Reviewed: March 16, 2011
Released: March 1, 2011
Of all the sports that are out there, boxing and wrestling are probably my two least favorite. So why am I about to review Fight Night Champion? Story, man…story. Whether it’s Raging Bull, Rocky (you pick the number – just not #5), Million Dollar Baby, or the more recent Oscar winner, The Fighter, boxing seems to spawn some of the best stories out there…especially if that story is a comeback story.
While I’ve tinkered around with previous Fight Night games I never stuck around for longer than an hour or so because there was no driving force to keep me playing the game, round after round, match after match. Whether you played alone or online in those massive tournaments, the only plot was your own personal desire to reach the top of the leaderboard.|
Fight Night Champion is out to change all that with the inclusion of a story. Fans of the previous games will likely dismiss this new Champion mode as a 6-8 hour diversion; something to distract them from their own personal online quest for glory, but for everyone else, especially casual boxing fans or non-boxing fans like myself, this M-rated adventure might just be enough to spark your interest; even if it’s just for a rental.
This cinematic story mode ranks right up there with the style and intensity of any Hollywood boxing movie I can recall. You’ll play as Andre Bishop, an up and coming young boxer who is quickly becoming one of the hottest boxers in the sport. When he refuses to sign on with a shady new manager Andre is framed and sent to prison, where…you guessed it…he starts fighting in various prison matches. And then we have the comeback part of the story where Andre is released, gets a lowly job at the gym, starts sparring with active boxers, and eventually takes his shot at the championship title.
Despite the compelling narrative, this mode is still a linear series of fights. There are no branching threads, so if you lose a fight your only option is to try again and again until you win so the story can finally advance. This can, and does, stall the game, especially when you start fighting in prison in a series of no-rules events. These matches get quite dirty and even unfair when your opponent can get back up but if you go down only once it’s game over. The story manages to work in a secondary layer of objectives, sometimes requiring a knockout to win versus a decision based on points, and in one particularly clever moment, you’ll injure one hand and have to use your other hand for all your blows.
While Champion mode was the real selling feature for me, it is only a fraction of the experience. Legacy mode is the non-story career mode where you create your own boxer using the robust character creation tool kit or plug in your own mug using the Vision camera. Much like Andre, you’ll need to rise from the bottom, earning money so you can train in better gyms and hopefully catch the eye of generous sponsors. Legacy truly becomes a grind, both in gameplay and mental frustration as you are forced to play in these boring training games and uninspired boxing events.
You can also play Fight Night online where, much like Legacy, you’ll create a boxer and take him up the championship ladder of every other human who is playing online. There is admittedly a certain satisfaction in beating another human as opposed to figuring out a way around EA’s boxer AI, but you start off so low on the totem pole, it seems impossible to win when everyone else out there is way more serious and skillful about this game than me. Additions like EA-sponsored tournaments and your ability to create a private gym (clan) are nice touches.
Regardless of which mode(s) you play, you can enjoy the new control scheme that abandons those silly analog swirls and brings back efficient button-mashing and stick-flicking combat. Casual gamers can opt for the face buttons and combination of face buttons to throw simple punches while skillful players can flick the right stick to punch and jab. There are modifiers for heavy punches and blocks and you can still plant your feet and bob and weave like Sugar Ray or throw a dirty head-butt into the mix.
With the addition of flash knockouts (as opposed to flash knockdowns) a single lucky punch can end the fight, forcing the more careless players to work more on their defensive strategy. You still need to wear down your opponent’s stamina before landing those finishing blows, but it’s much more important to avoid their attacks in the process. Boxer AI is formidable, especially for the licensed pros who will not only fight based on their real-world personalities, but will change their tactics based on the current game situation. It’s surprisingly unpredictable and as close to fighting a human as I’ve experienced.
Fight Night Champion looks amazing with some of the best human modeling and skin textures I've ever seen in a game. I'm not a fan of ink but even the tattoos were impressive. The body damage and blood was brutally realistic without being excessive. The venues looked great and the crowd has been improved, at least for the first few visible rows. The default camera angle sucks. While it tries to offer a televised style it only serves to put the ref between the lens and the boxers. Everything else about the broadcast quality presentation I loved though – even the commentary by Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas, who, if you listen closely, will sneak in subtle hints on how to help you win your current fight. Admittedly, the commentary will get repetitive after a few dozen fights, but that is to be expected. The voice acting for the story mode was outstanding and when combined with some professionally scripted dialogue and expertly filmed cutscenes, made this mode the highlight of the game.
If you are a hardcore boxing fan and love grinding for stats and money and slowly rising up huge leaderboards then Fight Night Champion is probably the game for you, although from what I can tell, it doesn’t really add anything to what you already had in Fight Night 4 other than the whole money thing. Sure, you can square off against 50+ licensed boxers, but for me, the big attraction was the cool story mode with enough blood and F-bombs to force a Mature rating. But even this gritty and realistic boxing story is only good for a few hours of violent fun, making Fight Night Champion a rental for casual boxers and a wait-for-budget-price upgrade for everyone else.