|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: EA Canada|
|Pub: Electronic Arts|
|Release: March 1, 2011|
|Players: 1 – 2 (Local/Online)|
|Screen Resolution: 480p – 1080p|
by Jake Valentine
The Fight Night series is arguably one of the best sports franchises seen this generation. It leapt onto the scene with the visually stunning Fight Night Round 3 back in 2006 and polished the gameplay with 2009's Fight Night Round 4. Now EA Canada has decided that they want to further improve the formula of the series with its latest entry, Fight Night Champion. Champion offers a darker view of boxing, possibly one that's even more realistic; you're given the chance to play through the story of a boxer's journey from amateur ranks to a possible championship bout, feel the violence of a match first hand, and have more control of where your punches land. On the surface, there's a lot of good to be found in Champion, but it's what was found underneath that hurts.
Let's waste no time and address one of the elephants in the room: Champion is the first ever EA Sports game published with a Mature rating, and it's quite clear from the get go. There's an obvious sense of brutality within Champion, whether it's the detail of the cuts and bruises boxers are given (blood routinely seems to find a home on your shorts) or the darkness the game's story has to offer.
Speaking of the story, I was anticipating it with hopeful enthusiasm. Champion's story mode follows the tale of Andre Bishop, weaving between cutscenes and fights. The story mode is non-stop; you'll watch a cutscene, be thrown into a fight without motive, and then be treated with a new cutscene and new fight all but five minutes later. The speed of the transitions caused me to lose interest; I didn't care about each fight. From time to time, I was interested in a match. In one memorable bout, I had to KO my opponent because the judges were bought off. After a rather blunt speech from my trainer, the next round began. The music was kicking in and I was in the zone, only to be further impressed to hear Brian Kenny talk about my match and the impact it had on the boxing world. This doesn't happen nearly enough, sadly.
While the game's story isn't a total loss (it's at least mildly entertaining), legacy mode is a disaster. Similar to past Fight Night games, legacy allows you to create your own boxer and rise through the ranks of the boxing world. However, there are two issues. First and foremost, there's neither urge of discovery nor any motive to push forward. For all of the shortcomings I found with the story of Andre Bishop, it was able to at least keep me playing longer than I anticipated; I wanted to see what happened next. To make matters worse, legacy mode features various training "mini games" to help boost your boxer's stats, which are pretty poor at the start. But these are not only more work than fun, they're also seemingly pointless. One that stands out is a combo trainer. A timer was running, and although the timer ran out before I completed the combo run, I wasn't punished and pushed on to the next fight.
It's a shame that legacy mode is a waste, since Champion's gameplay is completely top-notch. The sense of realism in the game really shines through; if you want to tire out a boxer, you need to work on his body. Well-timed and well-placed hits to the head knock someone out for good. You're able to punch around a block to land a fight-changing punch. There's a lot of little things that add up to deliver an entertaining boxing experience.
In addition, the controls have been redone, particularly the fight stick. In previous Fight Night games, if you wanted to use the analog stick to control your punches, you had to perform intricate and precise movements and quarter circles. Now, you just flick it a specific direction. It's a greatly-needed improvement, and now I find myself using a combination of both the analog stick (primarily for uppercuts, as this is the more responsive way to pull them off) and face buttons to queue up my combos. Yes, I said queue; you're able to, say, quickly hit "Y" "Y" "B" on your controller and sit back as your boxer pulls off two quick jabs and a hook.