Fight Night Champion Review
Written : Tuesday, March 01, 2011
By: Richard Walker
Is it just us, or does boxing seem slightly tame compared to the increasingly popular sport of Mixed Martial Arts, where blood splattering across the canvas is a regular occurrence? Well, the truth is that for all its no holds barred pummelling, boxing beats MMA in which is the more lethal bloodsport stakes and to our knowledge, only one fighter has died in an MMA bout, whereas numerous boxers have been killed in the ring. Why are we telling you this? Because it's worth noting that boxing is a risky business and it takes years of training and dedication to reach the levels of a professional. Fight Night Champion knows this and attempts to tell a story of fighter who faces adversity to become the best, before losing it all.
"The 'who dropped the soap' dispute got way out of hand"
That's not a spoiler by the way. Fight Night Champion opens with the game's new titular Champion Mode, starring fictional pugilist Andre Bishop who finds himself fighting in a bare knuckle prison brawl. After winning the fight, Bishop gets a good kicking in the showers (where else?) before the action rewinds to four years prior, with the cocky fighter at the top of his game. You're then asked if you want to continue with Champion Mode, or go to the main menu and check out the numerous game types on offer.
Champion Mode is Fight Night's new story-driven component that has all the great boxing stereotypes, from the grizzled old trainer, to the sleazy douchebag boxing promoter, the cyborg-like, cold and mechanical rival and the annoying sibling. It's fairly engaging and enjoyable while it lasts, but the learning curve can leave a lot to be desired. You'll pound your way through several opponents without breaking a sweat, before coming across one who's impossibly resilient to a flurry of blows to the head and can knock you down with a single left hook. It's slightly ridiculous and is enough to make you want to give up on Bishop altogether.
Still, it's fights like these that hammer home the importance of steady strategy over out and out button mashing. Yes, you can use the face buttons to fight if you're not a fan of EA Sport's long-standing right stick-flicking punch system, present in Fight Night Champion in a revamped form with a catchy new name to slap on the back of the box. It's called 'Full Spectrum Punch Control', and is certainly more fluid and responsive than in previous instalments of Fight Night. You're also able to mix it up with face buttons if you like, which actually feels quite natural. This feature was also available in Fight Night Round 4, of course, although you had to wait for an update rather than getting it straight out of the box.
"Smell my glove! Smell it!"
Flicking the right stick always registers like it should too, so if you hit a direction several times in quick succession, it'll all play out exactly as you'd expect, meaning you need to carefully consider each jab and uppercut you throw, lest you end up paying the price while the animation you initiated finishes. Twirling the stick like a chimpanzee who's just discovered a controller will get you nowhere and have you kissing the canvas quicker than Mike Tyson tucks into a tasty ear lobe. Buttons are ideal for stringing together combos, so combining both the right stick for more nuanced jabs and buttons for the more desperate instances during fights is generally a good idea. You'll also need to gauge the right times to bob and weave by holding the left trigger, defend with the right trigger and throw the big heavy punches by holding the right bumper. It all works brilliantly.
That said, Fight Night Champion isn't without its foibles, such as the newly added referee doing his best to obscure the view when the camera angle swings around or his reluctance to get involved when your opponent decides to have a good long bearhug. Then there's the occasionally arbitrary decisions that occur when you're knocked down on your ass for no apparent reason. You can be plugging away for ages, seemingly dominating a fight, only to be sparked out by one well-placed punch from your rival. It's somewhat unfair and can be exceedingly frustrating at times.
"Meet Bishop's rival, Isaac Frost. He's 'ice cold' apparently."
More than ever though, Fight Night puts an emphasis upon the tactics of boxing and wading in like a knuckle-headed slugger will wear down your stamina bar in seconds leaving you primed to be on the receiving end of a knockout punch. Thankfully, there's a host of training games to work through, giving you the fundamentals for entering the ring while giving you a score based upon your performance. Heading straight into the 'Fight Now' option on the main menu is also a good place to start, enabling you to go head-to-head with the AI or take on a friend (or enemy) in a quick fight. No fuss, no muss.
