Reviewed: December 31, 2002
Released: November 19, 2002
I’m not a huge boxing fan. There has always been something just a bit barbaric about two men beating the snot out of each other. Frankly, I’d rather watch a cockfight. That said, I have enjoyed the Rocky movies; well most of them including the first, third and forth. The second movie was just more of the same and the fifth flick was milking a dead franchise.
Naturally I was torn when Rocky came across my desk for review, but I put aside my distaste for the sport and decided to approach the game from a movie license perspective, which seems to be the path the designers took as well. While Rocky (the game) features a decent boxing simulation, it is delivered in one of the best presentations I have seen in just about any movie-to-game release.
Rocky has been in the works for quite some time but earlier this year Majesco dropped this title from their 2002 line-up. Bad news for them and good news for Ubisoft who stepped into the ring and carried this title through to completion, as it will undoubtedly become the most talked about boxing game of 2002 and maybe even 2003.
The biggest draw of this title is the much touted movie mode that allows you to relive the entire series of movies, training, and fighting your way through more than 20 boxers taken right from those very films. This is a great hook and refreshing replacement to the traditional career mode we find in other boxing, wrestling, and sports games. You are probably asking how they got 29 boxers from five movies that only had a couple of bouts each flick. Only the truest fans of the films will recognize many of the men you will fight in the game. Every minor character that was even mentioned in the movies is now a contender.
All of the big name boxers are back like Apollo, Clubber, Ivan, and Tommy Gunn, and then you have all sorts of minor boxers like Spider Rico, Union Cane, Buddy Shaw, and you can even face off against a few comical characters tossed in to lighten the mood like your manager, Mickey or even the Rocky Statue from the town square. The only major omission in the entire cast was Thunderlips, Hulk Hogan’s character from the third movie, but since he was a wrestler move than a boxer this is an understandable and forgivable cast cut.
Rocky has plenty of gameplay modes to choose from including:
Before the bout begins, you choose where the fight will take place. The length of each round can be set in seconds, and the number of rounds the fight will last can be chosen. The skill level for the computer can then be selected in single-player mode: Novice, Contender, or Champ.
The movie mode is fantastic, putting you through rigorous training and three pre-title bouts before facing off against the big boxer for each of the movie’s title fights. With four fights per movie you will work your way through 20 boxers by the time the series if concluded. The best part of the mode is watching the evolution of Rocky as he trains, gets in shape, takes damage, etc. You will even recognize many of the costumes from the movies including those famous gray sweats he wears while punching sides of beef in the warehouse.
Between the movies you will train to increase your statistics. These training sessions are excellent mini-games in their own right and will reward you with attribute points that are assigned to Strength, Speed, Determination, Stamina, and Movement. Unlike other games where these variables only play a minimal part in the equation in determining your success, in Rocky all of these stats are very important and combine to create your alter ego. Also, unlike other games, you simply don’t distribute points arbitrarily, but rather increase these skills by specified training exercises.
Of course the true test of any video game is in its control scheme and Rocky does a great job of bringing the sport of boxing to the console. You have independent control for left and right punches and you can also block, do head jabs, uppercuts, hooks, and even perform some fancy evasive moves. It’s a simple control scheme that you will pick up quickly in the sparring mode and perfect in the training.
Opponent AI was quite lacking at the novice level and I found myself halfway through the movie mode in under an hour. I started experimenting with the difficulty and found that you have to step up several levels to the Champ mode if you want any kind of serious challenge. Even then you can learn the timing and weaknesses of each of the boxers and put them down without too much problem. As with most sports titles, Rocky is a game best shared with another human opponent.
The graphics are all over the place in this title. You have some amazing environment and accurately reproduced rings and landmarks that you will surely recognize from the films, but the boxers themselves are a bit simplistic. They have great textures but seem to lack the necessary polygons to smooth them out. They are a bit blocky and move with some stilted animation that makes them look more like next-gen “Rock’em Sock’em Robots”.
Even so, the textures more than make up for the animation and construction of the boxers. You can easily recognize every boxer and supporting character from the movies and there is an amazing facial damage system in place that will sure to be replicated in every fighting game after this. You will see cuts, bruises, black eyes will swell, and there is more blood than the latest Mortal Kombat game. Blood will fly from your opponent and yourself and splatter on the mats and even pool up.
The PS2 version does exhibit some noteworthy slowdown during the more intense scenes, especially those with heavy particles flying around. It’s not only noticeable but can interfere with your timing and ultimately the gameplay. There are also a few occasions where the screen would appear to freeze then thaw a few seconds later. This seemed to happen the most when a player hit the mat.
Rocky had one of those soundtracks that became an instant classic. If you hear any of those famous songs you can instantly picture Rocky running down the street or up those stairs, or working out in the gym. Bill Conti’s soundtrack is back with full emotional impact. You will find yourself humming the “Getting Strong Now” song long after you shut off the game, and you will also lament the absence of “Eye of the Tiger” which was probably the best signature song from the entire 5-movie series.
The voice work is pretty good and many of the main characters’ real voices are used in the cutscenes. Unfortunately, just as many of the main characters are now voiced by sound alikes. I won’t name any names and we’ll see if you can tell who’s the real deal. Chances are, if you haven’t watched the movies recently you probably would never even know. There was a noticeable lack of quality in the voices during the cutscenes on the PS2. The recording level was either too low or was artificially enhanced with some odd reverb that made them difficult to hear at times.
Once you up the difficulty level to offer you a suitable challenge the movie mode will take you 10-15 hours, but the heart and soul of this game is in the multiplayer modes that will keep you playing until your PS2 wears out from excessive use.
The training modes make great mini-games and it’s a shame you can’t access them directly, but the various exhibition and challenge modes will put this title at the top of your list of party game favorites.
While Rocky hasn’t changed my overall perception of the sport of boxing I will confess I did enjoy this game. It did an incredible job of capture the spirit and story of the entire movie series and offered solid gameplay with plenty of options and game modes to keep even the most diehard boxing fanatic entertained for months to come.
If you enjoy boxing then this is a no-brainer. Rocky is the best boxing game you can get. Even if you don’t like boxing this may be the game to convert you, especially if you enjoyed the movies. A definite rental for all and possible purchase for many, Rocky is a definite crowd pleaser.