Fight Night Round 2 Reader Review
Last year EA did something out of the norm, not only did they have an unusually strong year for quality games they released a sports game that wasn't a sequel (okay it replaced their Knockout Kings franchise but it wasn't a sequel), wasn't 'BIG' & actually involved more than a modicum of skill in order to play it. That game was Fight Night.
It proved a very popular game with the gaming media & was quickly awarded with many "genre defining" & "best boxing game ever" quotes from the magazines. Okay so the boxing genre isn't as highly contested as the FPS & Stealth genre's but that should not in any way undermine just how good a job EA did with Fight Night.
Instead of churning out yet another boxing button basher, EA went back to the drawing board & introduced a new control system. Moving the right analogue stick diagonally left or right to throw a left or right jab & circling it from bottom to top to throw an uppercut for example were simple controls that felt much more intuitive once you had played it for more than an hour or so & more rewarding. At times it didn't seem to choose the same punch that you had just instructed the right analogue stick to perform, but then again that could have been me, Ryu always did more fireballs than dragon punches, no matter how many times I tried the latter. It also featured an innovative control scheme of getting your boxer up off of the canvas after a knockdown. Again instead of mashing the buttons as quickly as possible to get up, so often the norm in this type of game, Fight Night required you to align 3 images of the referee by using the analogue sticks before he reached his count of 10. Again this was a simple introduction that brought so much to the game, once again feeling much more intuitive & requiring skill.
The only faults that prevented Fight Night from being the ‘perfect’ boxing game was a lack of challenge, which had most people completing the game on hard in only a few hours, & that fights were usually over in 2-3 rounds, instead of the points decisions or KO’s in the later rounds so regularly seen in the real sport.
Having been such a fan of the original I couldn't wait for Fight Night Round 2. As it only required a little bit of spit & polish & a tightening up of the difficulty level, I was confident that EA, whom are renowned for their annual sports updates being very little different from the previous years, would be happy to address those issues & in the process release a boxing title that would make it difficult for game developers, EA included, to improve upon.
Why then did EA choose to leave the lack of challenge & early round KO’s alone & tweak other areas that were probably best left alone?
One of the areas that should have been left alone was the referee/knockdown mini-game. Instead EA have seen fit to introduce 3 markers into this years update which makes it very easy to get up from, easily making a 2 or 3 count on all knockdowns, until you run out of your allotted opportunities to recover from a knockdown. Yes that’s right, you now have a set number of opportunities to recover from a knockdown & once you’ve reached that point, no matter how much you try, those markers will not match up, instead choosing to bounce off of each other as though an invisible force field has been activated. You can purchase entry sequences, such as lasers, fireworks or smoke that will give you extra opportunities to recover in the career mode.
EA’s main selling feature for Round 2 seems to be the cutman mini-game. This enables you to repair your boxers face in between rounds, choosing to prioritise which areas you repair cuts & swelling on before the time runs out. It’s certainly got a lot of promise for the future & hopefully EA will improve on this in Round 3, but it just feels rushed this year, with very little skill required. What makes it even worse is this feature is often made redundant by the fact that the vast majority of fights still only last a few rounds, therefore not allowing time for cuts & swelling to develop to such a degree that they start having an impact on your boxer.
Career mode has seen numerous changes, with the option of creating your own boxer (with a create a champ mode that is up there with THQ’s Smackdown offerings) or restarting one of the licensed boxers careers, of which there are 36. Now 36 boxers doesn’t sound like a lot & I think EA agree as there is no mention of the amount of boxers on the box & it soon gets monotonous fighting unknown generic boxers, especially when they couldn’t even be bothered to get the announcer to speak their names for when they come down to the ring. You might be fighting some chump called Mike Roberts, but he’ll be introduced as The Destroyer when he makes his way to the ring.
Having chosen to restart Ricky Hattons career at the age of 19, I made my way through some Amateur fights until I won the Amateur title & turned professional. Now, after some 27 professional fights with a 27ko record, I am champion & have chosen to go up a weight division to fight for that championship. It’s certainly more involved than last years career mode, with the ability to appoint better trainers, cutmen & chaperones (which seem to have been modelled on the pig-dogs you would normally find outside your local Poundstretcher) for each fight, all of which have an impact on your stats in one way or another, but it still lacks that normal EA razzmatazz. You never really care about your opposition, the entrances are bland, there is no tale of the tape before a fight, the end of fight sequences are basically non-existent & you just fight your way through a list of 50 boxers until you become the champ.
