Posted by Press Releases on Mar 4, 2011
Review: Fight Night Champion

Review: Fight Night Champion

Boxing fans have been lucky since 2004. Not one single Fight Night title has brought fans disappointment. Delivering groundbreaking features and pairing them with breathtaking visuals in the last two entries, it seemed almost unreal to imagine what the next chapter would bring. With Fight Night Champion being the third game to appear for current generation consoles, the challenge to elevate the franchise to new levels was immense. Let’s see how the team over at EA Canada have managed to reestablish the bar in the genre. Wait, did I just gave props to them? Yes. Yes I did.

While the game continues to push the boundaries in terms of visuals and sound effects as amazingly as its predecessor did two years ago, Champion’s novelties can be seen almost everywhere – from the controls, the online realm, the presentation and the gameplay to the new and much-touted Champion mode, which I’ll touch on later on. One of the things EA did learn from the last outing was to offer two control schemes right out of the box. With Round 4, only analog punching via the Total Punch Control system was available on launch day, making lots of folks very unhappy. Face-button controls were added later on as a patch but for most, the damage was done.

For Champion, both button punching and the new stick punch control (dubbed as Full Spectrum Punch Control) are available immediately. With FSPC, punches can now be thrown by simply flicking the right thumb stick towards any direction, giving the player twelve different attacks from flared straights and hookercuts to devastating uppercuts. For example, moving to the five/seven o’clock positions will make your pugilist go for either a right or left uppercut. Throwing punches by rotating the analog stick like a madman is now a thing of the past. I’ve personally enjoyed Round 4’s Total Punch Control, but its nice to get something much more organic feeling this time around. However, it will take some time to adapt and I did notice a few oddities – such as specific punches not landing or not affecting the A.I opponent the way it should – but nothing exhaustive enough to complain about.

Another major change is the complete removal of the haymaker function…and I can already see some of your faces grinning with flee. Personally, I hated it. Encouraging arcadey-play styles over a tactical one, it was largely abused in the game’s online realm. So now, instead of throwing haymakers and hoping to get the quick K.O, Fight Night Champion introduces the Heavy Punch Modifier (RB on XB360 or R1 on PS3) that allows players to add power to any of their punches, including jabs and straights, which were impossible to do in previous Fight Night games. Suddenly, winning your way out with one punch knock-outs is no longer a viable option. Its still feasible – whether you choose to attack the head or body – but the game will rely heavily on your boxer’s attributes and skill set in order to pull it off. Meaning? Players will have to work on their characters more thoroughly in order to deserve that one punch KO. Did I just say that one-punch KO’s can be done by attacking the body? Yes! You can do that, as well as stun states and flash knockdowns. Be aware that using Heavy Punch often will dry out your boxer’s stamina and leave him open to critical blows. And yes, the A.I will take advantage of the tiniest opening and knock you out. The last thing you want is to lose a fight that you’ve been dominating right from the start because you wanted to humiliate your adversary.

Before moving to the Legacy and Online modes, I do need to point out – what is to me at least – the biggest change in the control department: blocking. Fight Night Champion features two blocking methods. The first is being determined by the boxer’s stats and fatigue rate. All you need to do is hold the block button and let your fighter adapt to the situation to the best of his potential. No directional movements required. The other is a manually-controlled system that will force you to time all attack attempts effectively and set yourself for a powerful counter-attack. I can see some folks get outraged by the so-called “auto-block”, but just like the One Punch KO’s, it pushes every player to constantly work and improve their fighters. This leads me straight to the much-improved Legacy mode.

Legacy mode is all about fighting the best boxers around the world, improve your abilities, win money and climb the ranks of professional boxing. However, before you start thinking about the Benjamins, you need to build up your character through a new XP-based system and start at the bottom rung of the ladder as an amateur. Each training session and fight will reward you with a certain amount of points, which then will be used to improve all seventeen available skills. Each skill can be leveled up to 20 and comes with its own set of special abilities and/or attributes. Concentrate on a specific set to unlock helpful bonuses that go from stringing multiple punches together to earning powerful flash knock-outs. Persistently working on your character is one thing but once you enter the ring, it doesn’t mean your pugilist is super-human. In Fight Night Champion, all the damage that you take can lead to injuries. Some are minor that will just require you to take longer recovery periods, others are much more critical that could have a major impact on the length of your career. You could even get forced to retire prematurely. So make sure to hit the gym often, train hard and take care of that body during a fight.

Being the best boxer in the world and winning fights will also make you a rich dude. As purses increase alongside your popularity and your pro rank rises, you will be able to use that money to book training camps at different locations across the world. Each location offers its own unique set of attributes and skill improvements. For example, an escapade to England will improve your footwork, Mexico focuses on endurance while Detroit offers speed and reflexes training. As I’ve mentioned earlier, being the best boxer in the world and winning fights will make you a rich guy, but it will also put you in demand. Message-based events from promoters will appear once in while asking you to take some time off training to promote the upcoming event while sponsors will come knocking at your door to wear their gear.

Of course, Fight Night Champion wouldn’t be complete without an online component. Round 4’s Online World Championship as well as Ranked/Unranked matches are back in this entry, but EA Canada also brought a new feature called Online Gyms. In it, players will get to create their own custom boxer, create or join existing gyms to fight other users and play a full season which will be concluded with a tournament. Additionally, gym owners can start rivalries and challenge themselves for experience points, bragging rights and an increased rank on the World Gym Leaderboards. Quick note, the same character skill progression system from the offline Legacy mode is also available online. See it as another opportunity to earn additional XP and improve your boxer. Unfortunately, online servers weren’t active as of this writing and I’m basically describing what players can expect when the game launches on March 1st. We’ll get back to it and bring you our impressions at another time.

So far so good right? Well, I did mention something about a Champion mode earlier on and I’ll tell you this right now: even though it reminisces of movies such as Rocky and Undisputed, it does give the franchise a soul. The 4-8 hour story-driven campaign (length could vary based on the difficulty level and your own skills) tells the story of Andre Bishop, a hard-working and promising boxer. The story begins with Bishop caught in bloody bare-knuckle fist fight in a prison ring. As we hear him say that “it wasn’t always like this”, the game flashes back four years earlier as he was on the verge of winning a gold medal as an amateur boxer. As he turns pro, something happens to him. Obviously, if you’ve been watching the latest promo trailers, you may already know that Bishop will cross paths with a corrupt promoter who plays a huge role in the story. In between cinematics, Bishop will get to fight and this is where the campaign has its best moments. Each fight needs to be won a certain way, making the experience even more dramatic. Knock an opponent before the end of a certain round or win a fight with only left punches while avoiding injuring your right hand. For the rest, expect solid voice-acting, an engaging and dynamic soundtrack (yes, the music builds up and changes according to the action happening in the ring) and well rendered characters supported with full-motion video cuts featuring ESPN’s Brian Penny who gives you an update on the happenings surrounding Bishop’s quest. Introducing Champion mode was a risky move. And despite my earlier “cheesy” qualms, it pays off.

Conclusion

All steps taken by EA Canada to amplify and improve its cherished boxing franchise were so well orchestrated that there’s no other choice than give the Canadian developer props for what they’ve accomplished. It is certain that some of the gameplay tweaks won’t please all Fight Night vets but as an overall experience, I don’t see how fans of the series could hate what’s being offered. To me, Fight Night Champion floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee, times two. A solid knock-out!

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