EA’s Fight Night franchise has been among the top sports games since it hit the scene in ’04. Each release touted visual overhauls and other considerable improvements that come with the territory of not having annual updates. Therefore one would expect Fight Night Champion (PS3, Xbox 360) to follow tradition. The game does that to a degree in its take on the sweet science despite its rocky road to the belt.
The game’s Full Spectrum Punch Control simplifies right stick punching. Straight flicks pull off jabs, crosses, hooks and uppercuts so they aren’t cumbersome to perform. Calculated combos or waving the stick recklessly makes your boxer continuously throw punches until you stop moving it. The controls may seem bad at first but they’re designed to reduce spamming and limit stamina. Players can also use the face buttons which, despite missing a few punches, arguably feel more responsive yet less engrossing.
“Champion” mode features lifelong underdog Andre Bishop and his rise from the amateur ranks to title contention. It’s rare to have a sports game feature a M rating-worthy campaign as career. Nevertheless, “Champion” mode is a fresh look for the franchise and sports games in general in lieu of its cliché lines and predictable arcs. It’s a short, enjoyable romp with mostly interesting twists to keep the fights fresh. Also, this may be a spoiler, but be wary if you plan on playing it to completion. The difficulty insanely rises in the final fight.
“Legacy” mode substitutes well if you beat or forewent Bishop’s story. It’s essentially a career mode with a rpg-style leveling system. You can put XP towards various abilities catering to your fighting style all while training, promoting and scheduling fights to move up the ranks. The mode more importantly beckons you to be mindful of the damage your boxer takes throughout his career. For instance, my created fighter suffered from internal bleeding after winning a taxing bout. The game gave me the option to seek medical attention or tough it out. Giving weight to potentially career defining moments is quite welcome. It gives a realistic dynamic the series’s prior career modes certainly lacked.
Fight Night Champion has ample offline offerings and its graphics are pretty remarkable. Fighters look like their real life counterparts, the lighting is great along with cuts and bruises looking believably brutal. Yet its hindrances keep it in contender status. Champions fighting engine, an updated version of FNR4′s, is relatively solid outside of a few inopportune flash knockdowns and still feels too upright. It doesn’t allow punches while clinching nor convincing bouncing and swaying with nimble boxers. You also can’t attack the body without ducking and knockdown/out punches that don’t connect look silly in replays. The roster touts over 50 licensed boxers from bantamweight to heavyweight class including Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Marvin Hagler and Manny Pacquiao. Unfortunately noteworthy pugilists like Floyd Mayweather, Sergio Martinez, Andre Berto, Paul Williams, Marco Antonio Barrera and Fernando Montiel aren’t available. Yesteryear’s KO kings including Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Henry Armstrong are M.I.A too.
Auto-blocking is intended to curb the game’s learning curve. However its high/low blocking assistance with uncanny timing is unnecessary when Round 4 had it right. Your ability to block wears down the longer you keep your hands up and becomes less effective as you tire. Nevertheless, fighting defense-minded boxers feels like punching a wall – especially in the early rounds.
Online play treads new ground with online gyms. Players can start gyms with created boxers, enlist members to spar with, create tournaments and challenge other gyms. Bringing back online world champion tournaments and boxer share are welcome as well. EA Sports’ stats boosting store noticeably throws off its balance more than its other games since boxing isn’t a team sport. Thus, it’s a pain to play against random, juiced power punch cheesers. Moreover, there’s no reason EA hasn’t incorporated a spectating lobby system as seen in games like Super Street Fighter 4 or even EA’s own MMA. Some of Fight Night Champion’s staff worked on MMA too – making its exclusion befuddling.
Fight Night Champion is most entertaining when played with friends online and off. Nonetheless, its questionable design choices and occasional choppiness may vary your mileage. “Legacy” and “Champion” mode will keep you busy but exploitable mechanics, especially online against strangers, dampen things. It’s a worthwhile cop if you don’t mind its problems or have people to box with. Otherwise, I’d suggest waiting until the game is on sale if its low points sound daunting.