Rocky Preview

We check out Ubi Soft and Rage's upcoming multiplatform game that uses the Rocky movie license.

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It's been quite some time since a boxing game has used the Rocky movie license as its foundation, but back in the era of sprite-based games, the experience of playing as Sylvester Stallone's boxing underdog wasn't that immersive. However, the retro trend in game development that has seen games such as Knight Rider and The Dukes of Hazzard find their way to consoles more than a decade after the TV shows were in the public eye has made it possible for Ubi Soft to give the Rocky license another go. We had a chance to check out a previewable build of the game for the Xbox, which is being developed by UK-based Rage Software, to see how it was coming together.

You can play as any of the memorable characters from the movies.
You can play as any of the memorable characters from the movies.

As you would expect, Rocky's core gameplay will revolve around boxing. The game will initially offer three gameplay modes to choose from--movie, exhibition match, and sparring--with a fourth, called knockout tournament, which you'll be able to unlock. Movie is structured like a standard career mode and follows Rocky's career along the same development path as the films. You'll fight matches, train to improve your stats in minigames between matches, and be treated to clips from the films as you work your way up the boxing food chain to be the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. The story is a bit skewed, however; Rocky's career involved some notable defeats, so you'll find some sequences where the narrative will develop as though you've lost a match when you haven't. Exhibition lets you fight against the CPU or a friend in any venue using any boxer you've unlocked in the game. Sparring mode is similar, although the emphasis is more on letting you get a handle on the game's mechanics. Finally, the knockout tournament is a tiered competition that tests your skills through a challenging batch of opponents. As mentioned, the knockout tournament is unlockable in the game--by playing through the movie mode--and it's one of a host of unlockable elements you'll find. You'll also be able to unlock clips from the various films in the game's gallery as well as other boxers and venues, which you can use in the game's other modes.

To get through the game and nab that championship title, you'll need to become familiar with the game's boxing system, which leans more toward arcade-style control than a boxing sim control scheme. You'll find four distinct control maps to choose from in the game. The default setup will have you move your fighter with the analog stick and use the face button and triggers to perform attacks and guard. The X button will launch a head jab, and A will throw a body jab. The Y button will throw a straight punch to the head, while B will throw a straight body hit. The right trigger will serve as a modifier that will let the Y, X, B, and A buttons become uppercuts. The left trigger will block and will also serve as an evasive dodge when used in conjunction with the analog stick. Finally, the back button will let you taunt your opponent. It's a decent setup that works fairly well on the Xbox controller, although reaching the back button in the heat of a match takes some getting used to. We tended to favor the feel of the game on the S-controller, although the placing for the back button threw us off a bit.

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The "Italian Stallion" is looking as good today as he did in the 1970s.

The game takes a stylized approach in re-creating the sights and sounds of the films. The arenas are obviously patterned after familiar locales from the films and do a solid job of recalling their silver-screen counterparts. The venues offer a decent amount of detail and an animated crowd for atmosphere. The boxers themselves are an interesting visual choice--these stylized representations of the fighters aren't quite photo-realistic but are still easily recognizable. Each fighter has his own intro sequence, and they all do a good job of conveying the colorful personalities. In some ways the boxers reminded us of action figures, with their bulked-up proportions and detailed faces. While different, the look works in the context of the game. The game's presentation was greatly enhanced by the sound, which mixes soundalikes with actual sound samples of Rocky from the films and new dialogue by the eternally dope Mr. T himself. The sound in the venues is well done and will certainly affect your state of mind during the fight. You'll also hear the classic tunes from the films, including Rocky's theme.

From what we've seen, Rocky is coming along pretty well on the Xbox. The game has a stylized look and atmospheric sound that sets a good tone. The fighting system is coming along, though hopefully it will be tightened up before release. Rocky is slated to ship across all platforms this November.

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