When compared with last year's Knockout Kings for the PlayStation 2, Knockout Kings 2002 on the Xbox is a completely new game. In addition to the game's new look and feel, Electronic Arts has added a lot of new fighters and changed a lot of features. The game includes many of the best fighters from the past and present such as Lennox Lewis, Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Evander Holyfield, Fernando Vargas, and Roberto Duran. The game has several modes of play including exhibition, tournament, and career. The career mode lets you create a fighter and take him through the ranks in an attempt to win the world title.
The gameplay has been completely changed and now features a much faster and more fluid control system for moving and punching in the ring. The fighters move and bounce around the ring at a very realistic pace, and the added mobility of the fighters lets you really stick and move instead of just going toe-to-toe. When you get hurt and are in danger of going down, you can now effectively try to stay away from your opponent. The left analog stick controls your fighter's movement in the ring and his upper torso. If you press the analog stick slightly in one direction, the fighter will bend at the waist and lean his upper torso in that direction. If you press the analog stick further in that same direction, your fighter will start to move in that direction. This control scheme is very similar to the control scheme found in Victorious Boxers for the PlayStation 2. The setup lets you naturally lean to avoid punches and move very quickly from that position when you need to. The buttons have been simplified to a scheme that lets you throw a jab, a straight right, a left hook, a right hook, an uppercut, a special punch, or a low blow. You can throw different uppercuts by simply holding down the right trigger and pressing any of the other punch buttons. Throwing punches to the body is also very intuitive--you simply duck down by leaning forward and then throw punches from this position. And you can block your opponent's punches by tapping the left trigger when a punch is coming in. Some of the more advanced punches and moves from last year's Knockout Kings, such as kidney punches, have been omitted from this year's game, and another exclusion from this year's game is the ability to grab your opponent and hold on.
With the added mobility and simplified control scheme, the game now plays like a mix of Ready 2 Rumble and Victorious Boxers. Another notable change is that the default setting of the game has you play without any visible energy bars. Instead, the game makes you aware of your opponent's fatigue through slight visual cues. The vibration of the controller, which shakes to reflect the pulse rate of your fighter, also conveys your fighter's state of health. The effect works very well, but you do have the option to turn on the onscreen health and stamina meters if you prefer.
In the graphics department, Knockout Kings 2002 looks radically different from last year's Knockout Kings. The models of the boxers have been completely redone and feature a generous number of polygons. But while they look a lot like their real-life counterparts, they don't look as realistic as they did in last year's PlayStation 2 version of the game. This year the fighters feature a unique artistic style that makes them all look extremely muscular. The faces of the fighters, however, do look very close to the real-life faces of their respective counterparts. The animation of the fighters is a mix of motion-captured animations and hand animations, and they throw punches, block, and move around the ring very realistically. The collision detection in the version we've been playing isn't quite as accurate as we'd like it to be, but hopefully Electronic Arts will tighten it up a bit before the game is released.
While we're very pleased with what we've played of the Xbox version of Knockout Kings 2002, we'll have to wait until we get a final build of the game to comment further. Knockout Kings 2002 is currently scheduled for release on March 5, so be sure to keep checking back for more information on Knockout Kings 2002 and more media from the game.