Balls and brawls

The first rule of Fight Night, EA’s Boxing Game? You can’t talk about Fight Night. This is a game that must be played. The brutal, expertly rendered action, the measured pace and overall feel are so authentic that you can taste the leather.

This is partly the beauty of the game’s interface, which uses the right joystick to throw punches in motions that mimic the jab, hook and uppercut. Stick thrusts create a visceral experience that approximates reality more closely than pushing buttons.

Fight Night, Round 2 improves upon last year’s game with the addition of corner men (who tend to your cuts and swells), clinching (which allows you to recover when you’ve been rocked) and fantastic graphics (with spitting images of more than 30 historic boxers) that allow you to rearrange your boxer’s face with better precision than Nip/Tuck doctors.

Too, the fight’s pacing is killer. Because you lose power with each punch (though counterpunching provides for harder blows), you’re encouraged to pick your spots and time your blows. This forces you to play defensively. And while working your way up the pro rankings, you’re required to box rather than stand in one place flailing at the controller buttons. Purses allow you to pay for better trainers and buy accessories that actually help your fighter. (Flashier trunks, for example, improve your fighter’s confidence or the crowd’s support.)

More spectacle than TV, Fight Night Round 2 highlights strategy without sacrificing the thrill of pummeling another human until he falls into an unconscious heap.

Like boxing, baseball is driven by a crucial mano-a-mano element. Both EA’s MVP Baseball 2005 and ESPNGame’s Baseball 2K5 take different tacks to replicate the batter-pitcher battle. MVP features the harder pitching of the two; the pitch location cursor disappears after just a few seconds, meaning you can’t easily line up the pitch on the outside corner at the knees. Additionally, when you throw, pitch speed and accuracy are dictated by your ability to master a slider that mimics the Madden Football kick and Tiger Woods Golf swing meters. This makes it a lot more difficult to avoid a batter’s hot zones (represented pre-pitch with red blocks in the strike zone) and contrasts with 2K5’s comparably pinpoint control.

Batting too has cardinal differences; 2K5 offers both a contact and a power swing, plus the possibility of guessing a pitch’s location, which can improve hitting probabilities or even trigger “Slam Zone” (where the pitch slows down and you can power-up your swing with rapid tapping on the keys). MVP on the other hand concentrates more on pitch timing than location, and has the cool “hitter’s eye” feature that allows you to briefly discern the difference between a breaking pitch and a fastball-changeup (there’s a brief color change in the ball when it leaves the pitcher’s hand).

Both games offer dynasty and owner modes, though the MVP version is better realized. The 2K5 offers player confidence levels, which ebb and flow over the course of the season, dictating whether the player has a breakout season or sinks into a slump.

Presentation-wise, 2K5 is better, with more realistically rendered players (though the animations aren’t as good), plenty of ESPN-style graphic overlays to create the feel of a televised game, and terrific play-by-play from Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. It’s also the only one of the two that allows for online leagues.

Each game offers advantages — MVP’s better for stat-heads who want to re-create entire seasons and forge dynasties, and 2K5 rocks as a head-to-head title — though these differences might be lost next year. In answer to EA’s signing an exclusive license with the NFL (meaning only they can use real player names and team uniforms, essentially eliminating the competition), ESPNGame’s parent company Take Two purchased the exclusive MLB license. All one can hope is that, absent a competitor next year, they can produce a title as close to perfect as EA’s Fight Night Round 2.

Chris Parker is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]
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