Don King really does present Venom Games' new boxing endeavour. From the very first screens, hairstyling's answer to the brillo pad is everywhere - there are samples of his voice in the 70s themed funk music, and a deep red, posterised picture of his face looms ominously behind the menu screen. And that's even before he starts talking at you (excitedly, and at great length) in some of the game's many, many live-action video clips. This, after all, is a paean to the golden age of heavyweight boxing, the 1970s - and it's hard to deny that Don King, arguably the sport's most famous and most successful promoter, was a pivotal figure in that era.
The career mode in the game is, according to 2K Sports, its pivotal feature. It's certainly the game's most interesting and novel aspect. Beginning with a flash-forward to the start of a fight near the end of your career, it takes the format of a sports documentary - with a series of talking heads discussing the career ascent of your character, The Kid, through the ranks of the greats in the 70s.
The kid stays in the picture
These aren't just animated models discussing you, however. The cleverly edited documentary format is filled with clips from some of the legendary names associated with boxing, recorded specially for the game. There's Don King himself, of course - who becomes your promoter once you've proven yourself in the early days. But there are also people like Larry Holmes and Ken Norton, and even director Mario Van Peebles, all chatting away to the camera in soundbite clips about The Kid and his ascent.
Padding it out are a number of fictitious characters, actors and actresses playing people like your former girlfriends, sparring partners and the likes. It all fits together fairly seamlessly, and certainly looks the part - it could easily be a real sports documentary, albeit one undermined a bit by fairly simplistic depiction of your key rivals as heavy-browed, snarling villains.
Backing up the documentary-style presentation is a wealth of classic boxing footage culled from Don King's own archives. This can be unlocked as you progress through the game, and provides one of the big incentives to play through. Another incentive is the ability to unlock a number of classic fighters for the various quick match and multiplayer (both online and offline, naturally) modes.
A selection of contemporary fighters are available from the outset, including a number of boxing's up and coming stars, but to play as the greats you'll need to defeat them in superbly presented black and white dream sequences that pop up during career mode. Conspicuous by his absence from the otherwise fairly impressive classic fighter line-up is Mike Tyson - not, we're told, for any financial reason, but rather due to the former champ's rather fragile state of mind (Prizefighter's producer touches his finger to his forehead and whistles - "there were some issues there" apparently).
As interesting as the documentary style of the game is, it's also a somewhat limiting factor, since the developer hasn't created any branching storyline elements within the format. Lose a fight, and you don't get to stage a comeback - you just get a Game Over. The game does, however, offer some variety by letting you find a balance between media exposure and training.
As your career progresses, you'll get an increasing number of media opportunities being presented to you - everything from appearances in the press to sponsoring entire lines of sportswear. However, each time you spend time enhancing your media profile, you'll be using up precious time that could otherwise be spent training - whereas, if you disappear up a mountain to train, you'll get much fitter but will pretty much disappear from the public eye.