When we're kids, we're told that fighting is bad. Well, some of us are told that, usually the ones who have the crap pummeled out of us.
Then we get told that fighting is good provided it's for sport, like wrestling or boxing. We see that while there's a good reason for punching someone outside the ring, it's actually sporting if you can do it under the gaze of an audience, warmth of the lights, with the possibility of fat paycheck at the end of it.
It's this sort of understanding that we see the new 2K Sports title Don King Presents Prizefighter gets released into. 2K Sports have had a long and excellent career so far in pulling some of the better sports games seen every year out of their development and publishing houses and now they're throwing a punch our way with the release of this boxing title.
But there's already a reigning champion in this corner. Electronic Arts' Fight Night 3 already wears the belt and has the glory of being one of the better boxing games out there despite being released over two years ago.
What has the relationship with Don King allowed 2K Sports and Venom Games to bring to the table?
Well for starters there's a proper story mode. It's not just your basic career mode like from regular sports games but rather an involved career mode based around your character even sporting full-motion videos of Don King and boxers and fake ex-girlfriends all boosting how good of a player you were.
Immediately, you'll find yourself thrust into the international arena of boxing working your way to the top.
Okay, so it's a career mode with full-motion videos. If you're into that sort of thing, it's actually a nice change that makes a sporting career mode seem more interesting than what they usually are.
What else does it bring? How about the ability to customise your character to a level that I felt made Mass Effect weep. Seriously, I thought I had found the Holy Grail of character customisation in Bioware's Mass Effect, but here it seems that Venom & 2K have found a way to beat it. I literally spent around twenty minutes making my character look the way I wanted to. You've got so many options to choose from. In a way, it's like one of those fashion games (which my manly man-ness is wanting me to tell you I never played even though I've tried them once or twice) where you can make a virtual character look so distinct that you believe they're actually real.
Except you can't make them female. I would have hoped that we'd be over this whole sexist thing. Maybe it's an industry thing and all games will have to shift this way - basketball, football, car racing, and boxing - but I know I was kind of annoyed I couldn't change gender and Ally, the host of our TV show, even seemed a little disappointed.
Yet with all these interesting features, Prizefighter has the disadvantage of setting back control-design a few years too far. I thought we were over these poor control schemes that make gaming impossible, but lately the release of a few games has me scratching my head as to what the developers are thinking - if they are at all - for how the game could be better played by the end-user.
Prizefighter suffers in this way because it's one of those games where every button is used. While an "every button" situation has it's advantaged (Metal Gear Solid 4 for instance), using every button at the same time is best left to an idea that should have been thrown out when the developers were brain storming over pizza and beer.
Seriously, it just doesn't work. While tapping the left stick to jump around the ring, you'll be punching the buttons to throw different punches, holding triggers down to make the punches actually count and connect, as well as using your right stick in up and down motions to make sure you're blocking the right parts of your body.
Honestly, it just doesn't work. It's one thing to dance around the ring while throwing punches but another thing entirely to have to guess where you put your arms for the next block.
Then there's how it looks. You would automatically think with how much attention is paid to customising your character that the in-game graphics would look superb.
You'd be wrong.
In actuality, while the graphical representation of all that tweaking looks decent on the head and body, your fighter - and that of your opponent - look little more than Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots with the way Venom have attached limbs. I cannot stress how disjointed the look of Prizefighter is. In a way, parts of the engine feel as if the characters have been ripped cleanly from Rockstar's "Bully" conversion on the Xbox 360. Yes, people look like people, but not to the extent that a two-year old game like "Fight Night: Round 3" pushed out.
Hearing the game isn't nearly as bad as watching it. On the one hand, it is a little plain in realising that at almost every section you're just going to be hearing the same voice-overs repeat themselves yet on the other, the punches and muffled noises from the crowd aren't so bad. The music is repetitive as all hell and if you hang around the theme music hip-hop too long, you might have an urge to punch someone for real, likewise hearing the boxer nicknames being droned out in the same unenthusiastic fashion from the same lifeless crowd.
Then there are also the training sessions which amount to little more than poorly implemented mini-games. You'll either be playing Olympic-esque button-mashing sprints or playing an odd Guitar Hero rhythm game incarnation which requires you to hit buttons in layouts which have no bearing to those activities what so ever, neither of which become fun anytime.
In the end, what I got out of Prizefighter wasn't what I had expected. I had hoped for a knockout of a game that could best the EA series and then start some great competition between the franchises much like how 2K Sports have done with NHL and NBA. What I got was a game that made me not want to play it, and in video gaming, that's never a good thing.
Reviewed by Leigh D. Stark