When I saw Prizefighter earlier this year there was a lot to be impressed by. By using a documentary style 2K Sports and developer Venom Games had created something that looked pretty unique - a sports game with a proper story. We hadn't gone hands-on with the game though, which was worrying, but we were happy to give the game the benefit of the doubt. After finally slugging through a career with 'The Kid' we're sorry to report that Prizefighter hasn't managed to topple Fight Night Round 3 as the boxing champ, despite throwing a few unorthodox punches.
When the game begins you're instantly presented with a documentary on a boxer known as The Kid. Don King, boxing film maker Mario Van Peebles, supposed ex-girlfriends, trainers and promoters all speak on camera. These segments crop up throughout your career, with various people giving their thoughts on a particular moment in your career that you're about to play in the game. The effect is good even if it seems slightly staged at times, and it's always entertaining to see what Don King has to say about your fictitious boxer.
After a few opening comments from the documentary your asked to create your fighter. There are plenty of sliders and options for every part of your appearance, with the nickname of 'The Kid' being one of the only things you can't change. When you're done you're thrown into the ring for your first fight. A few fights later and you've got a promoter and you're able to schedule fights for cash. Win a few of those and you'll unlock a harder fight which will gain you access to a new batch of contenders - the cycle continues.
Between each fight you spend your time in the gym, checking messages on your PDA and training. In most cases you get two weeks to train between fights, which is two training sessions in game time. There are five mini-games in total, each used to work on a couple of your attributes. The heavy bag simply requires you to hit certain spots using combos, the shuttle run is a Track and Field style button mash, and the others require you to hit the correct buttons at the right time.
If you're not keen on these you can auto train, but you don't get nearly the same amount of reward. As an added incentive to train your high scores are recorded on a global leaderboard. If that still isn't enough you can often opt to ignore training, instead choosing to focus on raising your media profile (which helps your adrenaline bar, which we'll get to later). These events are never actually seen but you'll frequently receive phone messages asking if you want to go out to a club, go on a date or just be seen at an event, forfeiting a week of training in the process. As interesting as this divide between training and gaining a profile seemed, in practice it didn't seem to be such a hard decision to make, with extra training seeming like the most sensible and worthwhile choice on every occasion.
The boxing itself, the most important aspect of the game, is a very mixed bag. On one hand the game is fun to play, with a large shot selection and ample block and evade moves, but this simulation approach doesn't fit with the often ridiculous number of knockdowns and comebacks. You can have matches where both boxers are being knocked down a few times each round. At times it's simply ridiculous that your opponent is able to carry on and get right back into the fight.
On top of your standard punches performed by pressing the four face buttons you can hold two face buttons together for an uppercut, hold down the right trigger to create four different body shots, hold the right bumper and a face button for a step around punch, and even hold the right bumper and right trigger for a step around body shot. It takes more than a while to get used to all the different punch options and it doesn't quite feel right. At times you'll press a button and nothing will happen or a punch is thrown but with a slight delay, and they rarely land with the force you'd expect them to. Only knockdown punches ever seem to have any force behind them. Collision detection on punches also isn't great at times, with punches either going straight through your opponent or registering as landed when they clearly missed.
Then you have your stamina and adrenaline bars, adding even more depth to proceedings. Stamina is pretty self explanatory, with your boxer becoming tired and losing speed if you do too much work. Backing off and cooling down for a short period will soon see this meter fill up again. Your adrenaline bar fills when you land punches and allows you to perform signature punches or activate Adrenaline Boost mode, which temporarily gives you an advantage in the ring. Your adrenaline bar is tied to your media profile, so if you're a celebrity you'll start the fight with a high bar, giving you a slight upper hand. Again, while it's an option, I found training in the gym to be more worthwhile.
Adding some variety to your career are a number of unique scenarios, such as a broken bone in your hand which forces you to box the majority of a fight with just one hand. You also get a number of historic fights with 'of the era' picture quality, used to highlight a certain boxing style or spirit. In the end, though, the career mode comes down to training hard and then repeatedly knocking down your opponent, with tactics almost completely out the window towards the end.
Outside of the career you've got the usual array of quick fight options and online play, including tournaments. Single system multiplayer works fine, but online the often sluggish controls take a further turn for the worst. With ample online functionality it's a shame, but I can't see many people sticking around to form a decent online community for the game.
Presentation is solid although not up to the standard seen in EA's now rather old Fight Night Round 3. Out of the ring there's not much to complain about, but inside the fighter models and arenas simply can't compete with EA's fighter. Punches feel softer, faces don't look as realistic, and the arenas don't look as spectacular. It's far from an ugly game, but Fight Night has the clear edge in terms of visuals. On the audio front Prizefighter has a brilliant soundtrack, even including Eye of the Tiger, which automatically makes it a better game.
Don King Presents Prizefighter is a solid game, but its career mode is flawed and the gameplay is a strange mix of complex controls and arcade-like knockdowns. If you're after something new having grown tired of Fight Night, Prizefighter is worth a look, especially if the unique documentary storyline is of interest to you, but it's just not the great evolution of the genre that it could have been.