You get to choose your next opponent from a list made available to you according to your current rank, but you can’t see their win/loss record or their form. Instead you have to switch out of that screen, into another (which still doesn’t give you form) & back into the schedule screen to arrange a fight. The front end throughout has been poorly designed with way too many button presses in places (it takes 7 just to load a career for instance).
In-between fights you get the opportunity to train your boxer in one of 3 mini games: Heavybag, Combo Dummy & Weight Lifting. Whilst it’s nice to have control over your boxers’ development rather than just automatically levelling them up in-between fights, the mini-games are dull & you can’t help but feel that some were left out at the last minute. The most obvious reason for this is that not one of the 3 mini-games has much of an effect on your agility rating, which means that you’ll always end up with a slow, lumbering mover of a fighter no matter what training you choose to do. It’s also very hard to personalise your fighter & make them exceptionally strong in one or two areas. As each mini-game has a positive effect on at least 4 areas, you end up with a well-rounded fighter, rather than a quick fighter with great stamina or a powerhouse prone to cuts.
Graphically Round 2 is far superior to its predecessor with better (though still far from perfect) physics, improved facial modelling & improved arenas. Unfortunately though the default camera angle suffers this year from over the top shaking when you take a hit or hit an opponent, resulting in you having to switch it to one of the lesser useful views. Thankfully the annoying radio hip-hop presenter from last year has gone & been replaced with an ESPN announcer, although there is still far too much Hip-Hop & Rap music going on with no other genre of music available to choose from for your entrance music.
However despite all the flaws detailed above none of those would have mattered if they had tweaked the difficulty level & ensured that the majority of the fights went past the 3rd or 4th round. Unfortunately with the addition of the EA Haymaker punches (no EA you didn’t create them, boxers have been using them for years now), knocking down your opponent in the first round & getting an early TKO has never been easier. Had the game penalised you more for constantly throwing Haymakers it wouldn’t have been so bad but every punch you throw can be a haymaker & you’ll have knocked your opponent down for the first time without expending too much energy. I say 'first' as it often requires 5-6 knockdowns to knock an opponent out. In real boxing it doesn't take 5-6 knockdowns to KO somebody. Knowing that your opponent will get up from at least the first 3 knockdowns takes away the excitement of the first few knockdowns as you sit their just waiting for them to get back up off of the canvas for another beating.
It does seem that EA made an attempt to prevent some of the early TKO’s by slowing down the game, but all this has achieved is making even the featherweights feel unnecessarily slow & making combo’s extremely difficult to pull off as it is far to easy to block punches.
If there is going to be a 'Round 3' they really need to penalise people that want to throw punches every few seconds instead of pacing themselves (perhaps by dropping their stamina bar if they do not let their power bar recover) & make the fights more realistic by making more go the distance, thus allowing new features, such as the cutman mini-game, to take on more of an importance in the overall outcome of the fight. They also need to stop short-changing us Europeans & provide us with Live support, which had it been in place for this version could have potentially added another point to the score by making up for the lack of challenge.
Offline multiplayer is fun & the new mini-games come into effect much more here, as it’s much harder to predict the punches & combos that your opponent will throw. However last years problem still exists in that EA seem to think that boxers can move as fast backwards as they can forwards, meaning that if your opponent decides to run backwards around the ring, you’ll spend most of your time chasing him around, trying to pin him on the ropes, which is much more difficult than it should be. With the punches being much slower to throw this year, even when you do get within striking distance, by the time you’ve thrown anything other than a jab, they’ve managed to back away again.
As it stands, Fight Night Round 2 is an improvement of sorts over last years & some of the qualms above, such as the new knockdown system & the haymakers, probably won’t disappoint those who didn’t play the first game as much as they did me. It’s also fair to point out that other additions, such as the ability to block whilst walking & a reduction in the effectiveness of the dodge move have improved the in-ring action & it’s still a great boxing game. In my opinion however, it won’t appeal to anybody that couldn’t get on with last years offering & hasn’t improved in the areas that it needed to in order to persuade owners of the original to splash their cash.
”7, ring the bell, he’s out”
7 / 10