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.  Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.

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Brad's right—Freedom Fighters' juvenile take on world politics is indeed a missed opportunity, particularly during these volatile times. It could have been the videogame equivalent of Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket or Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. Instead, the game is content being as politically shallow as Stripes. I don't believe I've ever seen a videogame as painfully sincere as Freedom Fighters is. Even the Desert Storm series doesn't take itself this seriously. Freedom Fighters' quest to take back New York City from the Russians, to literally wave "Old Glory" (each level ends with a raising of the flag), is so earnest that if the game were released during the Cold War, it would have probably been considered propaganda.

That said, I enjoyed Freedom Fighters, not as an American anxious to kick the Russians in the pants, but as a gamer who's fond of third-person action games. And Freedom Fighters is a third-person action game of the highest order.

This is the first squad-based game to really get the whole giving-orders thing right. The first time I sent my "recruits" into battle, I was literally dumbfounded by their skills. To my amazement, they fought bravely and wisely. They instinctively sought cover. And when they died, it was usually my fault (tactical error) rather than theirs. As I watched these soldiers fight on my behalf, I felt the kind of paternal pride parents no doubt feel when their children surprise them by performing some elaborate task.

Wits, not brute force, are necessary for survival in Freedom Fighters. I appreciate that. I always prefer using my brain to my reflexes. The real pleasure in the game comes from devising and executing plans. I'd send my soldiers one way and then I'd go an alternate route. If it failed, I went back to the drawing board. But when plans worked, it was sheer videogaming bliss.

Around the midpoint in the game, a new kind of super soldier appears. He's a full head taller than the regular Russian soldiers, and he's clad in black armor and armed with a powerful machine gun. He isn't announced or heralded in any way; suddenly, he's just there, in the midst of the fighting. I watched as he cut a path through my recruits like an outboard motor. When I did finally bring him down—and it wasn't easy—I found myself cautiously approaching his corpse, afraid he might leap back to his feet. These soldiers, though rarely seen, absolutely haunt the second half of the game.

If only Freedom Fighters had more elements like this super soldier. I agree with Brad's statement that the game "run(s) out of tricks far too soon." The game does indeed peak early, with the later levels holding little in the way of surprises. Yet Freedom Fighters is still compelling enough to make me long for a sequel, albeit one with more mature political content. Trust us, EA—we can handle it. Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclaimer: This review is based on the PS2 version of the game.

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The original Devil May Cry was the perfect antidote to the Resident Evil series. Instead of counting bullets the way a starving man counts bread crumbs, Devil May Cry gave me unlimited bullets. Instead of controlling the tank-like Resident Evil characters (turn, turn, turn, go forward), I had Dante, who moved with the style and grace of a Cirque du Soleil acrobat. Instead of fleeing zombie encounters like a coward, the monsters in Devil May Cry were the ones who were (or should have been) fleeing me. Indeed, Devil May Cry was the perfect ying to Resident Evil's yang; it was a game that I'd been craving for years, and I wasn't even aware that I'd been craving it.

Keith describes Devil May Cry 2 as "mediocre." I think he's being kind. Something fundamental is missing from Devil May Cry 2. After only a few minutes of playing the game, I knew that the series had been seriously derailed. The expansive, wide-open environments in Devil May Cry 2—which were supposed to be an improvement—actually do more harm than good. The problem: the static cameras now have to pull farther back to cover more ground, and in doing so Dante and his foes are often reduced to the size of my thumbs. All the visceral, up-close, chop-socky combat, which was one of the pleasures of the first game, now takes place somewhere far off in the distance. As a result, the gameplay feels muted.

The programmers also seem to have neglected to program gravity into the game. Simply firing my handguns at enemies was often enough to send them flying like a bunch of balled-up Kleenex. There's no incentive whatsoever to use my sword or combo—not when the handguns alone were often enough to clear rooms and take down bosses.

There are other obvious problems-upgraded weapons have replaced the upgraded skills system from the first game; the child-like difficulty level; those annoying static cameras, etc.—but the most egregious error that the game commits is that it's utterly devoid of personality and imagination. The enemies, the bosses, even the environments, are now bland, anonymous, soul-less.

