Review: Fight Night: Champion
April 6, 2011, Author: Phil Ubee
Boxing is not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact some would have you believe it is a barbaric activity that simply allows two violent Neanderthal’s to beat the poop out of each other for thirty minutes or until one of them is hurt enough not to continue. I however believe it to be a sport that tests the mind and body of its participants in a way that cannot be matched by any other. Some of the sporting world’s greatest ever athletes and sharpest minds belonged to boxers, not least the greatest of them all.
Over the past five years Fight Night has become one of EA Sports’ flagship franchises, which suggests I am not alone in hailing the great gladiators of Madison Square Garden as heroes and the series has grown and developed immeasurably since Fight Night: Round 3 was released back in 2006. The latest title was released last month on all platforms and I have been putting it through its paces to see if it can become a true Champion.
Fight Night: Champion is the first title in the series to introduce an actual story mode, which is aptly named Champion mode and sees you take the role of Andre Bishop, an up and coming Middleweight prospect. The game begins with you in trouble mid-fight, which you soon discover is in prison. You need to pick yourself up off the floor and beat your opponent in what is essentially a training level. After the fight you are ambushed by your victim and his gang and receive something of kicking in the shower room.
You are then taken back to the start, four years earlier, when our Andre was a talented Middleweight amateur. After winning gold at the Amateur Championship and turning pro you are approached by dodgy promoter, DL McQueen, who wants to take you on. After refusing, you get somewhat stitched up by a bent cop on McQueen’s payroll and sent down on a charge of unlawful possession of a firearm.
Champion mode follows your career after your release from prison, as you bid to lead Andre from general dogsbody in the gym your brother trains at (he is now managed by McQueen), to sparring partner and up through the ranks to a title fight. The twist being that you are now a heavyweight, the same weight class as your younger brother and are managed by DL’s daughter Megan.
Fight Night: Champion plays in much the same way as its predecessors with punches controlled on the right analogue stick. For newcomers to the series the “total punch control” is an act of gaming genius in my opinion and allows you to really pick your punches in a way that the face buttons (restored for Champion after a year off) ever could. The left stick moves your fighter around the ring and again has a subtlety that adds a real depth to the play. A flick up or down sees you step to the side, opening a new angle for your fighter which gives you different points of attack. You can also weave into or out of range with a specific movement on the left stick.
The RB is used as a haymaker button in conjunction with the Right Stick and adds extra power to your punches; this comes at the cost of a chunk of your stamina should you miss your target. LT plants your feet allowing you to manoeuvre your body to avoid punches and if held when punching aims your shot at the body. RT is used to block and LB pushes your opponent away, again when used well, this can really open up your attack by forcing your opponent onto the ropes or simply giving you room to unleash a flurry of punches.
As mentioned, the face buttons can be used to throw a selection of punches but the freedom is nothing like it is with the Right Analogue stick. Your D-Pad also has functions such as low blow or head-but for when you’re in real trouble and taunt or switch stance for when you feel like a little show-boating.
What hits you in Fight Night: Champion is the increased level of difficulty compared to previous versions. Opponents are far more intelligent, so the ability to wade in throwing haymakers rarely works above the lowest Amateur level and instead, you need to work openings behind a good jab just like the real thing. Blocking this time is also much more difficult because simply holding the block button waiting for the counter opportunities as in previous versions doesn’t work, you need to time your blocks to earn the counter chance and then take it. Also, if you simply hold the block button, after a couple of punches hit the gloves they will start to get through your guard as your energy drops and do damage anyway.
The game has been pushed further towards the sim end of the scale and for any fan of the sport that should be seen as a positive. Having said that, there will be more than a few people alienated by the spike in difficulty and the more cautious, patient approach needed for success on even the fairly low ranking pro difficulty level.
In addition to the Champion mode, there is the regular Fight Now option that lets you take control of any one of the huge roster of the game’s legends of past and present in a one-off fight, either against CPU or human opponents (locally), and the Legacy Mode makes a welcome return.
Legacy lets you create a new boxer from scratch or recreate a ring legend and sees you try to guide them from the amateurs to the pro ring and work your way towards becoming a legend, by winning multiple belts at multiple weights. It is the main single player mode, despite what the packaging might say, and plays out in exactly the same way as in Round 4 but the pre-fight training has had a slight change. Instead of just picking your training mini-game and getting points assigned to specific skills, all the training games (and fights) now give you XP points which you can spend how you see fit. There are several additional fields to a fighter’s skill-set too, giving you a rating for each specific punch, combinations and then the defence grades on Blocking, Chin, Heart and Head Movement. At regular stages of the development you get a bonus, so, taking the jab as an example, at level six you earn the Stiff Jab grade, which increases the chance to stop an opponent’s movement by 10%. At level eleven it becomes Blinding Jab, which increases the chance of opening up your opponent by 15%. Each skill set can be increased to a level twenty with five targets in each.
