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More than that, it’s brilliant to watch. You just have to love the brutal close-up details that show a killer punch in detail; the blow connecting with the nose or chin, the flesh and muscle distorting, sweat and spit arcing off out of the mouth. If it’s you on the floor, you even get a highly aggravating view of your opponent walking away backwards, his every gesture a taunt. It’s testosterone fuelled, heavily macho gaming, but it’s hard to resist if you’re male. In cinematic terms, it’s less Rocky, more Raging Bull.
And all this sits on top of a very solid set of game mechanics. One thing was clear even when I played the PS2 version: EA has now got the Fight Night gameplay absolutely down. OK, so the system, which relies on movements of the analogue stick, is difficult to get used to. In your first few fights you might well be wishing for simple button combos, and might even make the mistake of switching back to an alternative control method. But you get used to how rapid shifts to the top left or top right dish out fast punches, and how sweeping circular movements dish out uppercuts and haymakers. You learn that using the lean button and the left stick together can help you get away from a lot of punches, and help you step in to hit back hard. Gradually, the action becomes intuitive and natural, and the strategy side of the game opens up; you learn to watch your opponent, and switch from defence to offence in a heartbeat. My only concern is that I’m not 100 per cent sure that all that sudden movement is good for the analogue sticks – in this game it’s not just the boxers getting a beating.
There’s a fine career mode, where you pick fights for rewards, build a reputation from each bout. You can even do training mini-games to optimise the results, though you don’t have to. With your winnings, you can buy the usual cosmetic changes, but also get upgrades that add new signature moves or boost your offensive or defensive capabilities. There’s a nice sense of progression too. Early fights are easy enough that, with a basic grasp of controls, you’re bound to get some confidence building knock-outs. After that, the difficulty steadily ramps up, throwing in new challenges and demanding more of your dodging and blocking capabilities. As fights get longer, they take on a new tactical dimension: do you go all out early, or hold back some energy in case the fight lasts beyond the fifth round?
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