Fight Night Champion Review
As Ernie Ford once sang, "...a poor man is made out of muscle and blood." Boxing is not an aristocrat’s sport, that’s for sure. Soaked in all manner of foul fluids, the boxer is a man’s man, beating the tar out of his opponents and glowing godlike in the spotlight. It’s not all guts and glory, of course. Real boxing involves two things most gamers avoid like the plague: intense pain and hard labor. Fortunately, boxing games have come a long way since the days of Super Punchout. EA’s Fight Night Champion aims to prove just that.
What lifts FNC from the crowd is its five-star presentation. Right from the start, the player is plunged into the grim world of Andre Bishop, a sympathetic lowlife getting pushed around by The Man. Bishop’s story is admittedly familiar; heck, it’s like almost every other boxing tale we’ve encountered, right down to the design of the antagonists. Nobody expects a sports title to deliver a Halo-like narrative, but even with the tired premise, this game delivers a story with sleeker style than perhaps any other in its genre. After following Bishop’s rise to renown through a series of flashbacks, we begin to see him less like a digital mannequin and more like a real character. Any moderately skilled player should be able to plow through this Champion mode in just a few days—depending on how much free time you have, of course. This might be for the best, if you’re a “quality over quantity” sort of gamer. Despite its brevity, Champion mode is undoubtedly the creamy center of this tasty title. It may be a bit much to call the game a hyper-realistic boxing simulation, but the description does capture the thrill of a boxing movie—and besides, that’s what we prefer to believe real boxing is, anyway.
To mimic the visceral nature of the sport, the developers have implemented an analog-flicking system. The direction of the stick controls the type of punch you deliver, keeping the action silky smooth as you bob and weave in the ring. Like any analog control system, this does increase the probability of false positives—that is, punches you didn’t really mean to throw. This obviously can be a great source of frustration in a fighting game, where your ability to maintain rhythm and synchronize your attacks with your opponent is crucial to your success. Button mashers should take care, as this is not some tawdry slug fest for simpletons. Some bouts will test your focus or stamina: for example, testing your ability to defend a wounded part of your body rather than simply dish out damage to your foe. Countering and timing is everything, and while I can’t help but wonder how this game might feel on the Kinect, I suspect it would open up a whole other can of worms. The game also attempts to randomize some elements of the combat, sometimes even resulting in a sudden knockout. This is all very exciting until your hard-earned near victory becomes an unexpected slaughter. Of course, no boxing fantasy would be complete without a smattering of famous faces, including Ali and Tyson. Perhaps more intriguing is the varied style of each fighter, which helps spice things up more flatteringly than the aforementioned random events. Sadly, Frederick Tatem is nowhere to be found.
Genre veterans will quickly take to the Legacy mode, which allows players to develop their own fighter. The long-term investment and personal customization is always a welcome aspect of this sort of game, even if it’s not quite as distinguishing as the Champion mode. At a certain point, this seems like the sort of game mode that is added to satisfy player expectation more than it is to revitalize the experience. Taking battles online, players will find the social “clan” components in the form of gyms, so you can link up with your buddies and take on all challengers in all the usual bravado.
There’s no point in denying the aesthetic draw of a massive EA franchise like this one, fully loaded with high production values. The voice-overs are excellent, but the crisp and photo-realistic fighters are appropriately stealing the show. Pugilistic perspiration glistens in the light, blood spatters the ring floor, and skin ripples fluidly as fist meets face. No matter what frustrations the game may hold for you, there’s no denying this is one pretty package of violence. Fight Night Champion is surely one of the best-looking and best-playing games of its kind. The bar has been surely, steadily raised, and there is plenty of promise in the franchise’s future.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]