Eye of the Tiger
The noble art of boxing has been a part of gaming ever since Nintendo released Punch-Out!! in the mid-nineties, and although this classic is basic by today's loftier standards, its tagline of "as close to the ring as you can get without going through the ropes" is an accolade it once wore with pride. But today, the mantle of Heavyweight Champion has been passed on to the Fight Night series.
Fight Night Champion is the latest evolution in boxing simulations. But rather than enter the ring with a cocky look of self-assurance, it defends its title with the tenacity of a seasoned veteran. The punching animations look slicker, the ebb and flow of combat is more convincing and the principles of the sport it represents are more naturally realised with a focus on believable stamina and full-body movement.
In Fight Night Round 4 we were introduced to Total Punch Control, a system that used circular motions of the right analogue stick to convey the bread and butter of boxing ballistics. But in Fight Night Champion, the new Full Spectrum Punch Control replaces the old semicircles with directional inputs. You tilt upwards for a straight punch, sideways for a hook and downwards for an uppercut.
It's a setup that's responsive and allows for less punishing execution, and with the face buttons now working in tandem, even Tekken purists can string together combos with ease. Further revisions include a modifier that lets you power-up every type of strike, reflex-based blocking that works with your fighter's attributes, progressive stamina deterioration that rewards forward thinking and a counterpunch system that demands stricter timing on your leans and weaves.
Thrill of the Fight
Fighting simulations are best enjoyed when trading leather with a friend, but to give its prize fighter a bit of extra pep, EA Canada has included a new Champion Mode. This tells the story of Andre Bishop, a boxing prodigy who is trying to fulfil his late father's dreams by becoming the Middleweight Champion of the World. What follows is a six hour journey of shattered dreams, bitter betrayals and euphoric redemption as Bishop battles his way from the very bottom - one knockout at a time.
It's a ballad that's surprisingly gripping and sees Bishop bare-knuckle fighting in prison and competing in amateur boxing matches where each round is scored on the number of punches landed. Later bouts see you tackling scenarios like fighting with a broken hand and dealing with a corrupt referee who classes your body strikes as illegal fouls. It's 22 fights from start to finish and every exchange teaches you an important lesson about the art of pugilism. Rule one is keep your hands up.
Once you've learned the boxing basics its then time to play through the returning Legacy Mode. This lets you craft a boxer in your own image (but likely with a more muscular physique) before embarking on a boxing career filled with knockouts, unanimous decisions and TKOs. The improvements over Fight Night Round 4 are many and include a more comprehensive levelling-up system and improved training games. You can even win fight money to attend better training camps.
Got the Glory
Then once you've exhausted the single player modes, it's time to craft your own legacy in the online ring. This works similarly to the previous game and includes both a new Lobby system for trash talking about how you once went 10 rounds with Lennox Lewis, as well as improved matchmaking. But the most intriguing addition is the online Gym system. This lets you and your friends team up for some heated sparring before testing your collective skills against another Gym in a Rival Challenge - and to the victor go the all important bragging rights
As a package, Fight Night Champion is everything a fighting sequel should be. It builds upon its predecessor's foundations with better combat, enhanced features and more intuitive controls. But at the same time, it offers something completely different in the new Championship Mode. So while it's not a boxing revolution and has little in the way of rivals, it has still risen to the challenge of our expectations. And that's no small feat.
- Fluid boxing animations.
- Intuitive controls.
- A compelling story mode.
- Hard going at first.
- A bit familiar in places.
- Helps if you "like" boxing.