GAME REVIEW: FIGHT NIGHT CHAMPION

Fight Night Champion lets you fight as a variety of the world's biggest boxing legends.
Fight Night Champion lets you fight as a variety of the world's biggest boxing legends.

Available on: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3

Published by: Electronic Arts

Developed by: EA Sports

THE CROWD around you roars into life as you step out from the shadows; a frenzied barrage of blue lasers pierce through the haze of smoke as the heavy bass line of your entrance song kicks in. Your eyes are focused, snake-like slits on your sweat-glistened face. You shake your arms loose as you step up into the ring, the cacophony of the crowd now reaching deafening heights. It’s one ring, two warriors, three judges and an innumerable amount of punches that stands before you and your heavy weight title. This is Fight Night Champion.

A flurry of snapping jabs and jaw-crunching right hooks later and those dreams are shattered, much like the bones in most of your fighter’s face. This fifth instalment of the Fight Night franchise is arguably one of the most brutal, and gritty boxing games ever made. It shows the sacrifices that professional fighters have to face to reach the very top- and in stunning fashion.

Each correctly timed punch has a real sense of power behind it that would make Rocky Balboa look like an arthritic pensioner in comparison. You can see cuts splitting open, turning into gaping gashes on your opponents’ face. Blood splatters literally everywhere- across the ring, on your shorts and even on your shoes. Likewise, when you take a punch, your fighter will rock and sway precariously.

Fight Night Champion does an excellent job of drawing you into the world of professional boxing. The controls have been tweaked so that they are more responsive than ever before. Gone are the tedious analogue stick combinations of the previous games.

Instead, they are replaced by a simple ‘flick’ mechanism that is both intuitive and effective. You now can be certain of the punches your fighter will deliver. Previous Fight Night games were guilty of misinterpreting your analogue movements for punches that would, on many occasions, leave your fighter vulnerable to well placed counter attacks.

However this game isn’t a button-bashing beat ‘em up. If you try to simply mash punch after punch together you will be punished. There is a chance to do this, but only on the easiest setting. Even then you can find yourself on the receiving end of a flash knockout. To be honest, if you’re looking for this sort of game, don’t even consider Fight Night Champion.

This game is all about timing- it rewards skill over brute force. The most effective techniques involve you waiting for the right moment to counter your opponent’s strikes with your own, well placed attacks. This, combined with an enhanced stamina and health system, make the game a more realistic and authentic boxing experience.

The AI in the game is also fantastic. Each fighter you go against will have his own personality and traits. Some are balls-out aggressive fighters that would rather go toe-to-toe with you. Others prefer to use their speed to stay away from you- picking you off from range and frustrating you. Regardless of who you face, each fight is a truly individual beast.

A pleasant edition to the game comes in the form of the Champion Mode. This involves you playing as the fictional boxer Andre Bishop. You follow his turbulent journey from a promising amateur to an eventual heavy weight contender. The six-hour campaign is faultless, drawing you into Bishop’s world through a series of cut scenes and intense boxing matches. Every fight is varied and challenging. The game throws the odd curve ball here and there, forcing you to re-evaluate your own boxing style. During one part of the campaign, you end up breaking your right hand across someone’s face. The only way to win the fight is by using just your left hand. It’s an intense rush.

However there are times when these in-game challenges become tiresome and frustrating. At one point you will find yourself limited to only head shots because of a dodgy referee. That shouldn’t be too difficult, right? Wrong. If you throw a couple of punches below to the ribs, you’ll be disqualified. This becomes particularly annoying when you’ve just spent 20 minutes fighting. You’re then forced to repeat the whole process again.

But overall, Champion Mode brings an element that had been lacking in the previous titles: the human drama. It’s refreshing and engaging throughout and an absolute joy to play.

The game also offers the Legacy Mode, which sees you, creating and training your own fighter, raising him through the amateur ranks to those of a seasoned professional. There is a simple RPG-style levelling system which can help you determine what sort of fighter you want to be. However, the training mini-games quickly become irksome and repetitive, occasionally detracting away from the brilliance of both the Fight Now and Champion Modes. Perhaps it would have been better to combine Legacy Mode’s levelling up system with Champion Mode - thus making Bishop a more personalised fighter.

But the only real way to enjoy Fight Night is online. You have the opportunity to customise almost every aspect of the fighter - even to their general fighting style (would you rather float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, or just bulldoze through your opponent. Either way the choice is up to you).There are regular tournaments to compete in as well as the chance to build your own boxing gym (basically a clan-like system).

Overall Fight Night Champion is utterly seamless. It’s beautiful to watch and an adrenaline rush to play. Characters are well scripted and likeable. Perhaps it not a massive leap forward from previous titles but it is still, by far, the best boxing game in the market.

Rating

9.0 Gameplay: Controls are intuitive and easy to use. The fights are both enjoyable and diverse. This is what boxing games should be.

9.0 Graphics: Shiny, smooth and utterly breathtaking. Legendary boxers are all sculpted to perfection, with their own personalities shining through.

8.0 Sound: Authentic enough with a large variety of entrance tunes. However the commentators can become tiresome.

9.0 Lasting appeal: Champion Mode is perhaps a tad brief. However online and Fight Now options give this game infinite possibilities.

9.0 Verdict: A boxing game so close to perfection. It’s light years above all others of the genre!

Tom Cotterill