Muscular men sweating heavily, the incessant pounding of leather on skin, flesh rippling like a disturbed pond. Nope, it’s not a weekend with ‘Uncle Charlie’, it’s Fight Night Champion, the next in line from EA’s boxing franchise.
The Fight Night series has evolved the concept of boxing on computer games, promoting realism and fluidity over button-bashing; something that has the potential to plague a game of this genre. EA’s latest effort has built on the progress made in Fight Night Round 4 to bring out a game that not only appeals to boxing connoisseurs, but to more casual sports games fans as well. A unique selling point in terms of boxing games is the introduction of a story mode, although I do use the term ‘story’ loosely, as it is more of an exploration through a myriad of clichés. In fact, the only thing that is missing in the ‘Champion Mode’ story is a lisping maniac shouting ‘Drago!’ at the top of a snow covered peak.
The ‘Legacy Mode’ from the former Fight Night games is still a staple of the series. Again, EA have built upon former efforts to bring the gamer a more complete package that will keep boxing fans hooked for hours. So, with these basics established, let’s explore the game in more detail.
Upon popping the disc in your console, you’re thrown straight into a prison brawl that introduces you to the protagonist of the story, Andre Bishop, and a rather nasty looking skinhead that makes Edward Norton’s character in American History X seem like nothing more than a lovable rogue. This initial fight, conducted before any sight of a menu, also serves as a handy tutorial, introducing you to the much improved combat system. The full spectrum punch control system allows the player to throw the correct punches consistently using simple flicks of the analogue stick. This is a great development on the previous Fight Night games that required precision movements to throw simple punches. The option to use the face buttons on the game pad is still there, but using the stick really optimises the potential of the combat system in the game.
As I have previously mentioned, the story mode is an extremely contrived affair, but I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing. People don’t like the ‘Rocky’ films for their originality, in fact it’s quite the opposite, and this is the case in Fight Night Champion. You have the corrupt promoter, crooked officials, sibling rivalry, a love interest and an angry old trainer that provides you with pearls of wisdom such as, ‘Knock the f*cker out’, all driving the story forward. But these do lead on to some interesting and challenging fights.
In each ‘Champion Mode’ fight you are assigned an objective that can range from having to KO your opponent to more difficult situations like protecting a cut eye, or only punching with your left hand. The objective driven fights are a nice embellishment on the standard boxing game format and help you develop the right skills for the boss fight at the end of the game.
This fight pits you against Isaac ‘Ice Cold’ Frost, a real stereotypical baddie drenched in tattoos and a body that couldn’t have been sculpted more perfectly by Michael Angelo. No, I don’t have a man-crush on him, but surely I’m not the only one that can see the homoerotic nature of two topless men having a good old rumpus in the ring… Am I? Anyway, there have been murmurings of discontent in some forums that this fight is just too difficult. And without going into too much detail about it, I will say it is extremely challenging, even for long time players of the Fight Night franchise; but I found this quite refreshing. It happens too many times that you reach the climax of an enjoyable game only to encounter a boss that could seemingly be defeated by a strong breeze. When you do complete the final fight you will be left with a feeling that can only be replicated by squeezing out a really loud fart; a real sense of pride.
The other facet of Fight Night Champion that I mentioned was the ‘Legacy Mode’. One of the key additions to this mode is the ability to develop your fighter through the experience points you earn after training or fighting. This allows the player more freedom to design a fighter to match their playing style, be it a counter-punch or a brawler. Not only does this offer a more personal gaming experience, but it highlights another feature of the games combat system; the use of tactics. You can’t simply go into fight throwing bombs all over the shop, and if you do, get prepared to be on the receiving end of some slobbering juggernaut’s huge uppercut and a Flash KO – another addition that promotes realism.
If you’re new to the franchise it might take time and patience to develop the skills necessary to excel at this game, and a danger is that it can become frustrating. Another addition to the ‘Legacy Mode’ is that there are a range of training camps that can be used to develop certain skills; you can get toughened up in the gyms of Philadelphia or improve your athletic ability at Big Bear depending on how you want your fighter to develop. A wide range of training games are also available for your delectation, another useful tool for improving at the game.
The large roster of well known boxers is obviously very important to boxing fans, with big names from the past such as Mohammed Ali, and George Foreman to modern day greats such as the Klitschko brothers and David Haye, allowing games to play some of the great fights that did and didn’t happen. The online mode is well designed and smooth running, but expect the frustration of people leaving if they are losing fights, something seemingly unavoidable in modern sports games.
Graphics: 4/5 – The graphics are smooth, crisp and clean in this incredibly well designed game. Multiple camera angles are available for you to admire your KO punch with authentic skin rippling depending on the build of the boxer. The cinematic cut scenes in ‘Champion Mode’ are well directed and relatively well voice acted.
Sound: 3/5 – Realistic sounds when it comes to clean punches landing and others being blocked. The commentary is good and they make relevant statements and even comment on your previous fight. One problem is sometimes you can’t hear your coach over the roar of the crowd at certain arenas.
Gameplay: 4/5 – The ‘Champion Mode’ and ‘Legacy Mode’ offer a lot to boxing fans. The combat system is excellent and the fluidity of fights is at times astonishing. They have removed the dirty tactics of being able to use head butts and low blows, which is a nice touch.
Longevity: 3/5 – The ‘Champion Mode’ can be finished in less than 4 hours, but the other features of the game make up for this. Boxing fans will keep playing this game, but more casual players might get bored after crafting their legacy and making a Champion.
Overall 4 Brutal Knockouts out of 5
Fight Night Champion is a superb game. The fluid punch control system and excellent graphics help to add to the realism while the improved game modes show that EA have really worked to build on the platform left by previous Fight Night games. If you follow boxing you will no doubt own this game. If you don’t follow boxing, this game will make you want to.
- Rory Truesdale