There's something fun about watching two guys beat the tar out of each other. Perhaps it's the lack of fights I saw growing up in the suburbs, but fighting gets my blood boiling. Of course, I'm too much of a chicken to fight myself; I'll leave that for the pros and those with more brawn than brain. Instead, I'll just get jollies in the virtual ring. Knockout Kings 2002 marks a turning point for the Knockout Kings franchise. Clearly the power of the Xbox means beautiful graphics, but EA also snuck in some major modifications to the series. While this version lacks the features of previous versions of the game, gamers can expect to find a completely new control scheme and faster gameplay.
Presentation/Graphics : 80
Make no doubt about it. The boxers in KO Kings are spectacular. More than any other sports game on the market, this game models the major players in near exact detail. The chiseled bodies are modeled perfectly, and the boxers' sweat-covered bodies shine under the lights. The animations of the boxers are likewise excellent. While each boxer shares the same animation sequence for the variety of punches, the punch animations are realistic. The boxers can bob and weave, duck and lunge. Further, sweat and blood fly off bodies Raging Bull style. The only disappointment in the animation department is the knockdown animation. Each knockdown looks the same and takes some of the drama out of the game.
Unfortunately, the new game engine causes the camera to affect the play. While there are about a half dozen camera angles available in the game, none follows the action as well as previous versions of the game. A unique first person perspective puts you right in the action, but there's no sense of position with the view. The default camera suffers in that your boxer often falls behind the other fighter. Previous versions of the game routinely kept the fighters on the left and right of the screen. The 2002 version doesn't pivot to keep the same perspective. When hidden, it's often difficult to assess how to counter punches from your opponent.
Presentation/Audio : 70
If you toss out the repetitive commentary track, the sounds of the fight are really pretty good. As the gloves make contact you get that characteristic glove impact sound, and if the punches are sufficiently strong the boxers grunt subtly. Where the game goes a bit over the top is during knockdowns. A knockdown is accompanied by an exaggerated smack.
Interface/Options : 60
Knockout Kings 2002 is the return of the downgraded options. Compared to the PSX, N64, and even PS2 versions of the game in the past, the 2002 version is a stripped down rendition. The only available modes are exhibition and career. The career mode is further limited in that the training mode doesn't make a return. The career mode has you face boxers who are arranged graphically in a pyramid. As you win a fight, you earn skill points which can improve speed, strength, and more. Gone are the gym skill tests of last year's version.
Also gone are a substantial number of fighters and the women boxers are nowhere to be found this time around. The new control scheme affects the available moves in the game adversely. If it weren't for another gamer, I would never know that body shots were possible in the game. The manual makes no mention of being able to throw body punches, but it is possible. Unfortunately they aren't executed easily. Additional moves from the past, such as clinching, rabbit punches, and pushes are gone. These are essential boxing moves.
There are still quite a few basic options to adjust the play of the game. You can change camera views as well as adjust the sound. The difficulty comes in four levels, and you can adjust some of the rules (round length, knockdown rules, etc). By default, the health and stamina meters are hidden during the fight. In this mode, you can tell when your boxer is losing health when the controller starts to vibrate. The severity of the vibration is proportional to how close your boxer is to losing all health.
Gameplay : 40
If there's one option that is sorely needed in the game, it's game speed. This game plays fast. Too fast. The pace is unrealistically quick. I actually prefer the sluggish gameplay of last year's game. The fast pace and awkward camera angles prevent you from effectively counter-punching. The game plays much more like Ready 2 Rumble than a simulation of boxing. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's not what I expected from the game. Matches quickly degenerate into slugfests.
The control scheme is brand new and takes some time to master. Rather than moving around the ring in a natural way, the controller scheme uses a local coordinate system to adjust your boxer's position. Pushing up moves your boxer towards your opponent while pushing back moves him away. Pushing the controller to the left moves your boxer clockwise around your opponent. Those basic controls are simple enough, but once you add ducks, leans, bobs, and lunges, the complexity jumps. Moving about the ring is as simple as pushing the controller in the desired direction. Ducks, leans, and bobs are a “slight” move of the analog stick, which is difficult to do under intense action. Lunges are performed by double hitting the stick. As mentioned earlier, there is a way to execute a body punch. This undocumented feature requires a subtle push up of the stick followed by a punch button. Unfortunately this works only about 20 percent of the time and leaves you out of position. This essentially removes body punches from the game, which is a vital aspect of boxing.
During the actual boxing, fatigue is modeled well. Jabs don't hurt an opponent, but crosses, uppercuts, and the like inflict more damage. Further, if you punch too often, the power of your punches diminishes. Where the fatigue model breaks down is after knockdowns. You get knocked down when your health drops to zero (I haven't experienced any flash knockdowns like in last year's game). When on the canvas your health increases a few notches. But once your boxer gets on his feet, his health jumps substantially while your opponent's health is unchanged. If both boxers are low on health, this instantly gives the advantage to the boxer that just received the count. Clearly this is another example of inappropriate boxing modeling.
Replay Value : 40
As a one player game, there's not much replay value with Knockout Kings 2002. The abbreviated career mode doesn't have the draw without the training exercises. The game doesn't simulate the sport of boxing with its frenetic pace, lack of clinching, few illegal punches, and more. Sure the control scheme is new and innovative, but it fails due to the other problems in the game. Fortunately I have a PS2 to play last year's game on, which I feel is a much better game overall. As a two-player game, the replay value improves quite a bit (raise the replay score to a 70 or 80), but it still plays more like Ready 2 Rumble than a true sim.
Overall : 53
EA has taken a hit the last few years for never updating their game engines. They clearly bucked the trend with Knockout Kings 2002. Unfortunately the revamped engine just won't hold the interest of boxing fans. The game becomes nothing more than a button masher.