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Knockout Kings 2001 (PS2) Review

Publisher: EA Sports

Background Info

Unfortunately the world of boxing is nothing like what it used to be. I remember back in my youth how fighters like Duran, Hagler, Leonard, and more at least gave the sport of boxing the respect it deserves. With the emergence of pay-per-view, the world of boxing has been upended into a sport where every decision faces scrutiny and accusations of throwing a fight are prevalent. The only place left to find a pure version of the sport is in the amateur ranks (save the Olympics and their potentially paid-off judges) and video games.

On the PlayStation 2, Midway entered the ring first with the sequel of their highly successful Ready 2 Rumble series. Ready 2 Rumble 2 was an over-the-top boxing title that never pretended to be a simulation. It was a complete arcade fighter. Now comes EA Sports Knockout Kings 2001, developed by Black Ops. Boasting realism instead of crude arcade action, this game offers traditional fighting in a nice package. With early EA games for the PS2 riding the wave between good and bad, Knockout Kings 2001 fortunately sits on the high side.

Presentation/Graphics : 85
The only other boxing title on the PlayStation 2 is Ready 2 Rumble 2. Comparing the two side-by-side, I prefer the graphics of the Midway title. Midway's presentation is simply more soothing. However, Knockout Kings 2001 holds its own in many respects. I remember when I first saw early screenshots of the game. My excitement could not be contained as I viewed incredibly detailed images of Ali or Lennox Lewis. Then the game came out. The graphics definitely took a step back from the early shots, but still they look nice. For the most part boxers are easily recognizable. Faces are packed with polygons, and the faces end up being more believable than EA's NBA Live. David Tua even has his whacked out mop on top of this head.

Looking below the neck, bodies have a significant amount of detail. Textures enhance the fighters' looks by shoving a mound of body hair to muscle ripped chests. Biceps are muscular, and joints and folds in the body are nicely done. Trunks, gloves, and shoes are equally impressive. Satin textured shorts feature patterns, and some boxers have their names sewn on the trunks. For the women in the game, it appears less work went into the softer side of the sport. The muscles are toned down, and unlike games like DOA2, these broads don't shake (if you know what I mean).

The arenas are a mixed bag. The crowd in the PlayStation version of the game was composed of blocky textures. The extra processing power of the PS2 gives us more detailed textures, but still the crowd is kind of odd looking. Fans in the stands are two-dimensional animated sprites. Fortunately, I focused my attention away from the fans once the action started. In the ring the ropes deflect when leaned against, and the canvas has all the advertising logos you've come to expect.

The pre- and post-fight animations are nothing short of spectacular. The movements are incredibly lifelike due to excessive motion capturing. Boxers will do that shoulder shrug and pop their heads left and right. After fights the loser might throw a temper tantrum. Between rounds you're treated to a bird's eye view of each corner. In addition, you can also expect the skanky ring girls which don't look much better than the ones in the PSX version of the game. However, the scantily clad young women and cut scenes come at a price; the game takes forever to load between rounds. Fortunately you can turn the cut scenes off.

For the most part the boxing animations are good. Body blows are reacted to unnaturally, but head shots cause the opponent's noggin to snap back. An uppercut jerks the head back, and crosses cause the melon to quickly turn. In addition, each strong hit to the head is accompanied by beads of sweat which fly off the face. If you inflict enough damage to the face, a cut opens up. If you continue to abuse your opponent's face, you can recreate scenes from [I]Raging Bull[/I]. In one match against Sonny Liston, I bloodied both of his eyes, as strong uppercuts, jabs, and crosses sent his mouthpiece to the floor and loads of blood flying. It was awesome! You can view the action with one of several camera views.

As in the PSX version, there are times where you'll swear the punches connect yet your opponent takes on no damage. Often this is due to your opponent moving at the instant of the punch making contact, so the collision detection just doesn't register. I can't really fault the developers too much. No game can process a complicated contact model to account for every contact point.

