Pre-ECTS: Knockout Kings 2001 PS2

We've returned from EA Sports' pre-ECTS event with first-hand impressions of its impressive-looking boxing game.

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EA Sports held a pre-ECTS press event to showcase its upcoming PS2 products before the show doors actually opened. And while most of the games on display were works in progress that we've already seen, a few select products made the whole event worthwhile. Easily the most notable game of the show was Knockout Kings 2001 for both the PlayStation and the PlayStation 2. The PS2 version, though only 30 percent complete, featured amazing visuals and sound, and boasted what looked like some of the most balanced and realistic gameplay seen to date in a boxing game.

The build on display featured five different modes. The slugfest mode is a simple punching bout between two contenders. The exhibition mode lets you pit two fighters against each other in a traditional forum. The career mode lets you train a boxer and help him climb the ranks. The championship mode lets you pick any of the game's boxers and help him defend his title against everyone who would challenge him. And the create-a-boxer mode lets you build your own boxer and lets you define his attributes. Unfortunately, only the exhibition and slugfest modes were available in the build on display. Still, even with only two modes, Knockout Kings 2001 was impressive.

The thing that immediately impressed me about Knockout Kings 2001 is how pretty it was. Simply put, it's the best-looking boxing game I've ever seen. The different arenas and backgrounds look stunning, complete with interactive ropes and corners, cheering fans, and the occasional Jumbotron that actually displays the appropriate video footage. On top of that, all the boxers look amazingly similar to their real-life counterparts. Lennox Lewis, the star of the game, is picture perfect and immediately recognizable, and other boxers like Butterbean, Holyfield, and De La Hoya are almost frighteningly realistic as well. The boxers also feature different body styles and models that accurately reflect their actual build. From the promotional reel I've seen, EA apparently spent a painstaking amount of time digitally mapping each boxer's face and body - and it shows in the game. But it doesn't stop there; the boxers move with precise accuracy. While other boxing games use punches and movements that seem choppy and pre-animated, Knockout Kings 2001 has silky smooth animations that flow from one punch into another, which make for some excellent-looking combinations. The game is far from being final, yet it still manages beat out Ready 2 Rumble visually.

Playing the game is also pretty awesome. Knockout Kings 2001 features a punching system similar to Ready 2 Rumble. The biggest difference is that Knockout Kings 2001 assigns all four buttons to different head punches, so you must hold down the L2 button in addition to hitting a punch button to perform body punches. This control scheme lends itself to some amazing punching combinations, as you can quickly switch between several left and right facial punches right into a body blow combination. EA Sports is proud to tout that every punch found in Knockout Kings 2001 can be stringed together to form any punching combination you like. Additionally, you use the L1 button to perform your blocking functions. You can simply block, or you can hold down the button and use the analog stick to dodge blows or even push the other boxer away from you - this is one of the coolest things I've seen in a boxing game in a long time.

Though the game won't hit shelves for some time, Knockout Kings seems to be well on the right track. With more gameplay tweaks, enhanced graphics, and better sound, the game could easily be the best boxing title yet. We'll just have to wait and see what EA Sports does with the game.

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