If there's something missing from most sports games, it's what goes on behind the scenes. For many people knowing what their favourite footballer or sports star is doing outside of work is just as interesting as watching them score a winner from 30 yards in the Champions League final. This is something the team at Venom Games is well aware of and is looking to put right in the upcoming Don King Presents: Prizefighter. For once, you'll get to feel like the character you're boxing as.
What Venom Games has done is create a boxing documentary, a story about your character's life. This is properly filmed and edited full motion video, the like you'd see on TV. Don King will obviously play a large part in the film, but you'll also hear from coaches, ex girlfriends and more. You might say that there's nothing special about a faked documentary, following the story of your career as "The Kid", but it's how Venom integrates it into the gameplay that's really interesting.
As the game opens the documentary starts, setting the tone and introducing you to a few of the major characters. You're never seen of course, which allows you to create "The Kid" however you like. Customisation options look plentiful, with easy to use sliders seemingly available for every physical attribute. We haven't had a chance to create our own character yet, but it seems that with some effort you'll be able to shape him as you see fit. You can even change your ring entrance music, with 70 tracks available once they've all been unlocked - including Eye of the Tiger.
Once you've created your boxer it's back to the documentary and the build up to your first fight. Don King and the rest begin to talk about the fight as if it really happened, talking about the fight before you step into the ring to relive it yourself. It's a surprisingly effective technique for immersing you into the game, elevating you from another soulless boxer to a real person with a history - a history you'll learn as the game progresses.
History is something that'll play a key part in the game. Not only with you fighting through your career, but in fantasy dream-like fights that take place in decades gone by. In the documentary footage leading up to these special fights you'll hear about how you had to fight in a way similar to such and such a fighter back in the day, and in order to do that you actually have to fight the classic fight. To add to the dream-like feel these fights will look different too. If it's set in the 80s it'll have that softer 80's TV look, while fights from further back will be black and white.
These fights not only further your career, but also unlock new boxers. In total there are 30 modern boxers, half of which are current belt holders, and 10 classic fighters, such as Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and Rocky Marciano. You'll also get to fight in 22 venues, with everything from a gym up to the grandest stage of all, Madison Square Garden. Venom is keen to make Prizefighter authentic down to the last detail, and this runs through every aspect of the game, from venues to properly licensed boxing gloves.
As with most boxing games released over the years, training plays a part too. There'll be five training mini-games in the Xbox 360 game, with most testing your timing. From what we've seen they're not easy either, with the difficulty ramping up pretty quickly. There'll be online leaderboards too, so if you want to be the best jump roper in the world, you can be. More interesting is how the training will be handled in the Wii version, due out later in the year. You'll actually be able to use the Wii Fit balance board and Venom brought in a real trainer to put together a fitness regime.
Despite all the good things Prizefighter is doing outside of the ring, it's what you do inside that will count the most. We're yet to get our hands on the controls, but Venom appears to be trying to create the most realistic boxing game ever. What we can comment on is how you can step around your opponent, looking for the best angle of attack. You'll also have to make use of the three meters at the bottom of the screen. Stamina and Strength are quite self explanatory, but Adrenaline could decide a match. When full you're able to unleash signature punches, so getting a helping hand here could prove to be vital.
Again, Venom has gone beyond the ring, giving you the opportunity to carve out a media career for your boxer. Skip some training sessions to film a TV commercial and your star rating will increase, giving you a head-start on that Adrenaline meter. What's more, if you're a famous boxer, you'll be able to demand a bigger share of the purse and even schedule your own fights. It's a dangerous game though, with other fighters potentially working harder in the gym and having a physical advantage.
What was clear from our presentation is how Prizefighter will be more than just two guys slugging it out in a ring. At points you'll have to contend with situations out of your control, such as a biased judging panel or a broken hand, adding to the feeling that you are playing through a story as much as you are a career. Taking inspiration from the best boxing movies in the business, we're certainly hopeful that it's not going to disappoint.
A strong single-player mode has been a priority for Venom Games, but multiplayer functionality looks pretty feature packed too. Single system, online and system link is supported on the Xbox 360, with Fight Club and Tournament being the two main modes. Fight Club puts loads of friends together in a room, where they take turns slugging it out. Tournament puts eight players into a knockout tournament, where the winner takes all. What's more, your tournament performances will be tracked on a global Tournament leaderboard, allowing you to see who the best Tournament fighters are.
Prizefighter is extremely exciting. It's unclear whether or not the game will live up to its promise, but 2K and Venom Games are trying new things and taking the sports genre forward in an interesting new way. We can't wait to get our hands on the final Xbox 360 game ahead of its spring release, with the Wii and DS versions following in September.
For more on Don King Presents: Prizefighter head over to our video interview with Matthew Seymour, Executive Producer, 2K Europe.