Presentation/Audio : 90
Al Bernstein, Teddy Atlas, and Max Kellerman return as the commentators for the game. Prior to the bout, the fighters are introduced by Jimmy Lennon Jr. and the booth makes a few comments. During the match, play-by-play makes obvious calls regarding the action. At times, however, they'll break up the monotony with some color commentary. There are even bits of trivia introduced. In the round referees Mills Lane and Richard Steele keep the action honest. Hit too many times below the belt and either one will either warn you verbally or make a call to the judges to deduct a point. If you play with the corner cut scenes activated, your cornermen provide positive reinforcement and strategy. In the ring, punches land with realistic sound thuds. Body shots generate a grunt from the victim. With more action, the crowd gets into it and cheers lavishly. If you lay off the punches for even a short time, though, the crowds turns against the boxers and starts to boo.

Interface/Options : 80
I can't believe it. Aside from Madden, every other EA released game has shortchanged PS2 owners. Plenty of options have been removed from the PSX versions of the games on their way to the PS2. There's F1 without a scenario mode or Tiger Woods with only three courses. Fans of Knockout Kings will be happy to know the game is pretty much intact from the PSX version. Unfortunately there never were many game modes in Knockout Kings. Returning are the Slugfest (fast-paced arcade style boxing), Exhibition, Fantasy Match-Ups (fights between the generations), and Career modes.

The extensive manual provides insight to the control scheme. While the control is not as deep as Acclaim's HBO Boxing title on the PSX, it works well. Every button on the PS2 controller is utilized. My only complaint with the button scheme is that at times it seems like some moves are not well recognized by the game. Particularly troublesome for me was the clinch move (L1+R1 buttons), which I could activate less than half the time I wanted it. Also, folks that just can't deal with the default button layout will be disappointed by the inability to re-map the layout.

Off the main menu, a submenu for options awaits. Here you'll be able to adjust the difficulty (three levels), the number of rounds for all bouts outside the career mode, the length of rounds (realistic three minute rounds or double time), and knockdown rules. During a fight, hitting the start button brings up the pause menu where you can adjust the camera, view replays, check the stats, or give up. The stats display is extensive and gives you a breakdown of what you've landed and how many. Unfortunately you lose the nice synopsis at the end of the fight. Once a decision has been made, the only stats available are the total number of body and head punches thrown and landed. To make matters worse, the resolution of the numbers takes a nosedive and the final tallies are difficult to read.

Gameplay : 87
In the ring, the game basically plays the same in all of the modes. In all but the Slugfest mode, there are two parameters which affect your performance in the ring (aside from boxer attributes). A health meter displays your current status. As you absorb punches the meter diminishes. Likewise, a stamina meter controls the power and speed of your punches. If you go on a flurry your punch strength quickly reduces. Over time it replenishes, but in the meantime you have to play a defensive game. Knockout Kings 2001 does let you throw off four-punch combinations by pressing the R1 button and either the square, O, X, or triangle button four times. In the 2000 version of the game, you could abuse this system to wipe your opponent out quickly. Thankfully, just as in the 2001 PSX version, this technique quickly depletes your stamina. The end result is a more fulfilling match. In the Slugfest mode, the punch meter is replaced with a power punch meter. As you land clean hits, the meter fills. Once full, you can throw a power punch which inflicts much more damage.

In the Exhibition and Slugfest modes, you select any of the available boxers from the three weight classes and duke it out. The fighting can be either with the men or the women in the game, including studette Christy Martin. In the Fantasy Match-Ups mode, you can live out "what if" situations. For example, you can put Ali up against Marciano.

Users will most likely spend most of their time in Career mode, which offers the most gameplay. In Career mode, you create a boxer that starts out at the bottom of the chart. On the negative side, you can only fight in one of three weight classes. Lucky for me my size and weight let me sneak into the middleweight category (too light for heavyweights and certainly not a lightweight). Prior to a fight, you can train your boxer. By performing well in the training exercise, you earn points which can be spread across your boxer's attributes. You can affect the power, speed, stamina, heart, resistance to cuts, and the ability to take a punch. The training is mixed in an attempt to keep the game fresh. However, the training exercises, except for the sparring sessions, are easy to get through and require only that you repeat the button combination pasted to the screen. Once you've completed the training, you hit the ring. You can select higher ranked boxers, although you are limited to boxers near your ranking. Eventually you'll make it to the top and can take part in the championship.

