The latest entry in EA Sport's premiere boxing series sports an amazingly huge roster, including all the top-name fighters from both past and present. In addition to the robust lineup of fighters, the game also includes a more in-depth career mode in which you get to pick trainers and cut men that actually affect your fighter's ability.
The meat of the gameplay of Knockout Kings 2001 is similar to the previous incarnations of the title, but it features some noticeable differences. Easily the most obvious is the sense of freedom you now feel as you move around the ring. While the boxers don't move as fast or as fluid as we would have liked, the development team has definitely made an effort to make the game behave more realistically in terms of evading and slipping punches. You can now attack from more angles than ever before, meaning that instead of just throwing a straight punch and attacking an opponent head on, you can come in at an angle and make him miss a jab. In addition to a fresh spring in the fighter's steps, boxers are now able to bob and weave more effectively. Rolling to the left to duck a jab and then countering with a left hook to the body is now actually possible. And while the game certainly supports more fancy fighting action, Knockout Kings 2001 is still all about two guys in the ring pummeling each other. The dance familiar to anyone who's played any of the Knockout King games - two fighters winging endless looping right-hand hooks until one boxer falls - is still ever-present in 2001. The autocombo system has been tweaked a bit from the last version, but it hasn't changed much in function or execution - it lets you land several punches in quick succession with minimal skill.
Visually, Knockout Kings 2001 for the PlayStation is by far and away the most impressive of the series thus far. The polygonal models used for the boxers are incredibly sharp, as are the textures used to define the fighters' muscle definition and faces. When Evander Holyfield or any of the other fighters walk into the ring, you can instantly recognize their faces. The animation of the boxers throwing their punches is fairly fluid and looks realistic. Unfortunately, there isn't much variation, Lennox Lewis' straight right looks like Shane Mosely's straight right.
In the audio department, the addition of commentary from Al Bernstein, Teddy Atlas, and Max Kellerman really adds to the authenticity and feel of the game. The presence and voice work of referees Mills Lane and Richard Steele also add to the game's realistic feel. Announcing the fighters entering the ring is real-life announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr.
While this latest revision of Knockout Kings 2001 is certainly promising, we'll have to reserve judgment until we receive a final build of the game, which ships this Halloween.