Game Rant's Jason Weissman reviews Fight Night Champion
Fight Night Champion, EA Sports’ newest entry into its popular Fight Night series, promised to be more than just a yearly refresh. Without any serious competition in the boxing genre, EA Sports could have simply made a few minor tweaks to the gameplay and revamped the roster of licensed boxers, and the title would have still sold well.Instead, the sports giant opted to revamp the damage, conditioning and endurance systems while also modifying the controller configuration. Additionally, online play was entirely reconfigured and EA Sports heavily promoted these new additions with a series of video trailers. The most heavily featured addition however, was the new “Champion” mode, which put players in the role of a talented up and comer, Andre Bishop. Lastly, EA Sports brought back the popular Legacy mode where players could create their own boxers to try to win a championship belt. Does the combination of these new features significantly improve on the feature set of Fight Night 4? Read on to find out.
There Will Be Blood
Visually, Fight Night Champion is the best looking boxing game if not, one of the best looking sports titles ever released on the consoles. From the appearance of the boxers to the equipment they are wearing, there is amazing attention to detail. During the slo-mo replays, you'll see your opponent's skin ripple from the impact of your punches. But where Fight Night Champion really excels is in the much hyped damage system. As fights progress, you’ll notice swelling and cuts beginning to form over fighters’ eyes, blood spray on impact, and blood spatter on the boxing mat. Do enough damage to your opponent's eye, and the referee will stop the fight.
The in-ring action is smooth and the punching animations never appear choppy or canned. A referee now also appears in the ring to rule over the action. For the sake of realism, this is a great addition, but occasionally the referee did obscure my vision of the fight, especially in Champion mode. Changing the camera view to a different view helped, but it is something of which to be mindful.
One of the complaints some had about Fight Night 4 was the change from a button-controlled punch system to an analog system. EA Sports responded to the fans by providing more control choices in Fight Night Champion. The analog controls return but in the form of the new “Full Spectrum Punch Control” scheme and it works well for the most part. After several hours of gameplay, I began to feel that the analog scheme was much more intuitive and easier on my fingers than a button scheme, which I had preferred in the past. Occasionally, I had some issues where I inadvertently head-butted my opponent or triggered an intentional low blow, but this was a rare occurrence. For those who still prefer to punch using buttons, EA Sports brought back the option to do so.
Blocking is a fairly straightforward experience: if you time the block with your opponent's punch, you will always do so successfully. If you choose to leave your guard up, your attributes will determine whether you get clobbered or not. One of the nicer features is that you can throw punches while still holding the block trigger and you will immediately return to the guard position after your flurry.
Unless you set the difficulty level to Easy, spamming punches is definitely a bad idea as not only will you possibly leave yourself open to a counterattack, you’ll pay a big price with the new conditioning and endurance system. Overuse of the same limb will result in sluggish performance and too many punches in one round may cause your fighter to start sucking wind, leaving you very vulnerable. Gamers will be rewarded for taking a more tactical approach as catching your opponent with the right punch at the right time could result in a flash knockdown or one-punch knockout.
There’s a Champion in All of Us
Upon firing up Fight Night Champion for the first time, you’ll be launched straight into Champion mode where Andre Bishop is in the middle of a prison boxing match. After taking care of business, you’ll learn how Bishop ended up in his situation via a four-year flashback, starting with his attempt to win gold at the World Amateur Games. You’ll then compete in numerous fights and training challenges over the course of Bishop’s career. There is not much of a tutorial for Champion mode, so those playing the series for the first time may have to endure some initial trial and error.
The script, written by Will Rokos, is compelling and the 40 or so minutes of cutscenes interspersed throughout this mode look great and are voiced well. While the crooked promoter angle is not terribly original, it does the job of providing Bishop with a foe he must conquer.
The facial animations of Bishop are one of the most impressive feats in the game, and frankly, the level of detail is surprising, since they outshine many RPGs currently on the market. The use of ESPN’s Friday Night Lights program is also a nice touch to add some legitimacy to the story. Unfortunately, the narrative is extremely linear and will not provide for much replayability. Lose a fight or fail a challenge? You’ll have to try again until you succeed. You’re pretty much along for the ride during this tale. While some of the challenges can be fun and interesting, others, such as knocking down your sparring partner twice with body blows over three rounds, can be extremely tedious and frustrating.
Overall, Champion mode is a mixed bag. EA Sports delivers a compelling story, but in doing so, I felt myself wanting something more substantial than what a mini-movie mixed in with gameplay could provide. This new feature could have been so much more satisfying if players were able to create their own Andre Bishop, and if EA Sports offered an RPG-like experience with multiple branching paths. As it stands now, there is very little reason to complete this mode more than once. Nonetheless, this could be the start of a new and exciting chapter in the Fight Night series, and hopefully, EA Sports will further develop this concept in future editions.
Rope a Dope
Even though Andre Bishop’s visage is on the cover of the box, the real stars of Fight Night Champion are the Legacy and Online Gym modes. In both, gamers will be able to create their own boxer by selecting 1 of 87 templates for the head or by using an Xbox Vision camera to make a boxer that resembles your facial structure. Oddly enough, the Kinect cannot be used for this feature. Once the face and body type is selected, you'll be able to name your boxer, select a premade nickname, blocking technique and fight style. Players can also customize their music and pyrotechnics for their approach to the ring.
Legacy mode existed in Fight Night 4, but has been tweaked for the better. As you take your newly-created pugilist into career mode, you'll be able to schedule a fight and then start your training regiment in the weeks leading up to the bout in either Skills Training or Athletic Training. Like Fight Night 4, Skills Training requires you to complete a mini-game in order to raise all of your attributes. Athletic Training, on the other hand, is a passive experience that doesn't require any extra work on your part, but it will only affect one of your athleticism attributes. The Skills Training is a lot more forgiving in Fight Night Champion and gamers are no longer punished for focusing on a particular type of training.
Each training session and fight will yield XP that you can use to build your fighter to your preferred boxing style. Want a dangerous right hook? Load that skill up with points just like any RPG. As you increase a particular skill, you'll unlock attribute bonuses that could give you an advantage such as stunning your opponent or the ability to cause flash knockdowns. Trying to build the ultimate fighter is a compelling experience that can become an obsessive journey to level up just one more time.
As fun as Legacy mode is, creating your own online gym for you and your friends to compete in is what will probably bring you back over and over again. You can import your offline Legacy fighter into your gym and set up a season and/or tournament. In order to keep things fair, the boxer's attributes will be reset back to the lowest settings, so you'll have to level up through online bouts. If you get tired of fighting your friends, you can challenge other gyms in Rivalry Fights and improve your gym's position in the World Rankings. The load times immediately before a fight can be a bit slow at times, but overall this new feature works as well as advertised.
Fight Night Champion is the one of most addictive sports titles I've played in quite awhile. The nuts and bolts of the boxing mechanics work incredibly well, the RPG elements in the Legacy and Online Gym modes will keep you coming back for just one more fight, and the game has a good mix of gameplay modes to keep the replayability factor high. This is easily the deepest boxing video game on the market. The only glaring fault of the game is the shallowness of the new Champion mode, but even this will provide a fun diversion for most gamers. Fight Night Champion does the series proud and boxing fans will be hard-pressed to find a better experience elsewhere.