Fight Night Champion is the fifth edition of EA Sports’ highly regarded boxing franchise, and the game is noticeably darker and grittier, which is evident right from the beginning of the game. The flashy lights and pizzazz of Fight Night Round 4 is replaced with a visually darker intro movie and menu screen.
Moreover, the fights themselves look more intense and brutal, with noticeable bruising on the fighter’s face where they have sustained injury. Blood is more prominent, with thick crimson trickling down the face and chest from cuts on fighter’s faces. Blood splatters can be seen even on the mat and on the opponent’s body and clothing. It's very mature, and quite realistic.
I found the change in direction towards a more mature and darker game a positive, with the changes enhancing the realism of the fights.
The change in controls from the Total Punch Control to the Full Spectrum Controls allows for a simpler and easier way to direct your fighter’s punches. The new control system uses a series of directional flicks of the right thumb stick to punch (a bit like the 'Flickit' controls from Skate), so now the player can flick the directional stick to the right for a right hand hook or a flick to the bottom left for a left uppercut. It’s an easier system to understand, and also makes it easier to string together combinations that includes uppercuts and hooks. Other changes include the removal of the Signature and Haymaker punch for a Heavy Punch modifier, which means that every punch can be thrown with more oomph behind it. The blocking system has been overhauled, and is achieved by the press of a button, taking away the player’s control over where to block. Personally, I didn’t like the loss of control, as it is now harder to counter punch than in previous games.
A plus for Fight Night Champion is the Flash Knock Outs, where fighters can be knocked unconscious with a single punch. It adds an element of realism to the game, and the knowledge that you can knock out, or be knocked out, by an opponent keeps you on your toes till the final bell rings.
The game offers two single-player modes – Champion Mode and Legacy Mode. In Champion Mode, you play as an up and coming young boxer named Andre Bishop who must overcome adversity in the form of a corrupt promoter and rise to the top and gain his revenge.
The reason why this mode works well from a gameplay perspective is that it offers the player several different scenarios, so you’ll never feel bored by boxing the same type of fights repetitively. Over the course of the story you’ll get to fight in different weight classes, fight bare knuckled in jail or overcome challenges like having to avoid punches to the face to protect a severe cut that will end the fight.
The Champion Mode’s storyline is a simple and clichéd one, but sometimes these are the most enjoyable and that’s the case here. It also helps that this game features some of the best visuals seen in a sports title. The fight animation is fluid and lifelike and the character models are excellent. It also helped that Eliza Dushku lent some Hollywood credibility by voicing the character of Meaghan McQueen, one of the supporting characters in the story. The downside of this mode is that it is too short, as the storyline can be completed in a few hours of game time.
The other single-player component is the returning Legacy Mode. A few modifications have been added to improve on last year’s version. Firstly, management of your fighter's Stamina is the key to success. Overdo your training during the four-weeks of camp, and you’ll head into fights tired and easy pickings for a beat down. Training is deeper now too, with players having the option to travel to different locations, like Detroit, England and Puerto Rico for training camp. Each location has its area of expertise and offers different training programs, including new training such as sparring that focuses on knocking down opponents.
Training is now divided into Skills training and Athletic training. By participating in skills training mini-games such as the Maize Bag, players earn experience points (XPs) to increase skill levels of boxer’s punches, mentality or movement. Athletic training which involves no mini-games and is divided into three levels of intensity, and is used to add to areas such as strength and endurance. The training games can be frustrating, and it's hard to achieve maximum points. The pay-off is sometimes not worth the amount of stamina needed to participate in the training.
The game caters for those who enjoy online competition, with players now able to join or create a stable of boxers in an online gym. Here you can then participate in seasons, tournaments or rivalry challenges against other gyms. It's a good idea, as you can now team up with friends, and build up your boxers online.
Fight Night Champion is an impressive game and a superb addition to the Fight Night series, with the excellent Champion Mode offering fans an absorbing and entertaining story.