The returning Legacy Mode on the other hand, gives you a bit more meat to get into, presenting a fully-featured career in which you can either take an existing or created brawler through the ranks to become a legend. It's all checking emails, booking fights on the calendar, juggling resting with training and so on, as per usual, but Legacy is suitably compelling, as your fighter gradually levels up and rises in stature, winning titles and more notoriety with each successful bout.
There's also good, robust online modes to indulge in, with straight-up matches, an Online World Championship and the addition of Online Gyms to Fight Night Champion's repertoire, presenting all manner of leagues and tournaments to engage in over Xbox Live. You can even swap created boxers, so if it takes your fancy, you can download someone elses custom boxer to bolster your roster of fighters or they can download yours. Not that you'll need to, given the wealth of iconic and lesser known pugilists already on offer in the game, from Muhammed Ali, David Haye and Manny Pacquiao to George Foreman, Mike Tyson and the Klitschko brothers.
"Smell my gl... Oh, wait..."
Visually, Champion is also a step forward, with superb likenesses, plenty of wobbling flesh on show and gallons of pouring sweat. This graphical fidelity helps Andre Bishop's story in Champion Mode, lending its Rocky-esque story of a struggle for redemption a bit of extra weight in spite of its clichés. You'll probably tear through it in no more than five or six hours, but it's an interesting new take on the sports genre nonetheless. Perhaps other EA Sports titles will follow suit in future.
In terms of achievements, Fight Night Champion has a solid enough list, although there's possibly an over-reliance on online achievements, which means you'll have to grind away in the Online Gyms and the Online World Championship. There are some cheevos attached to Bishop's journey through Champion Mode too and the progression of your own boxer in the Legacy Mode. There's a huge mix of achievements across pretty much every facet of Fight Night Champion, meaning that garnering the full 1000 gamerscore will require visiting and playing every mode to death.
Fight Night Champion is a fine update to the series, pushing it forward with a compelling spin on the sports genre with its narrative-lead Champion Mode, alongside all the usual trimmings you'd expect. Some niggles still persist, but the 'Full Spectrum Punch' system, is still superb and the ability to use both face buttons and right-stick flickery is still as good as it gets in a boxing game.
As ever, EA Sports manages to muster some good 'trax' with appropriate hip-hop and so forth. Punches land with a pleasing 'thwack' of leather on clammy skin and slow-motion replays feature a satisfying sound of crunching bone when you land a devastating uppercut.
Champion is undoubtedly the best-looking Fight Night, with realistic wobbling flesh, blood, sweat and possibly tears. The arenas are suitably immersive too, from stinky flea pits to massive Vegas-style rings.
EA Sports' Full Spectrum Punch Control sounds like a fancy name for what is essentially the same old analogue stick twiddling in Fight Night, but it feels more responsive and intuitive in Champion. Being able to combine the sticks with face buttons is a returning feature, but its a welcome one nonetheless, making Champion's fights entertaining, despite the occasional difficulty spike.
There's a head-spinning array of modes and features to engage in for this latest Fight Night instalment, all of which hold some sort of appeal or replay value. Champion Mode is good while it lasts, and there's further depth to be found in Legacy and online modes. It's all presented in typical slick EA fashion too, much as you'd expect.
There's story-related achievements, including winning certain bouts by KO as well as rewarding progress through Champion Mode, which must be a first for a sports game. Online achievements are a horrible grind though, demanding some major levelling up as well as winning X number of fights. A mixed bag then...
Fight Night Champion is a triumphant return for EA Sports stalwart boxing franchise that still has one of the best simulated fighting systems around as well as some great visuals. Champion Mode is a surprisingly involving new addition that actually makes you care about what happens to its protagonist, as he embarks upon his Rocky-esque journey. Ultimately then, Fight Night Champion is still the undisputed king of the ring.