Review: Fight Night Round 2 (PS2)

Fight Night Round 2
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Chicago
Genre: Sports/Fighting
Release Date: 03-01-2005

Once upon a time, there was a barbaric sport that was enjoyed the small and rich elite of society. Entrepreneurs, who operated as either single persons or collaboratively in syndicates, did their best to recruit the strong and the gullible in an effort to put them against each other in a heinous coupling of rage and adrenalin. By taking the savagery of the street fight and placing it on a suspended trampoline wrapped in cords, the organizers hoped to cash in on humanity’s reptilian brain; the unconscious side that screamed for the primal satisfaction of just a few minutes of sanctioned violence. Thus, the product of the fight would result in long-lasting damage, both physical and mental, to both it’s participants, as both were no doubt driven by the shortsighted promise of glory and the prize of a fat purse. Battered and bruised, the workhorses of the bout would both exit the room, with only the victor garnering a meager wage for himself. It was the organizers of this event that came away with the bulk of the revenue, while the true stars of the show came away from the ordeal weak and drained.

That last paragraph, arguably, could easily read as the development cycle at Wal-Mart Digital- I mean, Electronic Arts. But as draconian and cotton plantation-esque their idea of labor may be, it’s that labor cycle that generates games like Fight Night Round 2. Sure, EA might have let their Strike franchise die a silent and neglectful death, and kill off the Command and Conquer by liquidating that series’ creative labor, but I hear they churn out a sports line too. Apparently, they do stuff with the National Football League, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (read: FIFA), and other monolithic groups that generate cash from running games in private locales. So I guess embodying the ‘sport’ of boxing in a video game could keep this cash cow mooing.

The question, though, is Fight Night Round 2 really worth your time and cash? Let’s take a look and see…


Story/Modes

T’is standard issue boxing, so nothing too heavy of note here. Guy A gets into fight with Guy B. Guy A and Guy B dance and prance about the mat, hoping that genetics and luck play out in concert so one might hit the other. In a true winner-take-all match, one guy goes down after the other puts all his energy and effort into making sure he stays there. Repeat if necessary.

However, for what it’s worth, EA does their best to recreate the zeal and enigma surrounding the boxers it exhibits. A career mode lets you duke it out with a pretty good-sized number of boxers as you take them to the top of a 50-step ladder to boxing stardom across six weight classes. Along the way, you’re able to purchase to decorate yourself and your surroundings in the form of superficial additions to your personal cult that do everything from increase stamina to make your character look that much more badass- the latter, if you were to take the game’s advice, is just as important as the premier.

When it comes to sports games in general, there isn’t much by way of story. But where an explicit story lacks, an assumed narrative from a personality or team can suffice. In this instance, EA gives you boxing greats like Muhammad Ali, Ray Leonard, Rocky Marciano, and more, all of which are at your disposal. Add in the ability to create friends and coworkers in the Create a Champion mode, and you’re set for laughs and gloating along the way. In this respect, the story the player will take away from the game is the assumed story of the personality behind it. And while this may appear as a somewhat lazy convention, for Fight Night Round 2, it works.

Rating: 5/10


Graphics

Do you recall the axiom that goes something like “Give a hundred monkeys typewriters and they’ll write War and Peace?” Well, I think that EA has taken the notion to heart, and put every single college-educated artist they had into creating the character models and locales you’d love to see when and while you’re boxing. Everything from indoor casino-type areas and arenas to circuses and back-alley areas are home to the action, and EA put forth a considerable effort here- especially on the relatively graphically challenged Playstation 2.

If the God-awful soundtrack doesn’t strike your attention, the opening sequence will of a couple of boxers going at it in a movie that must have been captured from the game’s engine, which showcases the kind of action you’re in for. The character animations are very detailed and rather high-caliber, and move very smooth as you nail punch after punch. When your opponent’s health meter goes nil, the game changes perspective to showcase the disorientation you or your opponent goes through before landing the final reverberating punch. In between rounds, you’re presented with a rather gruesome portrait of your boxer, with swelled lips and bleeding eyelids recreated in every facet- a new feature that EA so gimmicky calls “EA SPORTS Cutman.”

The venues, while more than functional for the game’s purposes, are somewhat transparent when looking at the detail given to the character models and that of the immediate ring. Outside onlookers are repetitive in their motion, which unfortunately leaves a potential source of atmosphere untapped. EA would be wise to look at the more organic onlookers found in the later games of the Tekken series for inspiration. However, most players won’t find themselves wondering into the background, which was what EA was bankrolling for anyways.

Rating: 7/10


Sound

I guess the adage holds true for sound- but only in so far as mixing and sound effects are concerned.

