Fight Night has been the premier boxing franchise for many years, but with this year's installment, EA Sports want to take it too the next level. They've become the first EA Sports title to include a storyline, and they've also ditched the numerical increment to the game's name and instead gone with the singular moniker of "Champion". It's a fitting change too, as this really is the champion of boxing titles.
Whereas most sports titles, EA or otherwise, just allow for a career mode and various exhibition options, Fight Night Champion features a full-on story mode where you take control of Andre Bishop. A promising young boxer, Bishop has the world at his feet, that is, until he decides to stand-up to a promoter and ends up getting sent to jail based on a bogus conviction. While in prison, Bishop hones his skills and when he gets out, gets back into the ring - there's some scores to be settled.
The film has various elements of other boxing-based films down the years, like Wesley Snipes' Undisputed. It paints a very dim picture of the "behind-the-scenes" world of boxing, but it's one that everyone knows exists. The only disappointing element to it, is that it's rather short, taking only an hour or two to complete. It's still a big step in the right direction for EA though, and including it, alongside all of the game's other content, can only be seen as a positive.
To compliment the story mode, there's the standard Exhibition, but there's also Legacy Mode, which is rather similar to other EA Sports' titles. In this mode, you can create a boxer, then take him all the way from the bottom rung, up to being the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. It works in a way that other fighting games have also employed. You schedule a fight, then you can train/rest in the weeks that lead up to it. The different training exercises can take a little bit of time to get used to, and getting the top scores can be a bit tricky at first, but your fighter isn't a world beater. It gives you something to work for, like you're actually having to improve. The mode also offers a nice array of statistics, so you can monitor your progress over time.
It's a competent mode, and it can occupy you for quite a while, but it doesn't really stray too far from the tried and tested. It would have been nice to see some different ideas floating around, maybe from the management side of things, because otherwise it all just becomes a bit routine and boring.
Moving away from that though, and onto the gameplay, the developers decided that Fight Night: Round 4's controls didn't necessarily work out as planned, So, they went back to the drawing board and came up with Full-Spectrum Punch Control. It's a system that builds on the previous version, Total-Punch Control, by allowing punches to be thrown a lot more effectively with the right analogue-stick. Flicking it to the diagonal-up, will launch a jab, flicking it to the left or right will launch a straight and flicking it diagonal-down will launch an uppercut. As you probably guessed, flicking left or right denotes which hand you throw the punch with.This isn't the only way to throw punches though, as you can also use the face buttons to throw an array of punches. While this can be used as an alternative, they actually compliment each other quite well. Instead of using the lower face buttons to throw hooks, and the upper face buttons to throw jabs, you can use a combination of the upper analogue stick and lower face buttons - or whatever you're comfortable with.
The power modifier also returns, as does weaving and blocking. But now they're all assigned to different buttons. It makes the defensive side of the game much more enjoyable, especially if you like playing as a counter-puncher. There's no better feeling than weaving to avoid an incoming hook, then landing a powerful counter right on their chin.
Overall, the system feels a lot more fleshed out and a lot more conducive to real boxing than previous titles - especially in the heavyweight divisions. But it still doesn't sell it completely. In the lower weights and the occasional amateur fight, this is especially prevalent. Here, you can still just spam punches in order to win as knockdowns and knockouts are much more infrequent. It's something that they really need to fix in the next game, as even heavyweights can take a ton of punches in the face without really batting an eyelid.
The game's graphics have been significantly improved since Round 4. The professional boxers are all nicely represented in-game, and the animations are now a lot more realistic. Only occasionally do arms get a bit tangled, usually things feel natural. the facial and body injuries which happen throughout the fights look great, in the nicest possible way, with black eyes, cuts and bruises creating the desired effect.
In-depth knockdown replays are also in effect, but sometimes they are a bit unnecessary. It might have been better if they chose more carefully which punch to focus on, as opposed to simply looking at the punch which landed the final blow. The reason for this, is because knockdowns are based on decreasing a health meter, so the final punch might be a fairly tame looking jab. Watching a slow-motion replay of this, and having the game try to make it seem awesome, is a bit strange.
If you throw in the game's online modes too, which features the basic vs modes, but also the ability to take part in online world champions, prize fighting, and sharing boxers, Fight Night Champion has the ability to last for a considerable amount of time.
Fight Night Champion really raises the bar for the Fight Night franchise. It features a much more attuned control scheme, a Hollywood-styled story and the ever-present Legacy Mode. But there are still a few niggling issues with regards to the game's presentation and its closeness to real boxing. Some more innovation with the Legacy Mode would have been nice too. However, with a huge array of boxing talent available to play as, boxing fans couldn't really ask for much more.
|The first EA Sports title to feature some kind of story|
|Control system that feels much more natural|
|The visual effects really show off facial damage|
|The instant-replay camera really needs some refinement|
|Story needs to be much longer next time around|
|The game needed to take some more risks with Legacy Mode|