Fight Night Round 2 Impressions

EA's upcoming follow-up to Fight Night 2004 is looking sharp.

Although it's been a week since EA stopped by to do a live demo of Fight Night Round 2, the fully loaded follow-up to last year's excellent Fight Night 2004, we thought we'd wax poetic about the upcoming game yet again. While we haven't had a chance to get our hands on Round 2 yet, we grilled producer Kudo Tsunoda pretty intently once the cameras stopped rolling to get as much as info as we could on the promising title. From the sound of things, Round 2 is shaping up to be more than just an incremental upgrade. The developers at EA's Chicago studio are a hardworking lot who are either very ambitious or totally insane, judging from the hefty changes being made to its predecessor.

The haymaker move will let you put extra weight behind your punches by carefully finessing the analog stick.

While pretty much anyone could appreciate just how well done last year's game was, if you're a fan of boxing games, chances are Fight Night 2004 had a powerful effect on you. We're talking the same kind of feeling that prehistoric humans had the first time they saw fire. After years of games that only kind of got it right, Fight Night 2004 most definitely captured what other boxing games have been aspiring to. But, for all its merits, the first Fight Night was just a starting point. Rather than rest on its laurels, the development team has implemented changes based on user feedback and thrown in some new things that it wanted to try as well. While we can't speak to exactly how everything handles--the game isn't quite ready for hands-on action just yet--we did get an enthusiastic demo that spotlighted some promising elements of the Round 2 experience.

One of the most significant additions is the new "haymaker" mechanic, which should be a potent addition to your fighter's arsenal, thanks the versatility that's been incorporated into the move. You can now add extra kick to your punch based on how you move the analog stick forward--you can perform the move as you did before for a standard punch, or you can cock the analog stick back first and then jab it forward to perform a haymaker. The tweaked move opens up a world of painful possibilities--such as flash knockdowns, which happen more often now--and it plays into the new damage system, which can have a radical effect on matches, affecting your fighter's performance and ability to continue in the fight. You'll also find that the game is much more dynamic, thanks to your ability to throw punches and defend while on the move. Another sweet new touch is the "cut man" mechanic that pops up in between rounds. After the bell rings and you reach your corner, you'll take direct control of your cut man and try your best to minimize the effects of the swelling and cuts your fighter sustained in the previous round.

Round 2's career mode has also been beefed up quite a bit and will offer a richer experience that's looking like a great next step for the series. Training will let you change your boxer's physique, allowing you to move between weight classes, if you choose. The career mode will also offer more control over your scheduling, and you'll be able to customize a hefty amount of elements, such as ring entrances. Best of all is the overhaul that the create-a-fighter option has been given. You'll now be able to morph your fighter's face in an unprecedented number of ways.

The graphics in Round 2 are shaping up to be an eye-popping upgrade for the series. You'll see improved character models and arenas that feature some very cool visual tricks to add a good sense of depth to your surroundings. In addition, smaller aspects like sweat, atmospheric touches in the crowd, and ring girls look great. The new create-a-fighter interface, in which you use the analog sticks to tweak your boxer's face in real time, is very slick. While the high-quality visuals may be easy to take for granted on the Xbox, due to what we've seen the system's powerful graphics processor do in other games, the PlayStation 2 version of Round 2 is a technological triumph that's worth mentioning. The crisp visuals are a commendable improvement on those of last year's game, sporting double the number of polygons for the fighters and greater texture resolution.

The audio in the game is shaping up to offer at least as rich an experience as its predecessor. The sound effects are shaping up nicely and are complemented by a soundtrack that features a good mix of tunes from several different genres. The game's commentary is likely to be one of the most appreciated areas of improvement, thanks to Round 2's use of traditional commentary from Joe Tessitore of ESPN and Fox Sports.

Round 2's character graphics are reaching for a gruesome degree of realism.

At this point, the one thing we're most hoping for out of Fight Night Round 2 is the chance to get our hands on the game and put it through its paces. With 36 boxers--including cover man Bernard Hopkins and new additions such as Floyd Mayweather Jr.--there will be plenty of fighters to use, and the tweaked gameplay, rich career mode, and multiplayer modes are all begging to be explored. Thankfully, we'll have the chance to do just that in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. Fight Night Round 2 is currently slated to ship in early March on the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox.

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