Fight Night Champion is EA’s 2011 Boxing release. Now not as predictable as the Madden or NHL games, Fight Night has been around for a while and all things considered this is the fifth game with the Fight Night name. If you have not played a simulated boxing game this is probably a great place to start.
Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Genre: Sports, Boxing
Release Date: March 1st, 2011
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
I don’t often review sports games but the Fight Night series holds a special place in my heart. I really love a good boxing match but I sometimes fail to have the patience to learn the sweet science of this style of fighting. First off Fight Night Champion looks beautiful. The game engine is totally revamped and I’m pretty sure there was one person dedicated to rendering the sweat flying off of the boxers when they take a punch. The animations are smooth and it makes for a pretty flawless visual experience. I could honestly put the controller down and watch the AI controlled players duke it out for 12 rounds. The refined physics animation system that shipped with Fight Night Champion is stunning as it controls flexing muscles, dynamic bruising and scarring, as well as rippling body effects. The general gameplay interface has also been improved, mainly to convey the brutality of the sport with more accuracy. When players are stunned, the camera's angle changes slightly and a faint whistling noise can be heard. Knockout replays are now much more detailed, with a close-up view of the knockout punch available in many different angles. If that doesn’t sound like something you just want to eat up then you need to watch I would stop reading right here.
Along with the amazing animations comes the best controls I have used in a boxing game. Fight Night Champion uses a re-vamped control scheme, dubbed the Full Spectrum Punch control in lieu of the large gestures of the TPC system. Along with the new punching system, several modifications have been made to the buttons. The "Haymaker modifier" has been replaced with a "power modifier", which is held simultaneously while punching to throw heavy punches. This allows for a better feel when going for a killer blow and you will want to use your heavy hitting sparingly as it drains stamina like a bitch. People who cannot use the stick can use the face buttons to punch. I found myself using a hybrid style, swapping between both the analog stick and buttons to execute some amazing combos. I, like many others had a fair share of complaints about the previous Total Punch Control system and I am definitely in favor of the new method for throwing punches.
Champion mode is the newest addition to the series and definitely a worthwhile one. It could be called the ‘campaign’ or ‘story mode’ as you play as Andre Bishop, an an Olympic Champion who is ready to make it in the pros. You begin Bishop’s career during his Olympic run to the gold medal and follow him throughout his career in the major boxing circuit. I cannot go into any detail without spoiling the story but I will say that over the six hours that it took me to finish the campaign I wish that there was more. Each of the fights felt like a throw back to Punch Out with the opponent having a specific way of defeating him. At times it was gimmicky but it also forced you to focus on elements of the game that you maybe would not do in the first place. In one specific match Bishop injured his hand in the first round and for the remainder of the fight you couldn’t use your right hand without hurting yourself. Use your broken hand too much and the ref had to stop the fight. Call it gimmicky but I really enjoyed going through the story of Andre Bishop and it was cool to have to conquer each opponent in a certain way. I couldn’t put it down, I was playing in my own boxing movie and EAs inclusion of the Champion mode was an amazing move on their part. I just wish it was a little longer.
The Legacy mode is the classic create-a-boxer mode where you start out as a meager amateur with the ultimate goal of becoming the champion. Let me tell you, this is definitely the meat of the game and you must be willing to invest a good amount of time into your boxer, much like any other franchised sports game. Beginning with character creation I was almost overwhelmed with the amount of customization options presented to me. Of course you had the typical in-depth facial reconstruction, a feature that after spending countless hours on trying to make my dude he never looks like me. Good to know that EA included the Game Face feature where you can upload a picture online and they will map it to your created boxer. After importing my face I realized that it didn’t matter what my face would look like since it was going to be battered and bruised for the rest of the game. Moving on from creating an amazingly fit and ripped version of myself I stumbled into the actual boxing style setup. You could choose everything about your character from the stance to the fighting style and although the complexity allowed you to distinguish your boxer I wish there were some tooltips to tell you what each stance meant. I’ll admit that I do not follow the sport so I’m not exactly sure what makes up an “old school” or “conventional” fighter. Since I have long lanky arms in real life I went with a light-heavyweight mummy-stanced boxer with an outside fighting style, which apparently relies on jabs and long straights to keep your opponent out of your zone. The create-a-boxer in Fight Night Champion is extensive, and rightfully so, since you will be spending quite some time with them in and out of the ring.
