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.