Fight Night Champion Review
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
Available on: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (Xbox 360 version reviewed)
There have been comparitively few boxing games in the games industry over the years and the majority of them are usually arcade based in terms of their gameplay style, rather than being full on simulations. Whilst a decent boxing simulation was non-existent, the majority of people enjoyed other titles that were on offer, but gamers who were fans of the sport craved for a boxing title that would be close to real life as possible. Then as consoles became more powerful, it looked more and more likely that a boxing simulation would come to fruition. EA Sports answered this call and released the first Fight Night title. When EA started this franchise, they found that they ended up dominating the market and have been going strong ever since. They have always prided themselves in providing a boxing game that is realistic, graphically brilliant and enjoyable to play.
In recent years though, EA have had some competition to contend with in the form of the THQ published UFC titles. With this unwanted competition, EA Sports Canada have decided to tighten up their skills to provide a boxing game that ticks all of their previous pre-requisites whilst trying to give it more of an edge. To achieve this they have tried to create a grittier game, which usually ends up yielding some good results. But can you really do that with a boxing game? Boxing is already a gritty subject to begin with! Well, there is only one way to find out. So without further ado, put on your boxing gloves, get that mouth guard ready and LETS GET READY TO RUMBLE!
STORY: Weirdly for a Fight Night game, there is a storyline you can play though called “Champion Mode”, and it follows the roller coaster story of a boxer, known as Andre Bishop. The story starts off in a prison in America, where Andre regularly takes part in jailhouse bare knuckle boxing matches against inmates for the amusement of his fellow prisoners and guards. After one of these grueling matches, Andre is ambushed in the prison showers by several inmates, who weren’t very happy with the outcome of the match and harbor some racial hatred, and has the living piss beaten out of him in some quite graphic scenes of violence, though thankfully there are no rape scenes!
As Andre drifts into unconsciousness, the story then goes back 4 years earlier and you see Andre as a very promising Middleweight fighter rapidly moving up in the world. So much so that a corrupt boxing promoter called D. L. McQueen, wants to take over the management of Andre (so his daughter Megan can make a start in the boxing world) from Andre’s current trainer/manager called Gus Carisi, who also trains Andre’s younger brother Raymond. Gus and McQueen have a certain dislike for each other and Andre, remaining faithful to his manager, politely tells McQueen to go elsewhere. This sends McQueen into a rage and prompts his catchphrase “You don’t know who you’re fucking with!”. Charming!
Because of Andre’s refusal to be managed by McQueen, he gets framed for assault on a police officer and carrying a gun and gets sent down for 5 years, which brings you back to where you started in the story. Now with a purpose in his heart, Andre beefs up in prison, gets to the size of a heavyweight and takes part in some more jailhouse scrapping, only to find out that his brother has dropped Gus as his trainer/manager and is now in McQueen’s pocket. As you can imagine, Andre is a bit pissed off with this, but when he finally gets out of prison he goes to work for his brother running the gym he once trained at, now owned by Megan, who has parted company with her corrupt father. Can Andre redeem himself and retain his former glory or will he be just another boxer forgotten about in history? Well, if you buy the game you will inevitably find out!
The Champion Mode storyline is actually quite good and is almost like playing a Rocky film, with the corrupt promoter, an arrogant heavyweight champ that seriously needs to get a kicking, an old school trainer (he’s a wrecking machine!) and a good woman behind the main protagonist. The balance of story and gameplay is nicely done as well, giving you a nice dose of story and then letting you control Andre so you can commence taking down your opponents, leaving you satisfied and ready for the continuation of the plot. Champion Mode will only take you around 3 hours to finish and although that seems short, it is beneficial because if it were to drag on any longer, you would probably start to find it boring. The story does end quite abruptly though, but you could say that about some of the awesome Rocky films too! For what it is worth, Champion Mode is a nice edition to the Fight Night series and fun to play through. It is also a great way to get a knack for the controls before attempting Legacy Mode and online play.