Fight Night Round 2‘s sound mixing is done extremely well. Every knock to the body, the training dummy, or a head hitting the mat is done as realistically as a player could hope for. It’s apparent that while EA slacked off on the finer details of level creation, they decided to make up the deficiency in atmosphere in the audio area. Ambient cheers and boos, as well as pre-recorded chants of boxer names, emanate at the correct time. While the announcer’s commentating grew repetitive, and appeared to slip behind the events of certain bouts, the voice acting delivered a very authentic tone to it, which almost makes it forgivable. Every aspect of the fight, from beginning to end, will sound like it’s supposed to.

But whatever evil-minded consortium of politically motivated souls is behind the EA Trax line needs to be snuffed out in the most effective way. For the love of all that is good and holy, PLEASE FIND OTHER WORK. I realize I might be in the minority, but there are only two instances where Dirty South rap is welcome: in a club with accompanied by mindless dancing, or to be laughed at and made fun of at the expense of better rap (read: at this point, anything else). Why subject us to the title track by Fabolous or the Geto Boys? Why insist on playing them EVERYWHERE outside the gameplay? It normally might not be that much of a problem, but this crap is omnipresent throughout the in-game shell. It’s here when you turn on the game. It’s there when you’re spending valuable time going in and out of menus, loading and saving game progress, and deciding on which tattoo to put on your chest. To label the soundtrack “asinine” is too weak a word. Maybe if this were a 40oz drinking sim, or a game called MTV’s Mediocrity Jam 2005 featuring DJ Scribble, perhaps. But not here. EA, you done wrong.

Rating: 5/10


Control and Gameplay

And now for the meat.

Gameplay-wise, Fight Night Round 2 gives you roughly three memorable game modes in which to pick a fight. The first and foremost is Career Mode, in which you take the helm of a given notable boxer and ascend the roster to make it to the top. “Legend Building,” I think they call it. Along the way, you make choices on how to spend money, buying everything from pyrotechnics to ring-side girls who – I kid you not – will increase your stamina depending on the price of admission. You can also opt for specialists in your training, from those who might emphasize speed over endurance, and Dr. Nick-caliber physicians who might specialize in taking down the swelling, as opposed to stopping the bleeding. These can make the difference in between bouts, as a good trainer can make or break you, as well as the physician on the game’s new “EA SPORTS Cutman” deal, which allows the player the option of tending to his own facial wounds if he so chooses. The Cutman option, while attempting to put more of the boxing experience in the player’s hands, really doesn’t afford the player any sense of real satisfaction with regards to the health of the boxer. A good idea, but in need of some refinement.

As mentioned before, you begin your career as at number 50 in the amateur circuit, and are able to pump up your purse and stats, via the training dummy or weight-lifting exercises, before you enter the professional circuit. It’ll start you off slow and somewhat easy, but will begin to challenge you as you go on. For the uninitiated, I recommend setting the difficulty to easy- it’ll save you a lot of heartbreak in the long run.

The game also features “Hard Hits;” an exercise in endurance and mild frustration that takes you across 15 rounds of boxing- the type made for HBO or Showtime profiteering. In my experience, with my freshly-created boxer that resembled a co-worker, I was barely able to last the short of a single round; so a difficulty change might be in order. And for a quick match, a “Play Now” option is offered.

The game is also online-capable. Unfortunately, I was unable to make

Fight Night Round 2 also marks the return of the Total Boxing Control. Now, those that played the first Fight Night will be able to pick up the controller and waste no time at all in getting into the fight. However, for the uninitiated like myself, you’ll either spend an eternity trying to crack the code, or get a friend to help you with it. In the most literal sense, I could not make sense of the TBC until my good friend and morally-conscious-yet-EA-weary-anyway friend, Evan, pointed out the nuances and treasures it afforded. After the outside tutorial (the in-game one may suffice- it didn’t for me), I was able to finally make some progress and actually knock-out an opponent. While you can go to the 5th or 6th default configurations which lack the TBC, you’re missing out on the new EA SPORTS Haymaker punch; a punch if, landed correctly, can take your opponent down in one shot. The punishment for a missed punch is decreased stamina, but a patient and light-footed player can make due without it.

The “Create A Champ” Boxer mode is comprehensive enough, but somewhat slow and complicated. It could be because of the speed of the PS2, but creating the right facsimile of my co-worker’s face and frame turned into a half-hour endeavor. And for a game that emphasizes brute strength, you’ll need the grace of an Eastern calligrapher to hit all the heads on the nail when trying to create the perfect boxer. You’ll also have to take him through the motions in career to make him usable in other areas of the game, but that’s to be expected.

All things considered, however, Fight Night Round 2 offers a solid gameplay package.

Rating: 7/10


Replay Value

Between the different boxers you can take through the expansive Career Mode, the “Create a Champ” Boxer, players will probably have reason enough to keep coming back to Fight Night Round 2. There are a considerable number of unlockables to acquire throughout the game modes, including extra boxing clothes, tattoos, ringside girls, etc, which will keep boxing fans coming back for more. The one-on-one aspect of the game, like EA’s other works, essentially writes itself, as the balance between 2 players is done well enough. Nothing explicitly remarkable, but solid enough in it’s stylistic complacency.

