Preview

Fight Night Champion

Fighting fit

Without conflict, there would be no stories. All narratives, from Beowulf to Ben 10, are centered around them. They allow the characters to define themselves, they provide motivation and they offer hope of resolution. Whether it's about overcoming internal or external demons, conflict is at the heart of every story ever told.

In this way boxing could be considered the ultimate narrative. Boiled down to its bare bones, boxing is pure, unfettered conflict - the perfect metaphor. Because let's be honest, what better way to overcome a problem than to punch it in the face until it falls over? I can't think of any.

Hollywood feels the same way. From De Niro spitting monochrome blood all over the canvas in Raging Bull, to the Italian Stallion drawling a victorious 'Adriannnnn!' in Rocky - boxing has thrown up plenty of classic cinematic moments. The movies know exactly how to draw on the metaphorical possibilities of the sport.

Boxing games, meanwhile, have been particularly slow to tap into this. While 2007's Don King Prizefighter attempted to weave a story in around some frankly woeful game mechanics, others have largely ignored storytelling entirely.

The Fight Night series has always been amongst this number. Legacy Mode, a Fight Night staple, allows for a coldly statistical career progression, but beyond improving your character's attributes, rank and popularity, there was no real story to speak of. The brand new Champion Mode looks to redress the balance.

Fight Night Champion's flagship new addition, Champion Mode will offer a fleshed-out story-driven career mode for you to guide your fighter from a young amateur pup, to the very top of the game. Weaved in to an against the odds rise and embellished with cut-scenes in grimy backstreet gyms and shady manager's offices, your rise to the top may well be as dramatic out of the ring as it is in it.

Of course, from the glimpse of corrupt bosses and Philly-accented trainers that I saw, the story is unlikely to trouble Norman Mailer's sleep - this is broadly melodramatic stuff - but Champion Mode does have the potential to give a little heart and context to a largely impersonal genre. And with the developers name-checking some classic boxing movies as influences, it may just offer the chance to live out some of your silver screen pugilistic fantasies.

All this would be pretty useless without the traditional tinkering EA regularly inflict on their recurrent series'. To this end, expect a refinement of the game's already solid fighting mechanics.

Key amongst these is a recalibrated stamina system. Fight Night Round 4 allowed you to spam body punches, expending only a little stamina, while your opponent's block counter dropped rapidly. It was one of the biggest problems with the game, with online bouts loosing much of their tactical variety as a result. Or more unkindly: it was broken.

Fight Night Champion overcomes this by introducing a localised stamina system. Now, along with your overall stamina bar, each section of your fighter's body has its own gauge; right arm, left arm, core, right leg and left leg.

What this means is that if you repeatedly throw the same punch over and over, the lactic acid will build up, eventually reducing both your hand speed and your potential damage considerably. Throw a punch with the other arm, meanwhile, and if you've rested it, it will still be lethally quick.

And blimey the punches do look lethal. The Fight Night series has always done a great job of putting some real hefty weight behind the combat, but Champion takes it even further. Thanks to some gruesome damage modelling, heavy hits tear skin and spit blood all over the place. It's hardly Dragon Age, but it's a marked step in a more brutal direction.

It's also aided by the fact that it looks stunning. Upped from 30 to 60 fps, the massive, ridiculously detailed character models run ultra-smoothly. Animated to near perfection, with wonderfully realised cloth deformation and improved background detailing, you would be hard pressed to find a better looking game anywhere.

All of which combines together to make a genuinely exciting prospect. As a series, Fight Night is already the undisputed champion of the ring, by the improvements teased so far suggest that this latest iteration could extend its points lead even further.

But it's the Champion mode that has us most intrigued. Done right, an injection of narrative magic could enliven a largely characterless genre with some truly cinematic thrills. Let's just hope it's not too ham-fisted.

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