On paper, I'm sure Black Ops and Electronic Arts thought they had a winner. Their new game would only have Ready 2 Rumble: Round 2 to contend with, and it would be featured on the powerful, and (relatively) new PlayStation 2. But as other PlayStation 2 developers have done, Black Ops rushed the game to get it onto store shelves, and the results are disappointing.
I agree with Chi on the selection of boxers because it is a substantial one. The developers also did a commendable job in securing the female boxers that are grabbing the headlines these days. I do lament the exclusion of the more interesting boxers like Mike Tyson, Prince Naseem and George Foreman -- alas, not even Electronic Arts' deep pockets could secure that talent. I also agree on the graphics in the game. The detailed body and facial textures make for some frighteningly realistic visuals.
But these same graphics did wind up hurting the game, and it's most evident in the opening intro. Usually, a developer would use stock boxing footage or CG full-motion video to build up viewers for what was to come, but Black Ops believed the game's real-time graphics were impressive enough that it didn't have to resort to that. That was a mistake because with every frame and every close-up, the deficiency of the presentation was more and more apparent. After a hard blow was landed, the action would freeze momentarily so you could get a good look at the dazed expression of the boxer on the receiving end. This would have worked well if it weren't for the fact that the boxer doing the hitting also had that same vacant look on his face. These exchanges became downright laughable after only a few seconds.
The game falters further in other key areas. Though I'm sure Black Ops incorporated some manner of motion-capture work in the game, its not always easy to see where. From the lightweights to the heavyweight title holders, there is not always a difference in the movements of the boxers or their fighting styles. Even worse, there is no fluidity in their movements from one punch to the next. The animations of a boxer going from a punch to an upright stance and vice versa looks awkward -- leaving the boxers looking like high-resolution mannequins.
Ultimately, it was the gameplay that resulted in Knockout Kings 2001's 5.5 rating. I think Chi was accurate in his assessment of EA's emphasis on being statistically and tactically accurate. Unfortunately, this was all at the expense of the gameplay. To recreate the boxing experience, EA piled on every type of defensive and offensive move in the book -- hell, I think they even created a few of their own. A few rounds in the training mode will show that there is a strategy for every possible situation in a match. However, during the course of a game, it is doubtful you will ever remember when to use these moves. Whenever the computer tried to teach me new moves, I simply ignored it so I wouldn't be overwhelmed. The only good thing about all of this is that you don't need to use all of these moves in a match. In fact, you can probably get through most of the game with simple punching combinations and a good balance of defensive moves.
I also agree with Chi about the "organic" nature of the fights. In my more difficult matches, I found that no matter how hard and often I hit my opponent. Even after unleashing a flurry of rights and lefts on a stunned opponent, he is just as likely to come right back at me with the same attacks. As Chi intimated, most of the matches are like drawn out marathons. I would have given anything to land the kind of punches that are so common in the more arcade boxing games like Ready 2 Rumble: Round 2 and Nintendo's Punch Out series. In those games, if you caught an opponent with a surprise punch, you could practically feel it yourself. There is never any sort of visceral sensation when landing such punches in Knockout Kings 2001 -- no matter what EA's marketing department tries to tell you.
Graphics aside, Knockout Kings 2001 is just lacking as a boxing game. The tactics and strategy are there, but with so many of its boxers lacking their trademark flair and the attacks lacking real impact, it all feels like a half-hearted endeavor.