Sure, there's there was a moment or two that actually made me feel the old Devil May Cry tension, but mostly what I felt was disinterest and disappointment. Make that bitter disappointment; Devil May Cry 2 stands as my most crushing disappointment of the year so far.

I don't think Devil May Cry 2 qualifies as "franchise milking," as Keith states. I honestly believe Capcom did attempt to improve the game. Despite their efforts, they somehow wound up making what was originally a flawed-yet-compelling experience into something that's now flawed-and-completely-dull. Devil May Cry 2 is as a hollow shell of its former self. I'm hoping Capcom has the ability to resurrect what was once one of the most promising new series to come along in years. Rating: 3.5 out of 10

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With the glut of incomprehensible storylines, system-crashing bugs, and—most offensive of all—misspellings and bad grammar found in games these days, it seems as if in the mad rush to fill store shelves, a growing percentage of publishers and developers are getting increasingly lackadaisical. At a time when critics are using the phrase "feels rushed out the door" with alarming regularity, the well-crafted Zone Of The Enders: The 2nd Runner is a welcome aberration. I knew that I was in good hands after only the first couple seconds of the opening cinema. Everything about this game, from the anime cut scenes to the head-spinning mech battles, is blue-ribbon quality.

Brad's quite right to use the word "synergy" to describe the game. Like a well-built house, each element of the production fits together seamlessly. Narrative, direction, gameplay—all of it does indeed come together in brilliant fashion, making this one of the most fully realized videogames I've probably ever played. There's not even a load screen—not one—to clutter the experience.

Every aspect of the game—every sound, every image—feels carefully considered, cared for, and polished to a high-shine. The graphics have an aching clarity to them. The soundtrack and voice acting is appropriately bombastic. Even the game's pause screen—typically an after—thought in most games-is strikingly beautiful, highly functional, and intuitive to use. Nothing on the disc feels irreverent or thrown together. There's a sense of great confidence behind the game, a feeling that the developers accomplished exactly what they set out to accomplish. It's rare to see such a high degree of confidence and sheer craftsmanship in a videogame.

Simply maneuvering my Orbital Frame was an aesthetic experience unto itself. When performing a long-range Burst Attack, during the few moments it takes for the ball of energy to form, my Orbital Frame assumed a pose akin to a Greek statue. Once the ball was fully formed, I'd suddenly belt it—like Hank Aaron—with pin-point accuracy in the direction of a nearby enemy, causing it to explode in glorious flames. The Orbital Frame proves to be a compelling contradiction, somehow managing to be as elegant as a figure skater and terrible as a battleship at once. Indeed, during spare moments, I often found myself diving and swooping around vacant levels, relishing my ballet-like movements while firing stray Burst Attacks into the air. I honestly haven't had this much fun controlling a character since the cartwheeling Dante in the Devil May Cry series.

Zone Of The Enders: The 2nd Runner also made me realize how bereft of imagination most videogames are. The game is constantly tossing new worlds, new images, new challenges, and new abilities at me. Whether I'm seizing enemies and using them to shield myself (an especially gratifying turning of the tables), firing the awesome Vector Cannon, or dismantling a runaway train, there's never a shortage of something fresh to do, something wholly unlike anything I'd done previously. Such inventive, surprising gameplay is the product of nothing more than old-fashioned, roll-up-the-sleeves-and-sharpen-the-pencils imagination, and we frankly don't see enough of it in today's crop of games.

Yes, it's a short game but, like Brad, I really didn't mind at all. There are a number of incentives for replay—bonus missions, mini-games, etc.—but, curiously, I didn't feel compelled to keep playing. For some reason, I lost my taste for the game as soon as the credits rolled, which seemed especially odd to me, considering how much I'd admired the production. Eventually I came to understand why: Though I found the kinetic mech battles to be exciting, the game is far too linear to merit much replay. Brad aptly compares the game to a roller-coaster ride, and riding a roller-coaster the second time is never as thrilling as the first.

Ultimately, I admired (and respected and appreciated) Zone Of The Enders: The 2nd Runner more than I enjoyed it. I'm recommending the game, if only to marvel at the programming prowess, the art direction, the singular vision, and, of course, the perfect spelling and grammar. Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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