GRAPHICS: Fight Night Champion is a nice game to look at, although it can be a little bit too dark at times. Usually when you see the entrances for the boxers in real life, the whole stadium is well lit, but not as bright as the spotlight following the boxer. In this however, the crowd is usually dark and the only real source of light comes from the ring. The facial animations are once again top notch and the likenesses of some of the world’s greatest boxers are second to none. This also carries into the Champion Mode, giving the extra oomph needed to make the fictional characters more believable. As per usual, when dishing out the punches the animations are brilliant to watch and the slow motion camera (for when you knock your opponent down or get bitch slapped yourself) gives the feel of Fight Night Champion a lot more gravitas.
When creating your own boxer, you can still use an Xbox LIVE Vision Camera or PlayStation Eye to put your face on a created boxer, and with every year the developers keep including this feature, the more accurate it becomes. The only drawback is that your fighter can still look spaced out at times and the only emotion on his face seems to be when you receive a belting hook or uppercut.
Hard work in the ring is rewarded with graphical wonder displayed in the form sweat and blood. You will open up cuts on your opponents face and the subtleties in the facial damage are very well designed. If you have been barraging your enemy with some massive right hooks then you will notice, especially in the breaks between rounds, the swelling being produced from your continued attacks. Overall, the graphics in Fight Night Champion are absolutely brilliant.
SOUND: The sound throughout the game is quite good, with the hip hop soundtrack in the background aiding the style of the game and heightening your emotions, almost preparing you for your next fight. The punching sound effects are as you would expect along with the noises a boxer would normally make during a fight. When you floor an opponent or are knocked down yourself, it sounds like you have your head in water with people screaming in the background. The audio helps give you that dazed and confused feeling that you would expect from being close to unconsciousness.
The crowd noises are as they should be, the ring announcer is at his master of ceremonies best and the character voice acting is well portrayed, which makes you genuinely care or feel hatred for the characters you comes across in the Champion Mode more. With regards to the hip hop soundtrack, although it serves its purpose well at first, after a while it does drag out and could be improved by quick track changes. However, with this little criticism aside, the sound for Fight Night Champion is very well executed.
GAMEPLAY: The fighting mechanics from previous Fight Night titles have been tightened and now make you feel like a well oiled machine. For example, in prior iterations, when using the right stick for a right hook, you had to pull the stick to the right and the a quarter circle to the 12 o’clock position to pull this punch off. Now though, the developers have taken out this quarter circle manoeuvre and you now just have to press a direction, forward being straight punches, right/left for hooks and down for uppercuts, with depressing the left trigger to enable these punches for the body. This little change makes the fighting a lot quicker and allows you to fire out combos faster, and with the face buttons also activating these punches, you will find that you will use the stick and the buttons to pull these combos off, especially when you are close to sparking out your opponent.
The defensive system has been improved as well as the blocking and weaving that you control, to enable you to dodge or block the punches that come your way, although moving your character around whilst doing this is quite hard. For those of you that like to fight dirty, you can head butt or throw a low blow at your opponent, but if you use these too much you will be disqualified. Also, if you want to taunt your opponent, then you can, but make sure you don’t receive a slap in the process. You can use taunt or dirty tactics via the D-Pad.
Be warned however, there are flash knockouts in this game which will come along when you least expect it. In one fight my boxer got knocked down 3 times and was close to being floored again, when I landed a peach of a right uppercut and TKO’d my opponent, winning the match. This happened during an online match and I imagine that my opponent, wherever he may be, was leaping around in a mass rage. So for goodness sake remember, you haven’t won until the final bell has been rung!
Boxing wise there is a little confusion as to what this title is trying to achieve. The boxing itself makes out that the game is a simulation, but with the stamina and health bars it almost seems like an arcade based title. You can hide these bars, but once you know they are there, it will change the way you fight. The mechanics behind the health bar are a little off as well, the overall recovery speed is just a little too quick. If you were knocked down in real life, you would be hanging on until the end of the round so your corner could attend to you – in Fight Night Champion, that’s not the case. More often than not your health bar will recover very quickly and you’ll be back in the zone before you know it.
There are a couple of modes that are available for you to carry out your blood lust, and along with the previously mentioned Champion Mode, Legacy Mode, Xbox Live and Fight Now make up the rest of the experience. The latter of these modes is great fun to play, either using your created boxer or some of the worlds greatest fighters, you can relive some of the greatest fights ever, or create a fight between two of the greatest from different generations and slug it out. For major boxing fans who play video games, this would be a wet dream, as Fight Night Champion boasts a massive roster, with more than 50 legends, current champions and rising contenders.
