I remember the first time Anthony Mundine knocked me out.
The cocky league player turned boxer was looking battered and bruised. For the past 5 rounds I’d clinically absorbed his assaults while counterattacking perfectly. Finally, my anger at hours of wasted media on this man that could have been devoted to something better - perhaps a documentary on true athletes like my friends and myself in our 16 man Halo battles - had an outlet, and Mundine was on the ropes.
Then, as if Shane Cameron had taught me nothing, I relaxed. Kaboom - Mundine struck, and how. A Flash Knockout from no where, with only my own ironic cockiness to blame. As I lay there, both on the virtual mat and my actual couch, unable to move while the count slowly reached 10, I vowed revenge. Welcome to Fight Night Champion - EA’s latest, and best, in its boxing franchise.
As with previous titles, the game offers players the chance to either create a player and go through a career (Legacy mode) or simply select their favourite boxers that EA has got the licencing rights to and find who would win in a one-off bout. Apart from the magestic Mr Mundine, other, possibly more famous boxers, include Mike Tyson, Ali, Oscar de La hoya, and Lennox Lewis. Floyd Mayweather Jr is a notable absence. For New Zealand fans, David Tua is too. ["O" for "awww" - Ed.]
What’s impressive is the way in which EA has taken the time to recreate the style of each boxer. It’s not perfect, but it adds an extra dimension to fights, as you’ll have to employ some strategy - especially on harder levels - against certain boxers. After a real challenge? Try taking on either of the Ukrainian brothers Vitali or Wladmeir Klitschko (6’6 and 6’7 respectively) who, between them, currently hold almost every heavyweight title going - with 5’10 Mike Tyson. Vitali holds the honor of never being knocked to the mat in a professional fight, being the most Samoan sounding Ukranian ever, and is the only boxer with a PhD. Iron Mike, however, is the baddest man on the planet, so prepare to duck and weave like no ones business to try and land a punch.
After numerous complaints (or creative feedback as the producers put it) about the lack of button controls in Fight Night Round 4, they make a return here, although EA has worked hard to make their new “Full Spectrum Boxing” as accessible as possible. Players now need only move the right analog stick in a direction to throw a punch and can increase the power of these shots with a touch of the right bumper. Fight Night veterans might take a little longer to re-adjust, but my newbie flatmates appeared to take to the game much easier than I did with Fight Night 4 (I’m aware this may have more to do with my talent than any EA wrong doing).
As mentioned at the beginning, a new feature to players (though not boxing fans) is Flash Knockouts. Not Knockdowns, KOs. One punch can literally end the fight, as I found to my horror quite a few times. However, those times mainly involved losing concentration on what is generally a very good blocking and counter system.
This is a beautiful game, or as beautiful as wanton violence between two men can look. Fight Night Champion runs faster compared to previous titles, and there’s plenty of blood for everyone. You can see the swelling come up as you repeatedly jab an opponents eye, or take to his ribs, and improved audience graphics make the ring atmosphere feel more like a prize fight and less an arcade button masher.
The commentary team of Terry Atlas and Joe Tessitore from previous Fight Night installments returns with a new script that could have done with a few extra lines; Teddy Atlas’ dulcet tones begin to drag after a while. But that’s mainly through Legacy Mode. Otherwise punches, crowd and music all sound great, though punches through anything without a solid bass are going to come through a little “old school kung-fu”.
Creating your boxer will probably be the only part of Legacy mode you find yourself enjoying. If you’re new to Fight Night, It’s worth going through a few bouts beforehand to really figure out what style you enjoy. A large selection of graphics options means you can find that iconic look you’re looking for. But it’s all downhill from there as the training and progression of your character feels incredibly clunky, with fights in the ring being much easier compared to the work you have to put in at the gym. This becomes increasingly apparent when you come to the feature that gives this title it’s name: Champion mode.
This is a feature that surely was overdue. It’s as though someone from EA spent the summer with a friend at THQ and, while checking out their game library, picked up Smackdown vs. Raw and asked “what’s this?”. Champion mode follows the story of Andre Bishop as he battles corruption and his own demons to stage a veritable comeback from prison to become World Champion. That’s not really a spoiler, as what other conclusion could their possibly be to a mainstream boxing story? The only reason to replay this is to count how many Hollywood cliches you can find. that’s not to say the story isn’t good, and it does tick all the emotive boxes, but there also aren’t any major twists going on. Part Rocky, Part Hurricane, Part Fighter, Andre’s journey features the classic boxing support characters - old Irish trainer, corrupt corporate promoter, love interest who gets the whole “boxing thing”, and does nothing with it. In fact I was half surprised to not find a montage mini-game half way through.
The final new aspect of Fight Night Champion is online gaming, where players create an online player and either their own gym, or join someone else's. Yes, your online player is going to get beaten thoroughly first off, but if you train hard in your gym or join another gym (re:guild?) to advance your skills and ranking it can be quite a sociable and enjoyable experience.
This is a fantastic way to test your skills but ironically has levels of human corruption in it. That’s right, if a player is about to lose, he can pull the connection and maintain his ranking. These cowardly buggers are ruining the noble sport of online virtual boxing. My own experience with this was limited to a couple of days, but after checking online forums, it appears EA may be working on ways to solve this. At the moment, without proper regulation, it is a telling problem on what has the potential to be a big earner for the company.
Fight Night Champion is an improvement in every way on Fight Night Round 4. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily run out and buy it straight away, especially if you own a previous game in the franchise. There’s no reason you can’t beat champion mode in a few hours, and the story, while compelling, doesn’t necessarily make you want to jump back in. Legacy mode is a bit of a letdown by comparison and the fight dynamics haven’t changed so drastically as to make this a must have. Online boxing is fun, but there are definitely still bugs for EA to sort out. This is a good evolution for the series, though, and I look forward to seeing where it goes from here.
However, if you don’t own a boxing game, and are looking for one on PS3 - then Fight Night Champion is now undoubtedly the undisputed heavyweight.