Rating: 6/10


Balance

As alluded to in the Gameplay and Control section, the TBC can be a daunting factor for new players coming to the genre. The learning curve isn’t liberal at all, as I had to receive my education from a second-hand source before it made any sense. To put it in a slightly narcissistic perspective, this is coming from a guy who talks about authoritarian state-run economies of African nations for fun! But seriousness aside, this isn’t the most pick-up-and-play system of gameplay.

The difficulty may be an issue as well. Considering the target audience for this game, I found it ironic how difficult my opponent proved to be on medium. So a set-back to easy mode made it all well and good.

Rating: 4/10


Originality

Overall, this is a boxing game. No deep metaphors and the like here. But what Fight Night Round 2 lacks in wholesale originality, it makes up a couple of piecemeal offerings.

The Total Boxing Control is rather innovative once you get used to it. Rather than press a button for a quick response, TBC forces you to pre-meditate which punch you might use during a fleeting split-second of time, like choosing whether to go with the uppercut versus the hook against a quick-but-careless opponent. That fraction could make or break the moment, and in that sense, the TBC stands as original on it’s own two feet.

However, I have no personal frame of reference to the original Fight Night, so I cannot comment on any changes -positive or negative- that may be. You may feel inclined to add or subtract a point for the introduction of the Haymaker punch, but that could be seen as merely a natural extension of the TBC. I’m keeping it neutral on this point.

The Cutman system, though, is something that hasn’t been attempted in boxing games before. And with enough refinement, EA could really develop it into something with a better utility than it appeared to have for me. While the motions are there, the satisfaction is lacking.

Rating: 5.5/10


Addictiveness

Again, this harkens back to the TBC as the main addictive factor. Once you grasp the concept, you’ll find yourself wanting to try it over and over again. There’s something to be said about full analog control for punching, and it’ll work to keep the player coming back to it. Between two-player matches, I can see it coming closer to a real match of reflexes than you might find from, say, an orthodox fighting game.

The other modes do nothing, however, to keep the player coming back. You might have some novelty time to be spent in Create A Champ, but that novelty fades away rather quickly- probably after you’ve realized that you could have caught a rerun of The Simpsons in the time it took you to make your neighbor. You know, the one playing the Jae-P and Pitbull tracks.

Rating: 5/10


Appeal Factor

This isn’t very hard to deduce. It’s EA, so the sheppard-less heard will flock to pick it up like Pavlov’s dogs. It’s a boxing game, which means it’ll appeal to those who enjoy the barbaric display of a ‘sport’ that driven men into horrible straits, like selling signature grills or otherwise. Put the two together, and it’s Pay Day for EA. (Hell- with a quick lyrical wit like that, I could be on EA Trax!)

For the rest of us, this might come across as a double negative. Any gamer who fancies himself as non-casual in any respect will no doubt find another game to occupy his or her time.

Rating: 4.5/10


Miscellaneous

If you’re ready to pick up Fight Night Round 2, may I take this time to dissuade you from grabbing the PS2 version if you don’t have to. The technical limitations of the platform in the memory managing department is almost unbearable, as with the X-Box, I’d assume (and have been told) that saving and load times are severely shortened if not altogether removed. Throughout the entirety of the game, you spend a lot- and I mean a lot of time navigating through menus and changing variables- all of which succumb to the necessary evil known as Auto-Save. So, if you have an X-Box, you can minimize the wait simply by opting for it on that platform. Heck- you’ll get cleaner graphics and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound along the way.

But probably one of the better reasons to veer away from the PS2, and head for the Gamecube, is the inclusion of Super Punch Out!!! as an extra. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and visit EA’s press release, and let it tempt you that way. Super Punch Out!!! is a lot of fun for those that haven’t tried it, and it wouldn’t surprise me if you ended up spending more time on that than Fight Night Round 2 itself.

But either way, it’s your choice. But if you can, avoid the PS2 version like week-old cheese.

Rating: 6/10


Final Ratings:

Story/Modes: 5
Graphics: 7
Sound: 5
Control and Gameplay: 7
Replay Value: 6
Balance: 4
Originality: 5.5
Addictiveness: 5
Appeal Factor: 4.5
Miscellaneous: 6

Overall Score: 55/100
FINAL SCORE: 5.5 (AVERAGE)

Short Attention Span Summary
Despite it’s flaws, arguably limited appeal, the blood, sweat and tears put into making Fight Night Round 2 were not spent in vein. Boxing fans will no doubt find a lot of good from the title, and will appreciate the finer points. However, the rest of the gaming community won’t find much to write home about. Oh- and it justifies saying it again: EA Trax needs to die a slow and painful death.