Real boxing. Really real.
For this review there’ll be no beating around the bush with a fancy intro. I won’t bore you with an obtuse lead-in or anything like that. Let’s just get straight into it with the most obvious fact – Real Boxing looks amazing.
A few reviews ago I made a point that some games tend to look better in screenshots than they do when you’re actually playing them. Real Boxing not only looks just as good as the shots we’ve been posting over the last couple of months, it looks better.
You have to see this thing in action to fully appreciate the work that’s gone into the visuals. The Unreal engine is fully revving here. These motioned-captured gladiators are brawny, sweaty, glistening brutes whose faces respond in realistic fashion to the in-game battering. You wouldn’t look like you’d paid a visit to Toni and Guy after going twelve rounds with a pro brawler, and these guys don’t either. Fantastic damage modelling showcases blood trickling down their cheeks and bruises under their eyes which slowly develop as fights wear on, although seeing blood on literally every punch is a little unnerving. They’d be dead by the third round at that rate.
We’re talking about graphics so sharp you can clearly identify individual muscle groups here (anyone for a juicy tricep?), and although they don’t exhibit a great range of body shapes,with each one adhering to the same basic template, they are undeniably gorgeous and move with the type of animation that’s so smooth you take it for granted.
It’s not just the big men in the ring that ring-a-ding-ding either (I have no idea what I meant by that), there’s a good sense of depth with the arenas, and there’s been no skimping on the crowds either. There are only three of locales to fight in, which is a bit paltry, but more are coming in an update.
And it’s precisely because Real Boxing looks so darn good that once you’ve noticed it, one specific visual fault stands out. Now you may not catch it straight away, to be honest, you may not catch it at all, but in the spirit of journalistic integrity or whatever it said on my writer’s application form, I should point out that whichever boxer you choose is a cunning master of disguise. You see, when you’re scrolling through the fighters on the selection screen, you might not be able to put your finger on it, but each boxer appears eerily similar for some reason. ‘I’ve seen the cut of that gentleman’s jib somewhere before’, you’ll think to yourself.
You’d be right, because each boxer, whether they’re Ethan Cartwright with a ginger afro or Jaun Gutierez sporting a Movember special, uses the exact same facial model. This means you’ve got a formidable line up of brawlers who if they’re not careful, mistake each other for…well, themselves. As Tom Jones once sang, ‘It’s not unusual for games which allow you to create your own character to give you a limited palette of model choices’, but in this case, it’s disappointing that there isn’t at least some variation in the boxer’s faces. Especially when the rest of the game’s looks are so easily impressive. And yes, Tom Jones did sing that. Youtube it.
To try and make up for this presumably, there are extensive customisation options for your fighter. Or ‘Pimp My Boxer’ as I like to call it. If you’re going to walk round with the same face as someone else, you better have your own pair of underpants so your mum can tell which one is you. Real Boxing gives you the opportunity to mess around with hairstyles, tattoos gloves, clothing, skin colour, religious affiliation political loyalties and favourite Elton John song. I may be lying about a couple of those, but you get the point.
By and large the sound is as you’d expect, with a dramatic, pumping score to accompany the menu screens, and bone-crunching effects inside the ring. The commentary however is a huge turn-off. Once the hokey American announcer starts lending his observations in a tone which is completely inappropriate for a serious boxing game, you’ll want to switch him off immediately. When I say ‘inappropriate’ by the way, I don’t mean that he spews sexual innuendos (although that might be quite funny), it’s just that he sounds like he’s commentating on a fight between Mario and Luigi in a ring made of jelly. Basically, no gravitas.
Real Boxing does put up a good fight though. Standard controls include left/ right side screen taps and swipes for jabs, hooks and uppercuts, along with buttons of blocking, dodging and clinching which all work well. Technique and timing are important as avoiding a blow from your opponent opens them up for a counter-shot, which if hit, drains their energy considerably. You won’t necessarily land every one of your counters mind you, and might even miss so wildly it opens up an opportunity for your opponent instead. The potentially cheap tactic of dodging until you can land a good hit is eliminated then. This isn’t Infinity Blade, you know.
You’ve also got to watch out for stamina. There is of course, a standard energy bar which shows your overall condition, but you’ve also got a smaller bar which tells you how effective each punch will be. The fuller it is, the harder you’ll hit. Each punch you take decreases it slightly, so flail around like a banshee with a toothache and you’ll end up with weak powder-puff punches. Blocking or clinching helps it to raise slightly, balancing out defensive and offensive responsibility and adding some depth to each fight. It’s a clever bit of design.
What you’ve also got in terms of control, is something that could end up featuring in a lot of other iOS games in the future. Using your iPad’s eyesight camera, Real Boxing offers gesture based motion control called V-Motion which is similar to the Kinnect controller on Xbox 360. There’s a reason it’s called Real Boxing, you see. Position yourself in such a way that your body fits within a mini silhouette at the bottom of the screen and every motion you make will correlate to a different type of punch.
It doesn’t quite come together though. It can be a chore to set your iPad in the correct position, and sometimes the game just plainly doesn’t respond to your actions, but the biggest problem is that it only reads very slow, very deliberate punches, ie, the sort that would lead to your head getting torn off in a real fight. The rhythm of real boxing, especially combos, is completely lost with this style of input, so the standard controls definitely result in a more immediate, visceral experience. However I wouldn’t go as far as to label the gesture set-up as a mere novelty. I appreciate Vivid Games thinking outside the box (or ring, for that matter) with V-Motion, it just doesn’t work as well as hoped.
In addition to your quick game and online multiplayer, you’ve got a full career mode which tasks you with dragging your boxer up through the ranks by his cauliflower ear against 14 different fighters. In between bouts, you’ll also get access to gym-based training mini games with the skipping rope, heavy bag and speed ball. These play a crucial part in maintaining your boxer’s stamina in each fight. Neglect your training and you’ll suffer the consequences when it’s time to rumble. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere.
Although it’s not perfect, Real Boxing can indeed be crowned the undisputed king of iOS fighters. True, there’s not exactly much competition, but first is first. It’ll be very interesting to see what Vivid Games follows up this impressive effort with. Or to put it another way…seconds out.
Box clever on Twitter with Kevin, @KevThePen