The first thing to be said about Fight Night Champion is that this game likely won’t serve well those who are looking for a simple button-mashing fight experience that can be picked up for a few hours of casual play when the mood strikes. For those that are looking for a deep boxing sim which will reward prize-fighter dedication, read on.
Fight Night Champion marks the fifth outing in the EA Sports series, and this time around EA has done a great job of building on the strengths of the previous title, as well as introducing a number of compelling new elements.
The big new feature is the Champion story mode which is pulled off really well. It is a fully scripted linear affair that follows the path of boxer Andre Bishop. The story seems to have been inspired by many classic boxing films, which is probably a good thing – it is quite engaging in its own right. Obviously, I don’t want to spoil the plot but suffice to say that the story and the gameplay complement each other wonderfully for the roughly six to eight hour journey. Just be prepared for the insanely tough final battle.
The story mode shows off the fantastic visuals. Convincing facial and character animations, realistic and detailed texturing of environments and fabrics, and a good underlying physics system are all wrapped in an extremely slick and stylish presentation. The cinematic direction of the story mode feels like Hollywood-grade stuff, and this carries over into the fights and the other game modes. The characters are voiced by TV and movie stars including Eliza Dushku, LaMonica Garrett, Roy Jackson, Dawan Owens, whose likenesses are also realistically recreated for their role in the game.
The Championship mode is certainly a stand-out element of the game and it is great to see a sport game pulling off a character driven story. I feel that it serves well to engage players with the title before they delve into the extensive Legacy mode which is really the core of Fight Night Champion.
The Legacy mode has gamers creating their own boxer, or choosing from one of the 50 available big names in boxing. In his mode, players start from the bottom of the amateur league and work their way up to the championship level. It is by no means a quick and easy climb to the top and many hours will have to be sunk into it.
Within Legacy mode, years of simulated time will pass, filled with training routines and bouts. Players will schedule fights with other boxers on the ladder, and then spend four weeks training or resting up. A strategic element comes in to play here, as one must balance stamina with training routines to ensure their boxer is fit and ready for fight day.
Boxers can train at various gyms around the world, each of which helps to improve certain attributes. Travelling to gyms costs money, and money is earned through winning fights and sponsorships. The training consists of a number of different mini-games which do an effective job of honing particular skills. On the first play through this proves extremely valuable. The choice also includes a bout with a sparring partner if one would prefer to hit a real opponent instead of a bag. It matters not which mini-game is chosen as experience points are relatively even across the challenges, the amount depending on skill.
Experience points are then distributed across an extensive upgrade chart. There are multiple levels of all of the fighting variables, right down to blocking strength, reflexes, head weave skill, and the effectiveness of each different type of punch. Some thought must be put into the upgrade choices so as to avoid being a jack of all trades but a master of none. Luckily the auto-assign feature does a good job of filling in the blanks.
As an 18 year old start out, players will recover from the damage incurred during matches without too much bother, affording them time to train up and earn experience. As they age over the years, they will suffer more from injuries, having to invest more time in recuperative therapies and fitness routines. Hopefully by then, players have levelled up their skills enough. This is a fairly accurate representation of how things go for real life boxers and it quite satisfying to see all the effort paying off as a fighter defends his championship career into his golden years.
The controls have had an overhaul from the previous title in the series. Gone are the gesture based attack moves, replaced with ‘Full-spectrum punch control.’ This system relies primarily on the right analog stick, which one flicks at different angles to perform different types of punches. It is straightforward and responsive and feels organic while playing. The face buttons also work, but limit punches to the basic moves. I found myself using a combination of both to great effect. There is a power punch modifier button which will do serious harm when landed, bit also drains a lot of stamina.
There is one block button, and the effectiveness of the block comes down to the skill level of the boxer, and a bit of timing if one wishes to perform the best counter punches. The other defence modifier is the head weave, which is used to avoid punches. When performed expertly, a block and head weave will cause and opponents punch to be deflected or miss, opening them up to a quick and devastating counter attack.
Reading an opponent’s moves is key and it usually isn’t the best tactic to come out flailing wildly, thanks to the stamina mechanic. Fighters will start a match will full stamina and based on their stats, this total amount of stamina will decrease as the fight goes on. The stamina bar will deplete and refill many times during a fight, and a few wild swings leaves one tired and open to attacks. A fighter’s performance during a rounds will also dictate how well they recover in between. Waste too much stamina and take too much punishment and you’ll go into the next round at a disadvantage. It is a simple yet effective system that works well to convey the strategy behind the sport.
Visually, the fights are presented in a cinematic close shot on the action. Here EA has done a fantastic job. Bodies, bodies and tattoos look convincingly realistic, down to the tensioning of muscles and the wobble of flesh. Sweat and blood drips and flies as boxers take damage. The crowd around the ring is detailed and animated. Cameras flash, the ring side teams fret and pound on the apron, the crowd rises to its feet during exciting moments.
The damage models on the face are very good and one will see their fighter slowly become bruised, swollen and bloodied as the match goes on. Rewarding a hard fought tactical exchange is the knockout cam, which zooms into the blow with a cool slow motion shot that shows blood, sweat and saliva fly as a crushing fist distorts face and flesh. For added malicious glee, one can hit a replay button multiple times to relive the best powerful hook shots.
All the while, the sound effects do a good job of setting the environment. Punches land home with a convincing wet smack or crunch. The crowd cheers and jeers. Thankfully, the commentators make sense and even go so far as to drop generic hints depending on performance. Although their comments can become repetitive, I’ve yet to find them outright annoying. The ring side crew for both fighters will shout out advice and warnings, and most of the time it’s wise to listen.
Along with the usual quick fight and versus modes that one would expect is the online side of things – which I did not get a chance to experience thanks to a conspiracy between copper cable thieves, inferior 3G internet, and PSN updates. However, the options are compelling on paper, and assuming the net code is solid, online fights against humans should be every bit as exciting as the single player offering, and likely a better competitive challenge. Players can form gyms with their online buddies where they will spar, earn XP and challenge rival gyms to climb up the rankings.
Fight Night Champion is a sure footed boxing game, hitting all the right marks. It has that special something that compels one to keep fighting for just one more match. The gameplay mechanics are solid, coupled with great animations and visuals, wrapped in a stylish presentation. The Champion mode rounds off the solid core game with a fun and unique story driven experience. This should not leave fans of the genre disappointed.
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