Any name from the wide world of professional sports is usually a welcome addition to any videogame. Not only do monikers such as Tiger Woods and John Madden add a dose of reality, they just give that seal of approval from the people that know the game best. So of course 2K thought the same logic could be applied to making a boxing title with the endorsement of Don King, the renowned agent for decades of great fighters ranging from Mohammad Ali to Mike Tyson. But while the name may add something to the surface, it’s no substitute when it comes to Prizefighter’s underwhelming gameplay inside the ring, and shallow portrayal of the world surrounding it.
The career mode of Prizefighter encompasses a fictional storyline involving you, the player, as an upstart in the boxing world known as “The Kid.” Your rise to the top, whilst coming to terms with the harsh reality of the boxing industry, is told in documentary form through FMV sequences featuring real world fighters and of course the Don himself (who is surprisingly not your promoter, but rather your rival’s). It isn’t such a bad way to tell the story, considering Prizefighter tries to present realistic depiction of the sport.
The first step is to create your custom character in the “fighter factory.” Besides a fairly robust facial creation system, you can also choose your equipment, fighting style, and even entry music, which can be swapped for others during the campaign. Before you begin your first of many fights you’ve got to do what every boxer does: train like you’ve never trained before. Actually, the training is similar to what you have done in prior sports titles, with exercises such as the shuttle run, speed bag, and jump rope that all entail a variety of face button presses. If going through these mini games gives some of you the nauseous feeling of real exercise, there’s always the montage approach through auto training which speeds up the process, but at the cost of earning less skill points.
I don’t believe that after EA’s Fight Night Round 3, every boxing game should have to use two analog stick control to stay current, but Prizefighter’s clunky and sometimes confusing control scheme did make me wish for something more. Both the B and X buttons serve as your left and right jabs, A your straight, and Y the left hook. Pressing either XA or YB simultaneously will result in an uppercut. All of these moves can be modified to target the body using the right trigger, while the left allows you to lean.
Prizefighter’s controls are not necessarily terrible. For example, moving around the ring (left stick) and blocking (right stick) works well, but the disarticulated button and trigger layout will have you mashing away rather than building up any sort of combination or technique found in other boxing games. Be careful not to throw too many punches at once, as your stamina meter depletes whilst you expend energy trying to hurt the other guy, making momentary defensive rests a must. Once you do land a couple of good dingers on your opponents melon, a focus meter will charge, allowing you to let loose a powerful signature move (LB), or you can hit both bumpers to trigger a slow motion mode giving you the edge around your opponent’s blocks.
These functions are nice, but they’re fairly standard in most boxing games, and aren’t enough to make up for Prizefighter’s other problems. As you work your way up the ladder of fighters, none of which are real world pros, the difficulty seems to be a bit inconsistent. On the final tier of fights, I was able to whoop one guy in a single round, but went up to eight rounds, and lost, on the next opponent. Prizefighter also possesses some pretty bad hit detection, and in a boxing game, that kind of issue is as glaring as a baseball player having a steroid injector built into his bat. Several times, I witnessed fighters throwing punches into thin air that still counted as a hit. It isn’t exactly enough to make Prizefighter feel unfair when playing, but brings the depth of the experience down from “boxing videogame” to Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots.
One way that Prizefighter attempts to differentiate itself is with the inclusion of events in your career outside of the ring that will affect the game. The problem is that these aspects have little importance or presentation, making them both pointless and improperly executed. Between fights, you may get calls on your PDA from hot models wanting to go out on dates, ad companies wanting you to appear in commercials, or even having your body scanned for a videogame. Agreeing to these tasks will net you media profile points, but take you away from your limited training time. The real problem is that not only do the media points seem to do nothing, denying them and choosing to train hard will still dock off some of your skill points. None of the outside activities you engage in are really shown, other than through newspaper clips, making them feel even less relevant and exciting.
Money is also present in the game, which you’ll earn by winning fights. Lose, and you’ll have to schedule a rematch that nets you less cash. And wouldn’t you know it, money has no real purpose either, so take as many dives as you like! Having alternate paths created from losing a fight could have made Prizefighter’s world more dynamic, but instead, it’s a simple case of playing through matches until you win, and eventually reaching the same finale. All of these mistakes hinder Prizefighter’s attempts to add more complexity, creating a campaign that can at times become a bit of a chore.
Playing through the career will earn you some things besides trivial play money. Some unlockables include playable "classic" fights from 30s era boxing, clothing items, venues, and interviews with real boxers. The interviews are quite lengthily, and not set within the context of the game’s storyline, making them an insightful bonus for any boxing fan.
Prizefighter’s multiplayer offering possesses your standard exhibition fight modes for those that just want a quick scrap, featuring pro boxers such as Joan Guzman, Daniel Ponce de Leon, and other current boxing stars. The game also supports online tournaments allowing eight players to duke it out to see who the real champion is. None of the lifestyle or business elements from the single player carry over, but sadly all of the control and hit detection problems still make the jump.
The graphics are another area of the game that manage to be pretty disappointing. Prizefighter sports a last gen look with low resolution character models and almost no textures whatsoever on clothing. The sweat that appears on fighters helps add some detail, but it isn’t enough to improve their overall structure. The most hideous problem by far is the frequent collision errors that occur when characters’ fists will continually pass through each other’s arms, bodies, or heads. It’s so noticeable that it really puts a damper on the game’s realism, and makes you feel like you’re not landing any hits. All fighters seem to carry the same animation set too, which also happens to be very choppy and unnatural when the fists start flying. Facial damage, always a big factor in boxing games, isn’t given much treatment either, and the bruises fighters get look slapped on rather than a more natural sign of someone failing to keep those arms up.
As you have probably already gathered, this game is far from perfect, but the truly annoying component is its sound. Not so much in terms of the music track that sports quality hits like Boston’s "Foreplay/Longtime" and "Eye of the Tiger," but the incredibly poor voice acting. Every coach and announcer only has about three different lines of advice for a fighter between rounds, and will keep repeating them over and over. Regardless of having varying character models, the voices always stay the same. Even when playing a classic match set in the 30’s, the announcer will have the same voice found in all the others.
Prizefighter shows that it really wanted to bring to gamers the world of boxing outside the ring, somewhat like the NBA Ballers series. However, none of these elements factor into the gameplay in any significant way, making Prizefighter’s scope no larger than the bare skeletal frame of your archetypal boxing game. The fact that the game falters inside the ring as well only makes things worse, and by that I mean the faulty hit detection, cluttered controls, and frequent graphical glitches. Prizefighter doesn’t get completely knocked out, and isn’t utter torture to play, but only offers what feels like a very long, boring drawn out fight that not even Don King himself could sell.