Last year’s "Fight Night" was a solid but flawed effort, and this year, EA comes back with "Fight Night: Round 2". Does it address the original's issues and take the next step towards boxing greatness?
“Fight Night: Round 2” has the best graphics ever seen in a boxing video game. EA has done a tremendous job of replicating not only the boxers, but also the arenas. Every real-life boxer in the game looks exactly like his counterpart; right down to accurate tattoos. Arenas like the Staples Center and the Atlantic City Convention Center look just as they do in real life. There isn't much more to say other then EA did a tremendous job with "Fight Night: Round 2's" graphics.
Repeat after me: Big Tigger is gone! In perhaps the worst feature of any sports video game in 2004, EA decided to use a video DJ as the ring announcer and play-by-play man of last year’s game. Thankfully, they decided to get rid of him this year and used a real announcer, ESPN’s Joe Tesoro. Tesoro’s commentary gets repetitive after a while, but the game just feels more authentic with a real boxing announcer. It was a good move by EA.
I must admit that I’m really tired of EA Trax. For those of you who don’t know, EA Trax is a set of songs licensed from real artists by EA for use in their games. This also seems to be the only reason why EA Sports doesn't allow custom music in their games. There is nothing worse than seeing Eric Morales enter the ring to Fabolous or the Geto Boys. EA is so concerned with making sure their licensed music plays during the game that it’s willing to sacrifice realism. Here is a newsflash for EA: No matter how often I hear a Geto Boys, Fabolous or Shells song while playing “Fight Night: Round 2”, I won't buy their album. I don’t think most people play this game to hear the soundtrack. Just add generic music that will suit the boxers, or let us add customized music. Please!
The biggest change in this year’s game is the Haymaker - and the biggest mistake EA made this year was calling it the “Haymaker.” The “Haymaker” gives you the ability to add extra power to hooks and uppercuts. By pulling back on the analog stick in a sort of reverse punch, you can really do damage to your opponent. It’s actually a great addition that’s getting a bad rap because when people hear the word “haymaker” they think of a wild, out of control punch. Actually, it’s just a more powerful hook or uppercut.
One thing that I’ve noticed is that a few of the users in the OS forum and in other forums feel that the CPU throws too many haymakers on the higher levels. I have to disagree with that assessment. Certain boxers that are known brawlers like Sonny Liston or Mickey Ward will constantly attack and throw a lot of haymakers, however - that’s true to real life. If you watch one of Ward’s old fights, you will see he doesn’t throw many jabs. He pretty much throws nothing but power punches. Also, fighters who are known to box like Floyd Mayweather and Sugar Ray Leonard actually stick and move and use the jab. Another way to combat someone using the haymaker is to learn how to parry. Parrying is blocking a punch by swatting your opponent’s hand away. When you successfully parry a haymaker, you are given a short window to counter punch and if you take advantage of that - you can do a lot of damage. My biggest problem with the haymaker is that constant use of it does not tire a fighter enough. You can constantly rear back and throw a haymaker and it will not tire you in the least. Also, while parrying is very effective against the haymaker, blocking is not effective enough. Blocking will protect you from a potentially damaging haymaker, but it doesn’t give you an opening to successfully counter a punch.
I love the fact that you have to use boxing strategy in order to win fights against the best fighters. For example, if you try to brawl with Arturo Gatti using Floyd Mayweather, you'll probably get knocked out in three rounds. However, if you stick and move, use your jab and use angles correctly, you can beat Gatti with Mayweather or any other non-brawler. Even better, the CPU will adjust and change tactics during a fight. During the first four rounds of a ten-round bout, I used Roy Jones against Evander Holyfield and dominated because I was too fast and too quick for him. In the fifth, Holyfield changed his tactics; away from trying to rush me with haymakers to simply working the body and cutting the ring off. This tactic worked, and Holyfield ended up winning a split decision. With the exception of "Victorious Boxers 2", I’ve played every boxing video game ever made and I’ve never seen the CPU’s AI adapt and change its approach mid-fight. It's fantastic.