The way the training is set-up is also slightly different with you signing up to a training camp, potentially at a cost, prior to any fight. The training options vary in each camp and it is up to you to get the most from each one to get the maximum XP points to improve your fighter. There are also a few tweaks to the training games themselves with the addition of four new types of sparring to practice your finishing, your ability to hang on, defensive techniques and different styles of attack. Each of the sparring games really does help you to develop your in-game personality, as you pick up techniques to take forward into the ring.
As ever with an EA Sports game, a great deal of effort has gone into appearance. All the legends, such as Ali, Tyson, Jones Jr and Calzaghe are meticulously created and easily recognisable. They fight like the ring masters they represent too; Ali dances round the ring on his toes, while Tyson hunts you down like a predator stalking prey. You’d be forgiven for thinking this may lead to a certain neglect on the standard characters, but that is far from the case as each individual fighter is well created and takes on a specific personality.
All fighters are chiselled and well animated; muscles flex and ripple with punches thrown and landed. The cuts and bruises are noticeably visible both in fight and at the corner, and follow the action. On top of all that, ring girls strut their stuff in true “News of the World” fashion, adding an additional polish. Lighting effects are also truly superb with various laser and smoke effects on the ring walks, and a visible lens flare as the ring spot lights hit the cameras during ring introductions.
On the downside, despite the overall animation being of a very high standard, there are occasions when the punches don’t seem to actually land but still do the damage. Fine if you’re throwing them, but somewhat frustrating if you’re on the receiving end. The taunt animations also take an absolute age, making it almost impossible to use them without getting hit in the process.
Fight Night has the EASports Trax system in the menus, that allow you to pick and choose from a good, varied selection of old and new music, anyone one of which can be used for your ring walk. In the ring you get commentary from stalwarts Joe Tessittore and Teddy Atlas which, though relatively informative and professional, seems to repeat itself at least twice every round and considering a round only lasts three minutes that’s not good. Pre and post fight, you have Al Murdoch as the ring announcer and during battle, Rocky style musical changes kick in at key moments to add to the mood.
It’s not often I make much of a mention of voice acting, especially in a sports title but although restricted to the Champion mode story, it is very good here and the story is well scripted. The characters seem cast decently, with Eliza Dushku as Megan and Walter Addison as DL McQueen. The lead role of Andre is portrayed by Lamonica Garrett, not a name I knew before hand, but he certainly does it justice. The biggest compliment I can pay is that I genuinely enjoyed the story (all be it short) and was suitably drawn into the world created.
In the red corner
Multiplayer options include Fight Now, which is where you find your regular ranked and unranked matches, including leaderboards. Matches are easy to find or create and although you can only modify the weight class in a ranked match, which is fought over ten, two-minute rounds, in unranked you can set the round length and number of rounds to your preference, also switching on “saved by the bell” and a three knockdown rule.
Then there is the Online World Championship, where you take a created boxer online and try to progress up the ladder of your chosen weight division en route to a potential title. XP are again awarded for fights won or lost to help develop your budding Lenox Lewis in the same skills as in the legacy mode. Fight parameters cannot be changed from ten, three-minute rounds and there is no denying the concept is a good one.
Online Gyms make up the game modes. This allows you to create or join a gym where you can have all your friends linked together. From here you can participate in the Online World Championship, set up a season of contests with Gym members or just spar.
Despite genuine promise as an online masterpiece, Fight Night: Champion just doesn’t quite deliver. There is the odd bit of lag here and there which can hamper the experience ever so slightly but far worse is the fact that unfortunately you will find that at times your boxer is incapable of throwing a punch. Kind of an issue in a Boxing sim and akin to playing a game of FIFA without the ability to kick the football.
Added to this is what I have christened the “magic punch factor”. Though I accept in boxing there is always the possibility of a lucky punch, certain parameters will always be met, like being in a position to throw a punch, having a certain amount of energy, and actually landing the punch itself, none of which seem to be a factor in Fight Night. Then there is the additional issue that getting up off the floor twice in a single fight is nigh on impossible, never mind twice in the same round, and the online modes tend to frustrate far more than they reward.
And the winner…
Fight Night: Champion poses a real question when it comes to a recommendation. The Champion mode, however well presented and engrossing it may be is ridiculously short, taking just two hours from start to finish, but the Legacy mode is huge, offering an involved, enjoyable, challenging single player experience that will keep even the most avid gamer busy for months.
The multiplayer is equally as contradictor. The Online World Championship is a great idea and the introduction of Online Gyms is a good addition to help build the community, but unfortunately there are just too many occasions when the glitches ruin the experience. Therefore, what should be up there as a true ring legend like Ali and Frasier, sits a little closer to being a chump like Audley Harrison.