Legacy Mode is where you use an existing or created boxer and fight your way up the ranks to become the champ in your chosen weight class, and become the greatest of all time. There are many options at your disposal to create your character but the best way is to use the Xbox Live Vision Camera or PlayStation Eye and put yourself in the game. Legacy Mode is pretty much the same as previous Fight Night titles, which is both a blessing and a curse. At first it is quite engrossing and enjoyable, but there really isn’t that much depth to it.
The training and XP aspects of Legacy Mode are a little far fetched and confusing at times. In real life after scheduling a fight, obviously you would have some recovery time to allow your body to heal, but to only have 4 weeks training before a fight is just not believable, as professional fighters would train for months before a fight. The whole purpose of training is to make sure that you are at your peak physical condition before going into a fight, but with this, you have to sacrifice 2-3 aspects of your fitness. For example, if you train to make your stamina, strength, and toughness the best it can be, you will sacrifice your strength, reflexes and conditioning. Should you leave these stats for a few fights, the consequences may be severe and you could potentially end up losing your next fight.
The XP aspect is quite bizarre, as you’re only making the punching, chin and heart aspects of your fighter better and not the entirety of your created fighter. After a fight you gain XP to improve these stats, but you can also buy XP from the fight night store, so if you have a spare 2000 Microsoft Points you can almost max out your character, ultimately making Legacy Mode pointless as the main aim of it is to get your fighter’s stats up, and prepare you to fight in the online mode. Obviously you won’t want to spend Microsoft Points, but after a while, you will get fed up as the XP that the game gives you isn’t that generous and you might just end up buying the XP anyway.
Once you win all of the titles available to your weight class, all that is left to do is become the greatest of all time. All this requires is to win 50 fights, which will inevitably give you a great Pound for Pound rank. It would be nice if there was more to it than that, but in the end that’s all you really have to do. Sadly, in this respect, Fight Night Champion’s flaws are exposed in Legacy Mode, simply requiring too much micro management in the sluggish menu system. This is a real shame, as if they’d have nailed this mode then it could of been something so much more.
MULTIPLAYER: Fight Night Champion gives you the opportunity to create your own gym, which is essentially creating a clan for your boxers, and you can then go out fighting other gyms for superiority and to try and become the best online gym in the world. You can also have rival gyms and compete against them, making the experience more enjoyable to behold. Once you decide to compete with a rival gym you can then take part in rival challenges, which makes you want to represent your gym with the highest quality boxers available, and then try to dominate the rival gym and potentially steal their best boxers. It’s all very cut-throat and a great opportunity to shout out McQueen’s catchphrase!
When fighting others there is almost no lag whatsoever, making it an enjoyable online experience. You’ll know that should you lose, it’s your own damn fault. If you don’t fancy creating a gym and just want one on one action then you can do that via the online menus, which look suspiciously similar to the ones in FIFA 11.
LONGEVITY: With Champion Mode only lasting 2-3 hours and Legacy Mode taking 2-3 days hard gaming to complete, depending on whether you decide to purchase XP or not, the only real draw to keep you coming back for more is the multiplayer modes. The amount of time it will take to complete these modes will obviously increase depending on the difficulty that you choose to play, but that could potentially increase the frustration factor also. At the most, the majority of players will play this for a week and then probably come back for the odd fight online, which is a shame because if Legacy Mode was more in depth, then players would be on this for a lot longer.
VERDICT: Fight Night Champion is great fun and an enjoyable experience overall, with special mentions going to the Champion, Fight Now and Online modes. But it does seem that all that the developers concentrated on were these modes and then just threw in some improvements for Legacy mode as an afterthought. If Legacy had been more in depth and a little more enjoyable, then this could of been one of the greatest boxing games out there. But sadly, it doesn’t seem to know if it’s an arcade style boxing game or simulation, and when you add in the aforementioned Legacy Mode issues, it’s fair to say that while this game is a worthy contender, it gets put on it ass due to its glass chin.