Game Description: Get ready for the fight of your life as EA Sports returns to the world of boxing with Fight Night 2004. Built from the ground up to deliver all the drama and pageantry of a heavyweight title bout, Fight Night 2004 is the most authentic boxing experience to date, sporting a dramatic new-school attitude, a dynamic new cinematic approach, and revolutionary boxing gameplay.
With the release of EA Sports' heir apparent to the wildly successful Knockout Kings series, it looks like we've entered into videogame history's first golden age of boxing titles. What started out as ripples with underdog titles like Victorious Boxers and Rocky, now looks like a full on tidal wave with EA Sports Fight Night 2004 entering into the fray. However, what separates Fight Night from the pack is the backing of the largest third-party publisher in the world, EA Sports and its vast network of resources. The former mentioned titles lacked flashy production values, added value content, licenses with real-life boxers and marketing hype. Fight Night far outclasses its peers in these areas. Whether the final results sink or swim, this is unmistakably a triple "A" production at heart.
Fight Night follows the recent trend of Electronic Arts titles having equal substance in its gameplay to match its glitzy style. Building on the analog sensitive controls of Victorious Boxers, Fight Night makes its own bold contribution to the genre by using the right analog thumb sticks on controllers to launch a majority of its punches (buttons are used for signature punches, taunts and illegal moves). Making upward one-quarter or one-third circle motions to the left or right will throw respective left and right hooks and uppercuts. Pushing the stick in straight upward motions will throw jabs and cross punches. Defensive bobbing and weaving is accomplished similarly by moving the left analog stick while holding down the left shoulder trigger. Blocks are achieved by moving the right analog stick while holding the right shoulder trigger. This control setup may sound awkward, but in application, is a thing of beauty. It's nearly impossible to imagine a better control setup once becoming accustomed to it.
Just about every feature in Fight Night lives up to the hype and feels right, if not outstanding. The computer opponents box with challenging styles and distinct personalities. Matches produce dynamic in-ring drama and KOs look soul-cleansing and gut wrenchingly painful at the same time. The career modes and custom create-a-boxer modes are light-years behind the top WWE wrestling games, but still far above average. The option to earn fight purses and purchase addition things like trunks, gloves, shoes, signature punches, entrance pyrotechnics and even groupies, also help to make the game more engaging.
If I had to pick holes in what is otherwise a fine title, there are two. One is its surprisingly weaker-than-expected roster of boxers. While containing 32 licensed boxers—many legends and current stars across all the weight classes (kudos for getting Roy Jones Jr., Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward), the game is still missing many key figures. At this point, you don't expect to see the likes of George Foreman (despite his face being on every As-Seen-On-TV product) and Mike Tyson (who's in the will-do-anything-for-cash phase of his boxing career), but where's Oscar De La Hoya, the Klitschko Brothers, Riddick Bowe, Marvin Hagler, Julio Cesar Chavez and Tommy Hearns? Without some of the key figures in boxing's recent history, Fight Night takes a shot in credibility department.
The second hole is its lack of international flair. Distilled through EA Sports unparalleled content licensing philosophy, Fight Night presents only an urban American Hip Hop interpretation of the sweet science and fails to capture the true nationalistic spirit and honor of the competition. Forget about the racial overtones of Cooney versus Holmes or the nationalistic fervor over De La Hoya versus Trinidad. Instead of acting with dignified pride, fighters taunt and pose like egomaniacal NFL rejects, which feels grossly out of place in the sport of boxing with the exception of Mayorga.
These complaints are relatively minor compared to its rich accomplishments in presentation and boxing gameplay, but they do keep Fight Night from achieving legendary status. To be a legend, you have to beat a legend. Fight Night takes the best-boxing title simply because there aren't any challengers. Fight Night isn't quite the undisputed champion of the world, but it is the start of a promising new era.
As a boxing videogame expert-I've played to death just about every pugilistic title out there-I'm proclaiming Fight Night 2004 the premiere title in the genre. I confess, it took me a week or two to fully appreciate the magnificence of this game. Sure, the presentation is decent enough, the menus are nice, and the boxers look good. But boxing games, for me, are ultimately about the drama of a boxing match. And no videogame out there, not even the magnificent Victorious Boxers, does a better job at capturing boxing drama than Fight Night 2004.