After you spend copious amounts of time perfecting your character you don’t exactly hop right into the action. You are given a manager interface where you can edit your ring entrance all the way to viewing how your competition is doing. You obviously start at the bottom and work your way up, so you have to book fights with fighters close to your rank on the ladder via the manager interface. Once you have a fight booked you usually have a couple weeks to train. The training in itself is not very interesting as it is comprised of various minigames. The better you do on the minigame, the more your stats go up. I tried out all of the training exercises and some of them are interesting, like the heavy bag and regular sparring. There are some more tedious ones where you have to dodge a bag coming at you or work on your footwork by avoiding a sparring partner while under dazed conditions. The training exercises work well to emulate a real boxing experience but I often found myself doing the alternative, which was labelled ‘athletic training’ and the game automated the training for me. During the weeks of training before your fight you have to monitor your stamina, which can be recovered through rest, lest you wanted to train very hard and go into a fight tired. In some instances during my training a special charity event would come up on my schedule and I could opt to skip training in favor of getting more popular. It is a pretty dense manager mode leading up to my fight but Fight Night would have benefit from a better interface and loading time optimization.
It was a slow start to my boxing career because my character’s stats were low and I had to rely on very technical boxing to win fights. Although it did not happen that often, it felt good to knock a $#!&$er out when I did connect with a big punch. Attention to detail and precision will go a long way in your Fight Night career as you will do much more damage when striking your opponent after a successful dodge or block. I spent a fair amount of time in the ring, coming out of my experience with a 10-3 record after it was all said and done. If you are contemplating this game just know that you must be in it for the long haul because I was getting antsy to climb the ladder and challenged some better boxers and this cost me a couple (fair) losses. That is not to say that I came out of each loss with nothing, but quite the opposite. Within each individual bout your manager will give you specific tasks that will gain you experience. For example, “Knock down your opponent before round 4” or “finish the fight without getting cut” will net you 500 additional XP. You will gain experience regardless of winning or losing but of course the gains are much more generous when you come out of a fight with your arms in the air. What do you do with all this experience you ask? Well when you get back to your gym you can put the experience points towards different stats of your character. You can mold him into a tank, or a quick agile boxer - but it is all dependant on what style you chose at the beginning of the season. Since I was an outside fighter it took less experience points to level up my jabs and straights, and it took a ton of experience to increase punches that pertained less to my style like uppercuts and hooks. It is a really rewarding system and it made me want to train my boxer more and pick my fights carefully. You will get a ton of play out of the Legacy mode, but just be ready and willing to put the time and effort in.
The last point I will touch upon deals with the online integration of EAsports.com into Fight Night Champion. I was blown away by the accessibility and the amount of features present within the system, and this was AFTER I had uploaded my picture for my create-a-boxer. My favorite option was being able to browse other people’s created characters and download them to my system. This meant that when I was doing my boxing circuit I would run into fights against Bruce Lee, Carl Winslow, Ivan Drago, and yes even Rocky Balboa. I was quite impressed with the online experience and EA did a great job to allow users to go beyond just the game and have their customers invest more time into their product. I was sold on it and the site was still in infant stages of the game, as I had the game on release week.
Fight Night Champion is the best simulation boxing experience you can have to date. If you are more of an arcade style player and do not have the patience to learn the basics of the sport I would stay away. The visuals are stunning and the game plays as smooth as my silk trunks. The Champion mode, although short, is a welcome addition to the series and the Legacy mode will allow you to sink countless hours into your very own created boxer. The online features will keep you engaged with all of the user generated content and DLC that is available will give this game the staying power until the next Fight Night title. Be warned that you are in for a real boxing experience here and not some flying fists of fury Facebreaker garbage. If you are looking for an engaging and true simulated boxing experience, Fight Night Champion is a definite knockout.