Fight Night: Champion takes the franchise and turns it on its head a bit. The Fight Night franchise is and has always been the definitive boxing simulation, the perfect blend of precise control, and brutal realism. When I reviewed Fight Night: Round 4 back in 2009 I, remember thinking to myself, how are they going to top this. Of all the sports I can think of, boxing has actually changed the least and when developers build a game around something that hasn’t really changed, they are challenged to make a somewhat static experience seem new and fresh again. How do you take a game based on a sport who’s main goal is to beat the crap out of someone and make it compelling? That’s easy – write one hell of a compelling story.
There is a lot to love about Fight Night: Champion. However, the star of the show is Champion Mode. Champion Mode is the tale of an upcoming middleweight boxer named Andre Bishop. I already know what you are going to say, a story mode in a boxing game … this can’t be good. Surprisingly, you would be wrong. The story of Andre Bishop’s rise, fall, and redemption is really well told. Come to think of it, with Will Rokos (Monster’s Ball) writing it, why wouldn’t it be. Champion Mode features over 40 minutes of gorgeous cinematics that really makes you root for Andre to succeed. Additionally, the cutscenes are actually core to the way the story is told, and not something they just threw in as a filler. Depending on your skill level, Champion Mode will take between 4-8 hours. I finished in a little over 5. Fight Night: Champion is the first EA Sports game to have “single player narrative”. If they are going to do it this well, we hope it isn’t the last from them.
When it comes to actual boxing gameplay, EA Sports continues to refine and improve its controls. There was a big fuss when Fight Night: Round 4 came out because it didn’t have button controls initially, and a lot of hard core fans were not happy about that. Ultimately, Total Punch Control worked well, but EA Sports still gave in and put button controls back in with an update. With Fight Night: Champion they decided to make everyone happy and put Full Spectrum Punch Control ( formerly Total Punch Control) and Button controls into the default configuration. This will make some folks happy, but as someone who used to be all for buttons, I just don’t think you can get the kind of precision with buttons that you get with the analog sticks. The biggest addition to controls is actually a small one. Players now have the ability to throw punches from guard and then automatically return to guard. It seems like a small thing, but in tough fights it allows you to be much more strategic when you realize a fight might go the distance.
The EA Sports team did a really good job of improving on a game that was already excellent. Visual improvements include: (1) motion blur in real time, which really brings the speed of the game home, (2) more arena effects, (3) natural lighting, (4) and even more body ripple effects that better convey the power and impact of each punch. When it comes to inflicting damage on your opponents, you have folks who say that the game doesn’t have enough, and others that say severe damage happens to quickly. In Fight Night: Round 4 I was one who felt like it didn’t have enough, but this time around they have struck the perfect balance. When it comes to doing damage in Fight Night: Champion they put on the full court press. Damage could be as subtle as a guy’s hair getting messed up during a fight, or as obvious as blood spatter from your opponent on your body and shorts. Overall, EA upped the level of damage in the game so you will see more cuts, more blood, and more swelling.
As always you can take the fight online. This time you have the chance to win online championships at the world, regional, and country levels. Players can create online gyms to spar and train with each other to improve their skills, and help push each other up the ranks. Online play is okay. The lag that you get when playing on the PS3 version isn’t bad. However, it’s noticeably slower than when you play offline. Until you get used to it, that can be the difference in a fight.
Fight Night: Champion takes the solid foundation that was created with Fight Night: Round 4, and takes that to a whole new level. The decision to put a story mode in this kind of game was a risk, but it definitely paid off and becomes something that we will all want to see more of. If I didn’t like something about the game it was the slow load times between menus. It was just a little longer than what I would have liked. EA Sports attempted to loosen up the analog controls to make them less taxing on your controller and thumbs, but that didn’t work at all. Fight Night games are notoriously tough on controllers. So tough in fact, I think that they should just give you one with the game because avid players will wear out a controller playing it.
This year they also made recovery and cut management automatic. Your performance in the previous round will determine the speed at which you can recover. This system works great! Trying to manage the swelling and cuts did get frustrating sometimes, but it did allow for a level of interactivity that just isn’t there this year. I’m not saying I want them to bring that system back, but I think they could definitely use that time to show you vital statistics or injured areas on the other guy. Those are just minor things though and honestly we just don’t know how they could have drastically improved it anymore than they did. In the end though, Fight Night: Champion represents everything that true boxing fans could want and improves on the strides made in the last game. With the improvements and well thought out executions, ZoKnowsGaming gives it 9.5 out of 10.