From Knockout League to Thrill of the Fight and a litany of exercise-focused apps, there are plenty of ways to get your VR boxing fix right now. If you like slamming your fists into punching bags and beating virtual enemies into a pulp, then you have plenty of avenues to pursue that. But there isn’t a reliable way to strap on boxing gloves and go toe-to-toe with another real person in VR — at least, not until Creed: Rise to Glory from Survios.
Once upon a time there were a couple of Rocky boxing games on the PS2 and Xbox (Rocky and Rocky Legends) both of which were lackluster at best. Before those we of course had Punch-Out!! on the NES and SNES, which Knockout League replicates well, similar in ways to the Ready 2 Rumble series. When I first played Creed VR back at GDC 2018 the first comparison that came to mind was Fight Night with the mixture of realistic graphics and sim-lite gameplay. What I actually found isn’t that deep, but still left me satisfied.
In Creed: Rise to Glory you take control of the titular character, Adonis Creed, in a hodge-podge experience that’s part prequel to the first movie and part bridge to the sequel that releases later this year in theaters. The Campaign mode is really more like a bare bones Arcade-style experience that has you fighting a gallery of foes back-to-back that get increasingly more difficult as time goes on. You’ll even notice a few boxers that were featured in the original film.
Freeplay is a bit like Campaign, but you can just hop into whatever ring against whichever opponent you want. There were a lot more rings to pick from than I expected, but honestly you only look around at the environment before the match starts. Once that bell rings your eyes are locked on your opponent. Make no mistake though: the real highlight of Creed VR, interestingly enough, is the PvP multiplayer. That feature wasn’t even revealed until very recently but it was by far my favorite part of the game.
Fighting against AI is fine, but eventually it just boils down to pattern recognition and timing. The easier boxers won’t have as many combos and won’t block as much and even the hardest ones have certain tells to look out for. But when you play against real life human opponents, everything changes. People are unpredictable, they can try and bait you, or fake you out, or even taunt you over the mic. You can see a couple bouts of me fighting against Ian Hamilton up in the video above.
Regardless of game mode the mechanics are always the same. You’ll need two motion controllers for whichever platform you choose (I played on Rift using Touch) and plenty of space. Like, a lot of space. It’s tempting to just make sure you have enough room to stand up and stretch your arms out, but that’s not enough space. You need to be able to lean back, duck, bob from side-to-side, and take at least two steps in either direction if you want to really experience all that this game has to offer.
Creed VR does a great job of actually tracking your hand movement well and translating that into the game. Punch speed and strength does make a difference, as does where on the body your hits land. Grazing the side of their head or just slamming into their blocking fists isn’t going to do anything — you need to make solid contact with their face or body to do damage. That means a mixture of body movement, straights, uppercuts, hooks, and everything else. The more you treat Creed VR like a boxing simulation, the more success you’ll have.
Since the body animations and IK for your avatar’s simulated body all work well, it really does feel like your bobbing and weaving around inside the ring. Notably, I can’t recall many moments in which I wasn’t able to accurately do what I wanted because of tracking or control limitations. However, the one exception to that is it seems like during PvP most people are vulnerable over the top of their block on the crown of their head. If you just do a hammer fist maneuver or seven sweep your hand quickly over their block it will register as a hit even if you’re not really punching. Of all sports, boxing feels like the perfect match for VR and adding multiplayer just makes it even better.
Survios also developed what they’ve dubbed a “Phantom Melee” system to help simulate stamina loss, becoming staggered, or getting knocked down. Obviously those are all real things in boxing that need to be addressed, but if you’re playing a VR game, the developer can’t reasonably restrict your character or remove you from control. So instead, “Phantom Melee” is a bit like a mime system.
For example, if you get winded and over-exert your arms, they’ll turn red and you’ll have to bring them up to your face to regain stamina by resting. This also helps prevent people from just flailing around wildly because their character will get winded too fast, not be able to block well, and get dropped very quickly. Then if you get nailed really hard and become staggered (basically meaning stunned) then the game will show silhouetted versions of your fists in the air that you have to match the pose of to regain control. In this way, it forces you to pretend like your hands are flung upward as a result of a big punch.
Finally, if you get knocked down, Creed VR actually has you drumming your fists as fast as possible as if you are sprinting back to your body. It’s sort of like an out-of-body experience, like you got punched so hard your opponent sent your soul flying out of your body and you’ve gotta get back to it before the countdown is over.
All of these systems add up to matches never having much downtime, which is great, and it maintains the experience in multiplayer so that you can still do things like knock down your opponent or stagger them like you can against AI enemies without breaking immersion. I just wish the posing and miming bits weren’t quite as finicky, because sometimes it was a little frustrating not being able to regain control fast enough.
The final piece of the Creed VR puzzle are the training mini games. When you’re waiting on a PvP match to start or just wandering around the main lobby area, you have the entire floor of the gym open to explore. There are heavy bags you can use to practice flurry punches, dummies for combo training, moving directional bags for dodging, and more. All of the little mini games are fun and actually do a decent job of helping you hone actual tactics that you can apply inside the ring.
I don’t have any real boxing experience, but I used to go to a boxing gym for my workout and the trainers would have us do a lot of similar drills before we sparred and it’s really clever to see how those concepts are gamified and established inside VR. My biggest issue with them though is that the hit detection seems a bit off, especially on the combo dummies.
Creed: Rise to Glory is the best all-around boxing game VR has seen yet. While its serviceable campaign mode lacks the depth and variety that we’ve come to expect from Survios releases and some of the controls are a bit finicky, it more than makes up for it with a litany of training mini games and an addictive PvP mode. Trading blows, ducking shots, and scoring a powerful knockout against someone in immersive VR is about as close to an actual boxing match as you can find from the comfort of your own home.