the sequel's release, we recently got a chance to spend some quality time with Round 2 and have found it to be coming together better than fans might have hoped for.
Fight Night Round 2 features several different modes of play, including online, hard hits, and the expected single-player career. One of the big wishes players had last year was for the ability to change weight divisions while going through the career mode to capture belts in multiple weight classes. Luckily, this wish has been granted in Round 2. Players can now dip into weight classes above and below their own in attempts to hold all three belts at once. Another welcome change to the career mode is that fighters now have the ability to try to stay in the game as long as possible, without having to worry about being forcibly retired. The trick, as in real life, is having a fighter who, at the age of 49 or so, can actually muster what it takes to defend or regain a title. Through proper management and training regimens, which include such favorites from Fight Night 2004 as heavy bag and combo dummy exercises, you'll have to see how many fights you can pull a fighter through victoriously.
Fight Night Round 2 includes pugilists from six weight classes: featherweight, lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight. Most of the boxers included in Round 2's roster are current contenders from today's era, such as Marco Antonia Barrera, Erik Morales, Diego Corrales, Arturo Gatti, Jessie James Leija, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Shane Mosley, Ricardo Mayorga, Jermain Taylor, Roy Jones Jr., Antonio Tarver, and Evander Holyfield. In addition, the game includes a small number of classic fighters as well, including the likes of Muhammad Ali, Jake LaMotta, Ray Robinson, Roberto Duran, and Ray Leonard. Fans of last year's Fight Night will undoubtedly cheer for the additions to the roster, but they'll likely be disappointed by some notable absences this time around, namely Felix Trinidad and Lennox Lewis.
Luckily, the create-a-champ mode is even more capable of creating fighters to your exact specifications than it was last year. The tools to create a custom fighter this time around rival those the designers used to build the real fighters in the game. Players can sculpt a fighter's physique using the two thumbsticks. The left one molds muscle, while the right one molds fat. You can choose from different hairstyles, shoe colors, trunks, gloves, and protective equipment. With all the options included, you'll be able to create a fighter that looks just about any way you could want.
One of the most noticeable additions to Round 2 is the new cut-man system, which lets you play the role of a cut man as he tries to keep the punch-induced swelling and cuts of his fighter to a minimum. Once a round comes to an end, you can use the left thumbstick to choose one of four specific areas you want to work on. You can then arch the right thumbstick in time with the movement indicator to maximize your swelling- or cut-reduction efforts. If your fighter sustains too much damage to the face, such as an eye that's swollen shut or vision that's impaired dramatically by a cut, for instance, the fight will be stopped. This new element of having a fight stopped due to career-damaging injuries truly adds a whole new dynamic of gameplay to Round 2 that wasn't in the original. Now you can specifically target an opponent's injured eye, just like a real fighter would in real life, to force a stoppage in the fight to earn a subsequent win.
In the gameplay department, Fight Night Round 2 builds on the exquisite control scheme featured in last year's game. The biggest additions come in the form of added abilities, such as those that let you clinch, let you move while punching, and let you vary the power of your hooks and uppercuts. The clinch gives a fighter who's just about to hit the canvas one last chance to grab on to survive the round. Much like a grab move in a fighting game, players in Fight Night Round 2 can grab on to regain a bit of health in hopes of staving off a knockdown. The ability to move while punching makes all the difference in the world, because it gives the game a much more even and realistic back-and-forth pace that works at range as well as inside.
Get in the Ring
You can also vary the punching power of your hooks and uppercuts, which really changes the way you play Fight Night Round 2. The way it works is simple. To throw hooks regularly, you move the right thumbstick to one side and roll it forward in an arching motion to simulate the actual movement of the punch. To add power to your standard hooks or uppercuts, you follow the same method to throw the punches, but there's one big difference: You have to rear the thumbstick back a bit before pushing forward to execute your punch. It's easier to visualize by imagining the motion of throwing a hook. However, you just rear your arm back a bit more before doing so.
To help figure out how much power you're putting into your haymaker punches, the game includes an onscreen meter just above your health meter. Using this meter will quickly get you used to the feel of throwing effective haymakers, which becomes second nature after a short time. Keep in mind that the addition of haymakers doesn't mean that's all you can throw over and over, because the game balances your fighter's stamina, health, and power. So if you throw a lot of haymakers that miss their intended targets, your fighter will quickly become fatigued, which affects his health, stamina, and power.
In all honesty, when you first play the game, it doesn't feel dramatically different from the original, but that's just because it lets you play like you did in the previous game. However, you'll quickly learn that you have to use haymakers, better movement, and the occasional clinch to compete in Round 2. In fact, once you play Fight Night Round 2 for any length of time, it's actually quite hard to go back to playing the original, especially after getting the hang of throwing haymakers and moving while punching.
Graphically, this year the visuals are even more focused on creating a believable boxing experience. The developer of Round 2 looked at last year's game and decided it had wasted too many polygons on things it didn't feel were integral to the game's overall experience. So the producers, designers, and artists behind Round 2 built the game with performance in mind, which meant that to make the fighters in the ring move and look as good as possible, the crowd and background details were actually toned down. Although the detail of the crowd and stadiums is a bit more muted than in last year's game, the artists have actually managed to give the arenas true senses of depth with visual, lighting, and blurring effects.
The result of saving all the graphical power for the fighters is undeniable. Just look at a screen of one fighter model from Round 2, and compare it to one from last year's game. When you see the fighters move in the ring, those with bellies jiggle a little when taking body shots, the muscles of the fighters all seem to move together, and the collision detection seems to be even more on point than it was in last year's game. The fighters' faces and bodies look almost photorealistic because the designers were able to drop actual pictures right onto the models for the individual fighters. One last addition to the look of Round 2 is its camera, which literally shakes on occasion when a solid haymaker lands flush. This camera rattle, and a few other tweaks, really adds a lot to the game's presentation.
In the audio department, the most noticeable change for fans of last year's Fight Night is the new commentator, Joe Tessitore (of ESPN and Fox Sports fame), who's been added in exchange for last year's Big Tigger. The music in the game comes from a mix of artists, so you'll hear such tracks as "Tit 4 Tat" by Fabolous and "Yes Yes Y'all" by the Geto Boys.
In the end, while we've played quite a bit of a nearly final version of Fight Night Round 2, we'll have to reserve final judgment till we get a chance to try out a final build of the game. What we can say fairly safely is that fans of the previous Fight Night should have a lot to look forward to this March. Look for more soon.