|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: EA Canada|
|Pub: Electronic Arts|
|Release: March 1, 2011|
|Players: 1 – 2 (Local/Online)|
|Screen Resolution: 480p – 1080p|
by Jake Valentine
The amount of hype that I've seen Fight Night Champion receive is parallel to the hype that Fight Night Round 3 received when it was first unveiled. It was viewed as one of the premiere early next-generation games, featuring spectacular HD graphics and intense combat. For all of its praises, I felt like Round 3 was a bit too much like an arcade game, focusing on landing the next big punch instead of the finesse of the entire fight, which led me to skip Round 4. Now, developer EA Canada is focusing on a more realistic approach to boxing with Champion, which promises to be one of the better sports games of the year.
Let's get right into the reason why I skipped Fight Night Round 4: the gameplay. Right from the start, it becomes clear that the goal of Champion isn't to impress you with the way it looks on your 60-inch TV when you break someone's jaw. Instead, Champion is about the entire fight. In the several hands-on matches I played, I admittedly did start out like I was playing Round 3: looking to land the big heavy punch. What happened instead was that I tired myself out and never really won points with the judges. So, I adjusted to more of a long term finesse approach of playing and it worked like a charm, resulting in matches either a lot closer that didn't go in my favor, or just winning the match.
Despite this change in gameplay philosophy, Champion will still be accessible to any veteran or newcomer of the Fight Night series. You have the option of either using your face buttons to control your punches, or using the right analog stick for more "precision" control. While veterans swear by using the analog stick, it's sometimes a bit tricky from my experience to nail it down. I feel more comfortable using a combination of the two, though I do see the distinct advantages of using the analog stick. Regardless, the game controls well, and the combination of the improved gameplay with the tight controls result in a great hands-on experience.
But what has me most excited about Champion is something I didn't get to try out for myself: the campaign mode. In it, you'll assume the role of Andre Bishop, an up and coming fighter looking to make his way through the system. Cutscenes make the game feel more like a Grand Theft Auto title than a Fight Night title. There clearly is a story that the developers wanted to tell, and it's a story I can't wait to hear. The long-running campaign mode where you can create a fighter will also be intact as Legacy Mode.
The Fight Night series has always emphasized visual prowess, and Champion is no exception. Forgoing the "shiny boxer" look that Round 3 had, Champion has a dark, gritty tone. While boxing is commonly referred to as "the beautiful science" (and it certainly plays like it), there's not much beautiful about the way a boxer looks after a fight. Fight Night Champion captures that essence. It doesn't look like you're playing a game anymore; there's a complete immersion the visuals present that may well be unmatched in any other sport games out there. This is only enhanced by the commentating, which while it'll undoubtedly get old (and I've already heard plenty of repeated lines), I'm thankful when they're quick to point out when I'm playing a fighter wrong and ignoring his strengths; I can't tell you how many times people were playing Muhammad Ali online and not jabbing until the commentators mentioned it.
I loved Fight Night Round 3, but I wanted it to be so much more. While Round 4 didn't recapture my attention, Champion surely has. A promising narrative campaign combined with improved gameplay and visuals to help create more of a realistic approach to boxing all help make Fight Night Champion one of the better upcoming games this year.
CCC Freelance Writer