At some point in a pub, most blokes have fancied themselves as a boxer. Sadly, drinking 15 pints and windmilling into your opponent with a selection of expletives is frowned on in the professional game, and is likely to acquaint you with the canvass before the echo of the first bell has died out. If anything, boxing is more about defence; about movement and carefully choosing when to expend precious energy chancing a potentially telling combination or otherwise leaving yourself open to punishment. As such, the question for developers has always been 'how do we turn that into an entertaining game?'
Fans of relentless action and gentle learning curves need not apply. This is a simulation and demands that the gamer pays attention to detail, whether that's with one of the established real-world boxers you can fight with or if you have created a monster in your own likeness in the quest to top the rankings.
It's important to stress that nothing is guaranteed in the Legacy mode. Starting out on a new career does not automatically mean that you will eventually end up as No.1. In fact, it is entirely possible that your boxer will never get near a belt, retiring when age or too many defeats take their toll. Your training regime will be key in this respect and how you decide to build a boxer around your preferred fighting style. Selection of opponents is also critical. Get out of your depth too early and you'll end up getting knocked out in every fight, but play it too safe and you'll never challenge for top spot. Again, the details on what you're facing - whether you should aggressively come inside or stand off and patiently wait for a points decision - need careful consideration.
The controls are well laid out and after some initial hit-and-hope bouts you will learn to differentiate your hooks from your jabs on the analogue stick. Blocking, bobbing and weaving soon become second nature and form an essential part of your strategy, as faster, tougher opponents stand in your way. You might be able to out-muscle the first few chumps, but expect to go the distance frequently in your long professional career. If the balance really doesn't feel right, the game generously allows you to adjust punch strength and speed and boxer health and stamina accordingly at any point in the pause menu.
There are some problems with the mechanics though. No matter how weak your opponent, each of them is capable of downing you with a single punch, regardless of whether you've pummelled them without sustaining a scratch in reply up until that point. Naturally, computer-controlled boxers know exactly when to throw these punches and it can seem very unfair.
Overall, the Legacy mode is somewhat limited. Training feels detached, laborious and lacks variety, and there is little else happening between fights, save for a few uninteresting emails about who is beating who and winning awards.
But the fights are what you'll buy this for and by and large they really shine. The graphics are superb, with noticeably sweatier, bloodier protagonists as the rounds unfold and nigh-on faultless collision detection. Accomplished fighters can really work to a chosen strategy and amend it accordingly as a fight progresses, making some distance victories taste just as good as a crunching knockout. Two-player and online fights are of course the most enjoyable tests and present the opportunity to set up some classic clashes from past and present, without the niggles present with the AI.
This is slick, entertaining boxing that really captures the big-fight atmosphere as you progress and offers plenty of options. You'll need patience and determination, but nobody became The Greatest overnight.