In the ring the boxing is a function of your strategy. If you come out slugging, your AI opponents will counter and pummel you. Not only do flurries deplete your energy, but they also leave you open to counters. To be effective, you have to box realistically. Likewise, if you solely fight an inside game the CPU will quickly clobber you. If you fight from the outside, you can sneak punches in here and there. However, after a few outside jabs and hooks, the AI boxers get wise and quickly counter your moves. When the AI attacks, it does so by effectively mixing up the punches. He'll mix up single punches with two- to four-punch combinations. While head shots capture the lion's share of punches thrown, the AI opponent does throw body shots.

Unless your boxer has much higher rankings for the various categories, you'll have to box an honest fight. If you fight an equal opponent, you'll come to realize that knocking your opponent down is difficult. When you do knock an opponent down, they often get up without much problem. In fact, I've had some fights where the CPU opponent recovered no less than 6 times in a fight. In contrast, if you get knocked down you'll have to hit the X button repeatedly. The first few times it's no problem. Later, no amount of mashing will get your man off the canvas.

During the match you're always kept up to date on the scoring. I would have preferred to have an unknown score until the end like in real boxing. Even though the booth provides the scores, the game uses more than just that score for a decision. I actually won a split decision. The CPU definitely knows when it's behind late in a fight. Opponents will become more aggressive if the score is close or you are ahead. In fact, the CPU can almost be unstoppable at times. You can try to duck and run, but many times the CPU boxer will catch up to you in just a couple of seconds. Compared to the simple and effective evasion tactics in the only other boxing game on the PS2, this is welcomed.

As mentioned earlier, the control in some situations can be unresponsive. The response has improved since the PSX version, but things like clinches and the shove move (R1+R2 plus a push towards your opponent) don't work well. Also, it would have been nice if things like leans and weaves weren't like weebles. If you lean back your feet are glued to the floor. As soon as you hit the back of your lean, you wobble back into a punch. The lean is only effective at escaping one, maybe two, punches. Weebles wobble. Boxers don't.

While there are a few issues with the game, overall the gameplay is great. As you progress up the ranks, the boxing is extremely challenging. Each match presents an opponent that requires a different approach. Fighting as Steve Francis (yes, the Houston Rocket - one of many hidden characters you can access with codes), I used his big reach to abuse the shorter David Tua. But so far this same approach just isn't working on the boxers who are height-challenged. I have lost many a match, but don't care. Knockout Kings, despite not being a true simulation, requires more thought than nearly every other boxing title around. Even with its faster than real life speed, it's not completely blazing like Ready 2 Rumble 2.

Replay Value : 80
Knockout Kings 2001 is the best boxing game yet on the modern day consoles. HBO Boxing by Acclaim shows promise that will give this title a run for its money, but in the meantime Knockout Kings offers fairly realistic boxing. Making it to the top in the career mode is difficult and adds plenty of replay value. I could live without the arcadish Slugfest mode (that's what Ready 2 Rumble 2 is for), but the other modes are great. Even after you complete the career mode, you can go back and try the game over and over. By creating boxers in this mode, you have 3 weight classes and nearly infinite combinations of boxers. The clean graphics, animations, and sound form a complete presentation package that entices you to fight a few more rounds.

Overall : 87
Knockout Kings 2001 on the PS2 was one of my most anticipated titles. If EA simply took the PSX version and updated the graphics I'd be happy. For the most part, that's exactly what they did. The game is virtually a carbon copy of the PSX version. However, the AI and control was tweaked just a wee bit in the positive direction. Gameplay wise, there's not a big enough improvement to warrant an upgrade from the PSX version. But if you haven't picked up either version yet or simply want the game with prettier graphics, I honestly feel you'll find the game entertaining.

By: James Smith 4/10/01

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