Boxing, known to its fans as the sweet science, has proven to be a hard sport for video game developers to re-create in a manner that is both true-to-life and fun. The Knockout Kings series has been fairly successful in its past attempts, yet it has always given off the feeling that there is room for dramatic improvement. Knockout Kings 2001 makes dramatic improvements, sporting better graphics, improved controls, and a much better balance between fun and realism. Fans of the series will undoubtedly agree that this year's KO Kings is the best of the series.
This year, the game has an amazingly huge roster, including all the top-name fighters from all weight classes, both male and female, and fighters from the past and present. Lennox Lewis, David Tua, Fernando Vargas, Evander Holyfield, Muhammad Ali, Christi Martin, and Butterbean are just a few of the fighters featured in the game. You can play as or against any of these great fighters, either against the computer or a second player. The game features several modes of play, such as career, exhibition, slugfest, and classic fights. The game's career mode is a bit more in-depth and allows you to pick trainers and cut men that actually affect your fighter's ability, as well as the gym you want to hail from.
The gameplay and control of Knockout Kings 2001 is similar to that of past incarnations of the title, but it features some noticeable differences. The most obvious is the sense of freedom you now feel as you move around the ring. The boxers move faster and behave more realistically in terms of evading and slipping punches. You can now attack from different angles, meaning that instead of just walking forward and attacking an opponent head-on, you can come in at an angle and make him or her miss. The game's new and improved mobility opens up the defensive side of the game, giving the game a good deal of depth. You can make your fighters bob and weave realistically - rolling to the left to duck a jab and then countering with a left hook to the body is actually possible. The auto combo 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. This auto combo system's effectiveness has thankfully been reduced in favor of rewarding those who take the time to learn how to execute what the game calls "real combos." The real combos are real-life punch combinations that the game teaches you in its training mode. These combos make playing the game a much more rewarding experience, since you actually have to look for openings and think about the punches you're throwing.
Visually, the game looks spectacular. The polygonal models used for the boxers are incredibly sharp, as are the textures used to define the fighters' muscle definition and faces. You can tell by the game's sharp graphics and wonderful frame rate that the designers really wanted to realistically portray the way the boxers look and move in the ring. You can instantly recognize the fighters by their faces and body types as they enter the ring. The animation of the boxers throwing punches is extremely fluid and looks very realistic. The only negative thing you could say about the game's animations is the lack of variation - Lennox Lewis' straight right looks like Shane Mosely's straight right. Overall, though, the game looks very sharp.
In the audio department, the commentary provided by Al Bernstein, Teddy Atlas, and Max Kellerman really adds authenticity and drama to the matches. The commentary is insightful and is almost always dead on with the action in the ring, although you will catch a weird phrase every once in awhile that doesn't fit. The presence and voice work of referees Mills Lane and Richard Steele add to the game's realism, as does the voice talents of real-life announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr.
In the end, Knockout Kings 2001 is easily the best iteration of the series thus far, thanks to improved AI, cleaner graphics, and tighter controls. Fans of the series and the sport of boxing will find that the game is a lot more balanced than last year's title, which makes the matchups between fighters like Lennox Lewis and David Tua in the game more realistic. So if you've been waiting for a realistic PlayStation boxing game, this is about as good as you're going to get.