Film licenses are dangerous things. Sometimes the game is good, but more likely it is an excuse to make a bad game. When a relatively unknown development group, Rage, gave us a call to tell us about the new game based on ROCKY, all sorts of alarms went off in our heads. What kind of company has to go dig up an archaic franchise like ROCKY for a videogame (just recently it was reported that Stallone is talking about doing ROCKY VI, but that's besides the point)? To our delight, Rage has done a wonderful job of putting the movie into game form, and at the same time has made a game that is actually good.
If you haven't seen ROCKY, you need to stop reading this review and at least watch the first three (or order cable, TNT has a marathon every few days). Regardless, the films are about a boxer who gets his dream chance to fight the Heavyweight champion of the world.
Of course, the films have relatively few fights (lots of build-up), so the game has added quite a few fights that Rocky might have had on his way up through the world. The game features all of the main fights, Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang and the like. As you move through the storyline and defeat different boxers, they are unlocked for you to use in the exhibition and multiplayer modes.
Boxing is a game of chess. You have to vary your punches, use combos and uppercuts, and fight for position (cornering an opponent usually ends in a knockdown). ROCKY really emphasizes this, you'll have to move, block, evade, and change up the mixtures of punches.
There are multiple statistical categories that you can check for your opponents and that you can build up in Rocky based on training minigames.
These statistics can greatly change how you fight. An opponent with a lot of strength yet low movement and agility will force you to keep a distance and move quickly. A few punches can take you from full health to near none. The game scores based on how well you do (punches thrown and landed, knockdowns), but obviously the best way to win is a knockout.
All in all, it's a great game of boxing, with the best boxing license available. Just playing through all of the different fights, doing the different training mini-games, and hearing the ROCKY theme music is enough to make any movie fan enjoy the game.
Helping with the atmosphere is that the likeness of each actor has been incorporated fully. The arenas are places we saw in the movie, and the boxing animation is top-notch. As you fight, the boxers will take bruises and cuts on their faces. The only graphical hitch is that sometimes in the PlayStation 2 version the framerate can take a hit and things will get a bit choppy.
The sound is great. Besides the theme song, you'll also hear the crowd chant "Rocky, Rocky, Rocky!". The music is pulled from the movies, and the sound effects make you cringe every time you take a big uppercut from Clubber Lang. There isn't a lot of variety, but what is hear is well done.
While ROCKY may be a dead film franchise, the game is alive and well. Any movie fan will get a kick out of it, and this is also one of the best boxing games to come out in a while. All in all, it's at least worth trying out.