Fight Night Champion
Boxing has always seemed like an inaccessible sport to me, probably due to a smaller television presence than most other professional sports in the United States. With the rise of MMA, it seems like boxing is falling farther and farther from the public’s view. Looking over the list of new features added to EA’s most recent boxing release, Fight Night Champion, it seems that the developers at EA Canada had the same thought. Fight Night Champion is easily the most accessible game in the franchise. But trying to build a boxing simulation that appeals to both fans of the sport and casual onlookers is tough, and though Fight Night makes some laudable efforts toward that goal, there are some significant weak spots.
The most prominent addition to Fight Night Champion is a fully-acted storyline, replete with cutscenes and professional actors lending their voices to the game. It follows the career of fictional fighter Andre Bishop through a storyline that hits on all of the classic boxing movie clichés. Bishop is a rising star and winning match after match, but refusing to sign with a crooked promoter lands him in jail and his career derailed. Between cutscenes chronicling his rise, fall and rebirth, players take control and duke it out with his opponents. Though very predictable, I grew to like Bishop and I got hooked into helping him on his path to redemption and glory. It’s just too bad the story treads such a familiar path.
But the real story here in the ring. When played properly, Fight Night Champion can only be described as graceful. Boxers move about the ring, bobbing, weaving, and making carefully deliberated attacks at only opportune moments. The player is given an excellent, easily accessible control scheme to play around with, putting every punch just a flick of an analog stick away. Aiming your punches feels natural and within seconds of picking up the controller, even novices will be throwing haymakers and body shots at their opponents.
It’s a shame though that defense isn’t quite as accessible to newcomers. Assuming that most players stick with the story mode, which automatically starts up when the game is initially loaded, not much training is given on how to properly defend yourself. Unlike in previous Fight Night games, blocking is automatic as long as a player is holding one of the shoulder buttons, but that doesn’t mean that every punch is negated. Players also have to move their character around, swaying left, right, back and forward to avoid incoming shots. As a novice, I have to say that the best way to dodge shots wasn’t very clearly explained. When I was tasked to avoid the high-swinging left hooks of a boxer very early on, I had trouble knowing which way was the best to turn my boxer to avoid the blows.
Each match across the career mode has different parameters for victory. After the aforementioned bad guy pays off the judges against Bishop, you can only win by knockout in one fight. For another, you can only win by knocking down your opponent through body shots. The fights are tailored around what’s going on in the story mode and really help draw the player into the plot. If players are looking to fight straight-up without the plot or any victory parameters, Fight Night Champion offers a familiar franchise mode for series fans. There are 50 professional fighters filling every weight class and players can take control of any of them and lead them to the title of greatest of all-time. The mode hasn’t advanced very much from previous entries, but it still proves to be an enjoyable time-sink for players, particularly those that follow the sport.
Further helping draw players into the experience are some of the finest character models I’ve ever seen in a game. The attention to detail is absolutely staggering. The skin of each fighter looks incredibly authentic, with scaring and surprising texture. Blood dribbles out of open wounds and a satisfying red mist fills the air with each subsequent punch to the affected area. I appreciated the graphics the most during a prison fight against a group of ornery skinheads. Bishop and his opponents square off in a bare-knuckle, no rules brawl. I came out of the gate and head-butted my foe and blood oozed down his face. After he was stunned, I popped him with a jab right in the nose and he fell to the floor. The mat was stained with blood and when Bishop raised his arms in victory, the tape on his knuckles was crimson. The presentation really works to absorb you in the experience.
It wouldn’t be an EA Sports game without an online mode and naturally, Fight Night Champion features a solid online suite. A lot of the fights that I encountered quickly devolved into finesse-free slug fests, as we repeatedly bashed on each other until someone hit the mat. But when you get a match against a player that plays properly, the game’s strengths really shine. Players can also form online gyms with their friends and challenge other gyms for total dominance. There are a lot of customization options and earning points and working up the gym rankings proves very addictive.
There are a lot of positives to Fight Night Champion, but I did encounter one severe issue worth noting. When the game initially boots up, it immediately tries to connect to your EA account before you can even access the main menu. This is not a problem when the servers are working, but on one particular day, EA’s servers were down as it tried to connect. The game sat there, trying to connect, while I sat there just wanting to play the single-player mode. There was no way to back out of the auto-connect, either, so I had to wait until EA’s servers came back online in order to play it offline. This is extremely frustrating and totally inexcusable. I have contacted EA, but as of press time, they’ve not responded to the issue.
But, that one issue overlooked, Fight Night Champion is a solid boxing game. It doesn’t do a very good job through the story mode at introducing newcomers to the mechanics of the game and it can quickly devolve into something that hardly resembles a “sweet science” when players aren’t sure what they’re doing, but once you get the hang of how the game works, it’s a thing of beauty. It controls flawlessly, is stunningly presented and the storyline, though cliché, really works to engross players, even those that don’t know anything about boxing. Fight Night Champion has some rough edges that must pull down the score, but it is still an enjoyable experience that I definitely recommend to interested players.