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Fight Night: Champion

Score: 92%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2 (Local and Online)
Genre: Sports (Boxing)/ Simulation/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

I'm calling it right now; as of this writing, Fight Night: Champion is by far the most enjoyable and fully-featured boxing video game I've played. The under-the-hood differences between this year's installment and Fight Night: Round 4 make a world of difference, even though separating them out into individual components may not make them look substantial on their own. It's really astounding to see how a change in perspective can take a winning formula and make it even better.

Fight Night: Champion looks superb. It's taken a long time for the franchise to get where it is now, and surprisingly, the biggest changes this year don't come from the tech. Instead, there's a subtle aesthetic shift that really establishes Champion's identity as the most unique installment in the series. Keeping in line with the game's newfound edginess (and Mature rating), the developers have imbued their boxing experience with a gritty, raw, and undeniably human essence. Andre Bishop's story could keep you involved with its high production values alone. It's obvious that Champion Mode is a tribute to classic boxing films, and it's equally obvious that the developers have a cinematic flair that is extremely refreshing to witness in a sports game.

Inside the ring, the visuals are slightly above-average for Fight Night. That's just a roundabout way of saying the animation work is borderline impeccable and the level of detail is above and beyond the call of duty. This is most apparent with the damage effects, which are more realistic and unsettling than ever before. Blood splatters on the trunks of both your boxer and the guy you drew the humor from. It even stains the canvas if you keep at the affected area.

There are some visual problems that occasionally interfere with the fun factor. Having the referee get in the way of the camera during critical make-or-break moments is a real nuisance. Additionally, I ran into some audio/video desynchronization issues during some of Champion Mode's otherwise excellently-produced cutscenes. But it really doesn't matter which way you slice it; Fight Night: Champion is a stunner despite these blemishes.

There's not much to say about Fight Night: Champion from a sound-related standpoint, especially when you judge it alongside the superlative visuals. The voicework in Champion Mode is solid, but the commentary from Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas could use a bit of work. I especially grew irritated with the commentary track when playing Champion Mode; their tendency to state (and then repeat) the painfully obvious took away from the sense of authenticity that the game should be striving for. Thankfully, the licensed music stays out of the way far more than it does in other Fight Night games, and there's even some original stuff that is quite good.


Gameplay:

Fight Night: Champion features something that very few sports games bother with: a story. And to my (and likely everyone else's) surprise, it's actually really solid. It's hardly original; up and coming boxer Andre Bishop becomes entangled with a crooked promoter, gets set up to take a nasty fall, does time in the big house, gears up for a comeback, et cetera. That's not really interesting in and of itself, but all of it is presented in a way that makes it not only tolerable, but entertaining.

The best part about this story (dubbed Champion Mode) is that the events that happen as part of the narrative affect how your fights play out. One of Champion Mode's early bouts is an amateur fight. Nobody strives for a knockout here; the man who gets the most hits on his opponent wins. Later on, you break your right hand and must win by knockout to make your point. And then the following match forces you to knock your opponent down with the formerly broken hand. These situations are great, with one major exception -- the final fight in Champion Mode is protracted for the sake of storytelling, which results in a bout that nobody in their right mind would want to watch. Either way, most Fight Night games often play out the same way, but EA Canada deserves kudos for thinking outside of the box with Champion.

Though Champion Mode is the headliner, just about everything you remember about the Fight Night franchise makes a return for this installment. Legacy Mode has you building your own boxer from scratch and progressing through a lengthy career, and you can take on other people in the ring over Xbox Live. Legacy Mode is as dense and full of depth as it ever was, so micromanagement addicts will find lots to enjoy. I had my share of latency issues with Round 4, but online play in Champion is definitely more airtight.


Difficulty:

A passerby might confuse Fight Night: Champion for a game for those with Attention Deficit Disorder. By that, I mean the game often looks so chaotic that one might be fooled into thinking that there's no thought involved in the actual ring fighting. Nothing could be further from the truth. Some people do play the game that way, and they are the ones whose gamertags reside at the bottom of the leaderboards. A good offense is simply not enough to win at Fight Night: Champion. You have to know when to block and lean -- and that's usually very often. Counterpunches might be no more powerful than a regular punch by the standard of strength alone, but they take more out of an opponent than usual. Furthermore, any punch could be the one to put you on the canvas. If your head or gut is in exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time, you might fall prey to a game-ending flash knockout.

Champion Mode serves as a fantastic tutorial for the rest of the game as a whole, and beginners would do well to start with it. Otherwise, they'll sink into Legacy Mode and be suffocated by all the minutiae -- or worse yet, go online and find themselves making out with the canvas before the bell rings.


Game Mechanics:

I don't like to make sweeping generalizations unless I know them to be absolutely true, but Fight Night's fanbase is an extremely finicky bunch when it comes to controls. I personally thought the controls were at their absolute best when Round 2 introduced the Total Punch Control analog scheme. The rotations and analog stick flicks that were mapped to each special punch type weren't at all complicated, and they made sense when compared to the actual punching motions of the boxers. Fight Night: Champion features the simplest implementation of that control scheme; each punch type is mapped to a different flick of the stick. It's clear that the developers want to keep the focus on when to throw the punch, instead of how to throw it -- and if there are any complainers this time around, that's just too bad.

If you've at all enjoyed a Fight Night game, Fight Night: Champion is worth buying, if only because it's the best game in the series as of yet. It may be a tough nut to crack for some, but fans of boxing or fighting games are sure to find something to love either way. Fight Night: Champion comes highly recommended.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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