I do have a problem with the number of knockdowns in any given fight. I’ve watched a ton of fights in my 27 years, and I would guess that the number of knockdowns I’ve seen in an average fight is about two per fight. In “Fight Night: Round 2”, I have yet to see someone knocked out after one or two knockdowns. Fighters are only knocked out after three knockdowns if it’s late in a fight or if the three-knockdown rule is set to "on". Usually it will take four to six knockdowns to knockout the CPU - that's a ridiculous number. This was a problem in last year’s game, too. EA must program something into knockdowns that factors the power of the punch, the stamina of the punched fighter, and the chin of the fighter. This knockdown issue also takes some of the danger and unexpectedness of a fight. I know going into the fight that there is no way I can knock someone out with one punch and vice versa. Don’t get me wrong - there are "flash" knockdowns in the game, but I’ve never seen anyone stay down. The bottom line is that it's no fun needing six knockdowns to finish off a computer opponent.
That said; I will gladly give EA credit for adding two things I asked for in my review of last year’s game: clinching and referee stoppages. Clinching is an important part of boxing because it gives a fighter a chance to rest when he is in danger of being knocked down. Last year’s version didn’t have clinching, but this year’s version does and the result is good, but not perfect. Clinching only appears to have an effect on energy when you are close to being knocked down. So it's pretty ineffective if you have taken a lot of damage, but are not close to hitting the canvas. My suggestion is to have all clinching have some effect on stamina, but if a fighter overuses it, have the referee deduct points or disqualify the fighter. Regarding the referee stoppages, it’s more of the same - good but not perfect. For some reason, EA only programmed the ref to stop fights because of cuts and/or swelling. Fans of boxing know that that the majority of knockouts are technical knockouts from ref stoppages. In real life, refs stop fights for multiple reasons; such as a boxer failing to protect himself or a boxer taking too much damage. EA should expand the ref stoppage option in future versions of this game.
A small, but excellent addition to the game is the EA Sports Cutman. The EA Sports Cutman is a mini-game that occurs between rounds where you can attempt to fix your boxer's cuts and/or swelling. The feature makes the break between rounds more intense as you rush to fix cuts before the ref stops the fight. It also gives you a chance to appreciate the great job EA did on the facial graphics.
Training modes got better and worse at the same time this year. They added weight lifting as one of the training modes, which is a decent addition, and they made training a little bit easier. Last year, succeeding at the heavy bag was all but impossible because it had to do with momentum and getting the bag to swing, which was extremely difficult to time. This year, you basically just have to throw combos at the right part of the bag. They've also added the ability to change the body type of a fighter for an upcoming fight. For example, if your upcoming opponent is a powerful puncher, you can choose to focus on improving your power. After training, you will see a physical change in your fighter if you've trained successfully. There is a slight problem with this, however - the featherweights and lightweights look like bodybuilders and they look to be far over their weight limit. Hopefully, EA will take body type into consideration when making changes to this feature next year. Unfortunately, there is no speed bag available in training, and sparring doesn’t play a large enough role in training for a fight. Fighters spar before every fight, so I think that I should be given the option to spar - and if I do well then I should get a boost in stamina or other attributes. This small addition would add some much-needed depth to the Career mode.
Speaking of that, the Career mode displays another classic EA strategy; they add new options to a game and then take some away. You can now move up and down in weight class and train in a way - but this year sparring is not a part of training, and you cannot wear your championship belts to the ring. If I had to make a choice, I would take the new things EA added over the things they removed - but the point is they really shouldn’t be removing features from previous versions of the game.
This year, "Fight Night" is compatible with Xbox Live, and it's performance on the whole is excellent. EA seems to be working out the kinks it originally encountered last fall when it started making it's games compatible to Microsoft's online system.
Ranked fights have set rules for consistency, but unranked fights are subject to your rules, which you can tweak to your satisfaction. Online lobbies are available, as well as the standard Xbox Live "Quickmatch" and "Optimatch" selections. The EA Messenger system is still a bit unwieldy, but if you're used to EA's latest releases, it won't be anything you can't handle.
The game is eminently playable online, with little if any noticeable lag - and certainly not enough even at the worst to affect the bouts. Adding Xbox Live play compliments the latest "Fight Night" well, and adds a great deal to both the value and lifespan of the game. The fact that it works as well as it does is icing on the cake.
“Fight Night: Round 2” is an improvement over last year’s version, but not as much of an improvement that I’d hoped for. The Haymaker, the ability to block and punch while moving and the EA Sports Cutman are all great additions to this year’s game. However, there's still a big issue with the AI regarding knockdowns that needs to be addressed. That said, I gave last year’s version a 4 out of 5 and since “Fight Night: Round 2” is a slight improvement, there's no reason it shouldn't get the same.