Case in point: My created boxer, Kid Jones, was the undefeated heavyweight champion with a perfect record of 53 wins, 53 knockouts, and no losses. My retirement was near (the game automatically "retires" fighters after a certain length of time) and I wanted to end my career on the proverbial high note. I decided to give an up-and-coming kid named Justin Richardson a shot at the title.
The plan was to dazzle the kid with speed and power and experience. Overconfident, I went right after Richardson, looking for the early KO. He somehow managed to tattoo me with a series of hooks-it felt like his right hand was magnetized to my face-and I found myself on the canvas not once but twice in the first round. Already fatigued, and quite frankly scared, I backed off, trying to regroup. When Richardson put me down again in the third, my stomach soured with self pity. I figured it was curtains.
But in the fifth round, I landed a six-punch combination that dropped Richardson. I was moving in, flurrying, then moving back out. Indeed, the tide was turning, until Richardson abruptly knocked me down again in the seventh. In the fifteenth and final round, our faces so swollen we were barely recognizable. We slowly staggered around each other too tired to throw punches, just like Apollo Creed and Rocky did in their famous final round. I finally connected with a jab, a right hook, another jab. Richardson tagged me once with a head-swiveling uppercut, but I went after him, throwing everything I had, making my last push, and I somehow landed a series of savage hooks to the head and body. Richardson dropped to the canvas and never got up again.
That's the kind of drama I'm talking about. With most boxing games, I have to do my own fictionalizing; I have to provide my own drama. (This is embarrassing, but I once kept a detailed notebook of my fighter's KOs in Knockout Kings 2001.) With Fight Night 2004, there's no need to fictionalize. All the drama is right there, on the screen.
Like Chi, I was disappointed to learn that there are only 32 licensed fighters on the disc. It was only after going toe-to-toe with these former and future champions that I began to appreciate the effort that went into programming the videogame versions of these fighters. Indeed, not only do these doppelgangers eerily look like their real-life counterparts, they fight like them too. Bernard Hopkins walked me down, slow and steady, counter-punching the whole way, exactly like he did to Trinidad in their famous bout. And fighting Winky Wright was as frustrating for me as it was for poor Sugar Shane Mosley. (Winky, as Mosley now knows, has a great defense.) Fans of the sport who appreciate the nuances of boxing will absolutely be in heaven. The only sore spot was my disappointing showdown with the great Muhammad Ali. For 10 rounds, the man danced and danced and barely threw a punch. For some reason, he seemed hollow and lifeless to me, embodying none of the panache and power of the real Ali.
While I agree with Chi that EA's choice to view the world through its hip-hop colored lens seems especially inappropriate here, and that a few key boxers do seem to be missing from the roster (De La Hoya, most glaringly, as Chi says), EA deserves much credit for bravely reworking their Knockout Kings franchise-which frankly wasn't all that bad to begin with-into this superb title. Now, if only Sega would generate a little "friendly" competition by putting out a 2k4 boxing title, then fans would really have some "boxing drama" on their hands.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Blood, Mild Lyrics, Violence
Parents, if you don't have a problem with the often brutal and bloody sport of boxing, it's unlikely you'd fault Fight Night. However, take note of the abundance of blood, unsportsmanlike behavior of the fighters and the option to "purchase" and dress-up scantily-clad groupies into a player's entourage.
True boxing purists, Fight Night is the real deal through and through. Some may be slightly disappointed with the weaker roster (despite having no relative competition to speak of) and the inability to recreate some of boxing's most memorable rivalries.
Casual fight fans should enjoy the brutal knockouts and the silky smooth controls. Just don't expect any flaming punches or superhero-like transformations.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing gamers should be aware that Fight Night relies heavily on audio cues through out the game and there are no subtitle options. When a fighter is about to be knocked out, the action slows down a few frames and the background audio is drowned out to a near silence. If the player removes on-screen menus to give the game a more organic feel, they won't be able to hear the announcer give the time left in the match. The player also wouldn't be able to hear the referee when being counted out or the corner instructions in-between rounds although the value of this advice is at times questionable.