Fight Night 2004 Review
By James Smith -- Reviews Editor
EA’s boxing franchise has gone through a wide variety of changes over the year. While always holding licenses to recreate the sport in terms of realistic pugilists, debates have always waged over just how realistic the actual fighting was portrayed. While the debate over the mechanics will always rage on, there’s no denying that EA continues to make a boxing game with plenty of famous names both past and present. With updated graphics and a new control scheme, Fight Night 2004 may be the best yet in the series.
Presentation/Graphics : 85
The series has always had pretty good graphics, and Fight Night 2004 is no exception. For real boxers, likenesses are digitally recreated in exact detail down to chiseled bodies and body hair. Tattooed boxers have clear body art, and facial features are detailed enough to instantly recognize boxers. The game features an extensive mode to create your own boxer. You can adjust skin and hair tones, head and facial hair, build, and more. Even the geometry of the face can be manipulated to digitally create a likeness of yourself.
As the fight progresses, facial damage is shown with cuts. Once a cut opens the blood spills with each punch that snaps the head back. Bruising and swelling can also be seen in the game. The damage is created by fluidly thrown punches. The punch animations are effective and realistically paced. Fighting defensively, things like weaving and counterpunching are done remarkably well. Outside the ring the detail is likewise good. The only thing missing from the graphical package is an in-ring referee.
Presentation/Audio : 60
Sadly, the menu music is one of the audio highlight in Fight Night. The audio overall is forgettable. While punches have a nice sound to them, audio commentary is minimal and repetitive. The poor commentary does not put you in the game. I guess that is to be expected when commentary is provided by a rapper instead of a real boxing commentator. The one bright spot is the noise of the crowd. I was surprised in one bout when I was evading my opponent. After a minute or so of running away from my opponent the crowd began to boo and tried to encourage some action. With the first few punches the crowd quickly livened up.
Interface/Options : 85
The main mode in the game is the career mode, where you start from the bottom and move your way through the ranks. This mode contains a variety of training modes to enhance your fighter as well as ways to spend your winnings. The only other mode is a single fight mode. Nowhere to be found is a tournament mode. Not a huge oversight, but random tournaments using real boxers can be entertaining. The game does offer a few options to modify the settings, such as knockdown rules. However, the customization is minimal owing to the simplicity of the actual sport. Perhaps the biggest enhancement is in the controller scheme. While button control is still available, EA has implemented punch control with the right thumbstick. Jabs and straights are thrown with a quick diagonal up and left or right. Hooks require you to move the stick left or right first before pushing up. Uppercuts are initiated by pulling the stick diagonally down left or right and then circling up to the top. It takes a little practice but ultimately it is rewarding.
Gameplay : 60
Fight Night plays better than previous EA boxing games. In the past you could stand toe-to-toe against the AI fighters and just unleash special punch combinations. This strategy effectively beat your opponent into submission but also took away some of the joy from the game. The AI in Fight Night is much improved. It usually takes a round or two to determine what kind of opponent you’re fighting. Opponents vary from those that are offensive minded, primarily use uppercuts, are effective counterpunchers, or evade well. Each fight requires you to adapt your own strategy.
Two areas which I have problems with are clinches and knockdowns. Sadly, clinches are nowhere to be found. Clinching is an integral part of boxing and for EA to not implement it is criminal. The default control for knockdowns is to move the left and right sticks to center the referee. I never got the hang of it and no explanation was provided in the manual. I ultimately went to automatic control of knockdowns, which makes getting up completely dependent on the CPU. I’d much rather have the button mashing of old to keep me in the game. Another oversight that would have been appreciated is the technical knockout. You can pummel your opponent until his face is a bloody pulp but the match won’t be stopped until the final bell, the fighter is knocked out, or the 3-knockdown rule is in effect for a round.
The career mode is similar to past versions of the game. Starting from the bottom, you schedule fights to raise your ranking and train to improve your stats. Once you get the hang of it, the training is too easy and it allows you to quickly pad your boxing stats. The number of training sessions is not as diverse as in the past. In Fight Night 2004 you are limited to one a couple of sessions such as sparring, heavy bag, target mitts, and combos. Despite winning money from each fight, you can not hire better ring men.
Replay Value : 75
With only 2 modes of play, the gameplay can be limited as the career mode does not have the depth of other EA sports titles. The career mode can be extended if you create boxers in a variety of weight classes, but even then you won’t find the depth you find in even some arcade fighters (granted this a boxing simulation and not an arcade fighter).
Overall : 80
Fight Night 2004 is EA’s best boxing attempt to date. The AI, play mechanics, and controls are vastly improved over previous Knockout Kings editions. The graphics are incredibly detailed while the audio package fails to live up to the same high standards. While the game still lacks a few essential features to make it the complete boxing simulation we want, it is still a worthy contender.