Fight Night Champion
Boxing games in general have taken a bit of a pounding of late. THQ's introduction of the UFC franchise seems to have marginalized the noble art to make way for something altogether more brutal and indeed more primal.
EA Sports has recognised this and has come back with a re-imagining on their classic Fight Night series with Fight Night Champion fresh with a much more personal tone in order to reconnect with gamers looking to find the pure spirit of boxing encapsulated in a game.
Fight Night Champion brings back the same huge array of big name boxers both old and new and a decent array of digital and analogue control options to cater for all types of gamers and adds a dash of real personality into the mix. The personality comes from Champion Mode, a story mode that teaches you the ins and outs of the game while taking you on a bit of a rollercoaster ride to become heavyweight champion of the world.
The story mode begins with your boxer, the likeable middleweight Andre Bishop, fighting an amateur boxing match in prison, setting the scene for things to come. After defeating his skinhead opponent, they take their revenge out on Bishop in the showers, breaking his right hand. The storyline then flashes back to Bishop's gold medal-winning match in the Amateur World Championships.
From there the story unwinds drawing to the inevitable conclusion with Bishop taking on the savage Isaac Frost for the Heavyweight Championship belt.
It's a fairly compelling, if slightly predictable, story but it provides an excellent in for the game's very flexible and complex playing style introducing the tactical subtleties of boxing to those unfamiliar with the sport as well as those new to the Fight Night series. In fact it serves, not only as an introduction to the game itself but an education on some of the subtleties and strategic side of boxing that most people will be unfamiliar with. In the corner, your trainer will help guide you through the finer points of the game helping you beat different styles of boxers, avoiding power punchers, sapping the energy of well-conditioned fighters and even winning fights with only your weaker hand.
It also continues the Fight Night tradition of heavy ESPN integration including real ESPN news bulletins interspersed with the CG action in the story mode.
After introducing the game very nicely the story mode gives way to the usual myriad of features that have become a fixture in Fight Night games. Of course, the main bulk of the single player action in Fight Night Champion is in the Legacy Mode. This as in-depth as it gets with gamers able to create a fighter or choose from one of the 50-strong roster of legendary fighters as well as the main characters from the story mode and take them from the amateur leagues all the way to the top of the sport. This includes training sessions in order to boost you boxer's stats and setting up matches to fight as well as dealing with individual challenges.
Once you've got into the meat of the Legacy Mode and honed your skills you can take on friends locally in split screen mode or go online and test your mettle against other virtual pugilists.
With such an impressive roster of boxers you can even play out the kind of fights that will probably never happen including finding out what would happen if David Haye managed to take on the Klitschko brothers before he retires later on this year.
One of the main criticisms levelled at Fight Night Champion's predecessor, Round 4, was that they completely ditched the ability to use a traditional button control system in favour of EA Sports' analogue control system. It was later patched to allow button controls but it lost a lot of fans because of the decision.
This time around, EA Sports has chosen not to repeat their control faux-pas with the inclusion of both analogue and button controls in their new Full Spectrum control system. In fact, even though the buttons to retain a bit of charm, especially for the old-school button-bashers among us, the new analogue controls are very intuitive and a great improvement over the analogue controls in Fight Night Round 4.
Fight Night Champion is also a visual treat. Gone are the days where all of the player models glisten in that slightly unnatural way. Flesh now has a much more realistic look to it and the slightly unnatural glistening that has haunted EA Sports games of this generation has been replaced by actual beads of sweat. The story mode illustrates very impressively just how little difference there is between the quality of the cutscenes and the gameplay graphics providing an almost seamless gameplay experience.
EA Sports has been going through a slow process of giving all their franchises a re-working and Fight Night Champion is probably the finest example of this so far. Not only does it encompass everything that you'd expect from a boxing game, in the additional story mode it has created the perfect introduction for those with little or no experience of boxing. Boxing may be more of a niche market than it used to be but Fight Night Champion is still a glistening jewel in EA Sport's championship belt.