In this preamble I’d like to speak/write candidly and admit to the bias I had about EA’s latest entry in video boxing going into the process, before even testing the demo of pending March release of Fight Night Champion. Boxing games in the past, ( aside from the arcade-style classic Mike Tyson’s Punch Out ! ), have been extremely mediocre as a genre overall, not even coming close to capturing the flavor of the sport. Even the more recent boxing offerings for the PS3, like Fight Night 3 & 4, still did not do much to entice my gaming interest. For the first time, EA has released a “M” rated boxing title. My one eyebrow begins to raise slightly, this peaks more of my interest in this new boxing release than the usual status quo. A mature rating instead of the formerly consistent “T” for teen rating that accompanied all of Fight Night Champion’s predecessors. Why the increased rating, and what effect would this have on this latest video boxing interpretation ? Was it just the opportunistic addition of a little extra red splash here and there, the occasional 4 letter “F”-bomb, and some gratuitous “T & A”, or does Fight Night Champion finally give the “sweet science”, the potentially brutal depth it deserves ? Tentatively, my hopes were raised again for Fight Night Champion…
Since I have some ring experience myself, my complaints of earlier Fight Night series entries had been pretty stern, and in my opinion, factually justified. In the past, the sport of boxing has not translated to gaming well at all. Too rigid, too simplistic, very unrealistic, my criticisms of past video boxing fare have been numerous, and I believe quite accurate. Video game boxing in the past had always reduced the sweet science to being so mindlessly repetetive and stale, jab, hook uppercut, jab, jab, hook, and uppercut again. Wear down your opponents’ health bar with accumulated damage, take your predictable victory, and advance. Swap out the “X”, for an “R”, and “boxing” can become “boring” real quick, so something eventually had to change with this format. Fight Night 3 made an honest attempt to shake it up by switching the punching ability from button pressing combinations, to tracing actual punching motions with the sticks of the dualshock controller. A nice try, but it still did little to really capture the essence of boxing.
Lo’ and behold, it appears that EA may have actually spoken to a pro or two in the making of Fight Night Champion, because the improvements are so drastic, I would compare the difference between Fight Night Champion and previous entries, to the vast evolution between say, Fallout 2 & Fallout 3. The bouts in Fight Night Champion aren’t so predictable anymore, and cards can end in a single perfectly timed blow, for or against you. Even the most inexperienced video boxer still has that infamous “puncher’s chance”, but the innovations built into Fight Night Champion are more numerous than simple one punch knockouts. The fight game in Fight Night Champion has been revamped considerably, so get out your virtual hand wraps, were going in.
For starters, the fighters aren’t so “wooden” anymore. Of course you can select your favorite boxer and play as that champion, but perhaps an even better thrill is the ability in Fight Night Champion to build your own fighter from the ground up. No more just hitting a button and showing up for your shot at the title, now you have to earn it. Long before your custom built fighter can even enter the professional ranks, he has to hone his craft as most successful champions do, in the amateur divisions first, and don’t think you can just walk in swinging, soak up endless punishment just because you’re wearing the mandatory headgear. Fight Night Champion does something that to the best of my knowledge, I haven’t seen in previous boxing efforts, it keeps track of the accumulated punishment over the course of your career and it affects your fighter later in his career, as it actually does in the real fight game. How welcome and overdue is that ? “Glass hands” and easily re-opened scar tissue over an eye can come back to haunt you now, and these are exactly the kind of long video game omitted, real-life considerations a pro fighter has to consider over the course of his career.
Fight Night Champion has it’s own homegrown “Rocky”-style background story in the single player champion mode, the aging fighter looking for his last shot at the big time and avenge his younger brothers’ loss against the icy, arrogant champion, and of course the involvement of a villanous, unscrupulous, Don-King like, balding promoter. A nice hollywood style set up to the story to provide even more incentive to scrap your way to the top. The Legacy mode allows the pro fighter to earn money that the gamer can spend to set up different gyms around the world, and depending on the location, improve different skill sets like technique and toughness.
For the first time, Fight Night Champion allots the video fighter experience points, that he/she can use to develop many different fighter attributes, and give him the ability to score flash knockdowns and knockouts, meaning the potential for unequalled customization in Fight Night Champion looks very encouraging. A whole new system of throwing punches has been implemented in Fight Night Champion, which they refer to as “full spectrum punch control”. Instead of the clumsy, complicated analog motions necessary like in Fight Night 3, you now only require a quick flick in one direction to deliver your strike of choice, an innovation I was personally quite pleased to hear about, as I never cared for Fight Night 3′s punch protocol, and if the gamer still prefers the old school method of “button punching”, that option is still available as well.
The graphics of Fight Night Champion have never looked better, and there’s a new added bonus in Fight Night Champion which is unprecedented in the Fight Night series, special care has been taken to give many of boxing’s greats like Manny Pacquiao and Mike Tyson, the ability to mimic their signature style of punches and feigns, so no longer do all your favorite fighters all appear uniform, they finally display many of the little moves and quirks that make them unique. My personal favorite innovation of Fight Night Champion is the ability to add extra force or “sit down” to any strike, so no longer is the jab limited to being the simple defensive range finder, it can no quickly be turned into a true offensive weapon.
I’ve personally tested the Fight Night Champion demo, and it’s plays really well. The ability to be cocky and taunt, dirty and hit low or headbutt, it’s all here, but the best compliment I can give Fight Night Champion, is the fervent button masher finally doesn’t stand a chance in this one, because once a gamer with true knowledge of the “sweet science” becomes comfortable with the new & improved controls, he will be the fighter to beat by far, which is how a boxing game should play. With online tournament leagues for Fight Night Champion already being formed and rapidly growing, the potential to get some serious longevity from this title is evident as well. For the first time I can recall, I’m paying close attention to the release date of a boxing game with avid interest, and if you’re the kind of gamer that enjoys contact sport titles, so should you.
- Prof. Benny Oblivion