“No Spoilers!” That’s not something you usually have to scream at your friend when he talks about a sports game, but Fight Night Champion is different. EA’s gambit this time around is the all-new Champion mode.
And since all of you can now play the Fight Night Champion demo -- essentially the same build of the game was at the press event I attended -- this preview will be all about the story mode that revolves around Andre Bishop, the protagonist in Champion mode.
But be forewarned, I will be talking in-depth about the first two scenes in Champion mode, so if you don’t want to have anything spoiled, look away now!
Even during the brief intro to Champion mode, it’s easy to see that this endeavor is being treated with care. After a short opening sequence and a quick transition, you are put right in the midst of a bare-knuckle prison fight. If you have been following the stories related to Champion mode, you have already seen this portion of the game.
This first bout essentially acts as a tutorial. You, taking the role of Andre Bishop, are taught the various controls throughout the round. By the end of the round, you receive a head butt from your prototypically underhanded opponent, which segues into the first appearance of your corner man. Between rounds this grizzled old man basically tells you to man up and knock this dude out because there is no ref here that’s going to step in and stop him from fighting dirty.
The voice acting of Andre’s old and knowledgeable boxing manager was the second sign that this mode might not actually be a cringe-worthy venture. My biggest fear going into this was not a potentially trite storyline, but rather the potential for shoddy voice acting. After all, most video games struggle to get story right, but voice acting has at least come a long way. However, if the voice acting in the first part of the game is any indication, then that fear seems mostly unfounded.
Coming out of the corner following a rousing pep talk, Bishop was clearly inspired. He went to work on his diabolical opponent and knocked him out. Since the story is completely linear and essentially based around a series of boss fights, you will always have to meet whatever binary requirement is in place to move on to the next portion of the story. In most cases, much like with this prison-rules brawl, it will basically mean win the fight.
Welcome To Oswald State Correctional Facility
After the fight ended, the game did not just move on to your next prison bout. Instead, the game moved on to a cut scene. And while the boxing in the first part of the scene gave off some Undisputed vibes, this portion of the game gave off some Oz vibes. In the cut scene, Andre finds himself all by his lonesome in the shower area.
I will readily admit I don’t know much about prison, but in the Hollywood version of prison, I do know this scenario leads to bad things most of the time. An immediate sense of dread crept into my mind during Andre’s brief moment alone, and lo and behold, that sense of dread was rewarded. Soon enough the defeated antagonist from the earlier boxing “match” appeared in the shower area, along with two of his buddies.
Now, I’ve seen Oz; I’ve seen Shawshank Redemption; I know what goes on in these showers; and I know this is a M-rated game. But, no, there was no shanking or sodomy involved here -- I guess EA did not want the lead character be violated or stabbed before a “The End” screen flashed 15 minutes into the mode. Instead, Andre received an absolutely brutal beating that ended with him getting his face kicked in. Call it a consolation prize, if you will.
Just some of the characters you will come into contact with in Champion mode.
A Champion’s Fall From Grace
After Andre gets his teeth kicked down his throat, he awakes in his prison cell with his cellmate looking over him. This cellmate just so happens to be the same boxing manager from before. Andre’s battered face and broken hand makes it clear that he has hit rock bottom. So, naturally, that means it’s time for a flashback.
After another smooth transition, we are flashed back to an Olympic boxing ring where Andre is going for gold. The amateur boxing is in full effect here. There is a scoring system for landing clean punches, and you are decked out in full-on Olympic gear, complete with the proper head gear.
Much like the real Olympics, you are awarded a point after a clean punch. However, Olympic fans will scoff at how the scoring system is implemented as you will not see any 13-12 final scores. As a reference point, after the three-round bout, the final score between Andre and his opponent was something like 175-172. That is an absolutely ridiculous final tally, but it should not shock you since the developers were not going to fudge how punches were registered or completely change the game for a single bout in the story mode.
After a successful gold-medal clinching bout, another cut scene led me to two interviews that introduced acouple more characters we will most likely see throughout the mode. In the first interview, Andre gets asked how he feels about being named the best boxer at the Games. Andre is a humble guy in his response, but his younger brother picks up the slack and brings some loud-mouthed arrogance to the table by essentially taking over the interview. If anyone is watching Lights Out on FX, it definitely gave off some similar vibes. Andre is the big brother who is a little smaller and probably less talented than his younger brother, but he makes up for those shortcomings with oodles of heart. His younger brother, on the other hand, is a tall loud mouth who I’m guessing either dies or never lives up to his potential.
Andre Bishop will certainly be spending some time honing his skills in the gym.
In the other interview session, we get our first look at a bald, cagey and inevitably dirty boxing promoter, as well as a heavyweight gold medalist who scoffs at Andre Bishop’s accomplishment as boxer of the Games. This tower of power is a heavyweight gold medalist who knocked out every one of his opponents, so what does he care about Andre Bishop? (I smell a brewing rivalry.)
This cut scene surely sets the stage for what is to come, and it just so happened to be where my time with Champion mode ended.
By the end of my demo session, I was rather impressed by Champion mode. I readily admit I had low expectations coming into it, but now Champion mode is what I’m looking forward to most (besides playing folks from Operation Sports online, of course).
It’s a bit ironic, too, that I was most impressed by EA’s flair and cinematic presentation because the company generally struggles with in-game presentation in most of its sports games. Nevertheless, everything from the cut scenes to the commentators talking specifically about Andre Bishop during the Olympic bout helped to tailor the experience and deliver a narrative that at least had me wanting to see what would happen next.
At the end of the day, Champion mode will still only go as far as the gameplay takes it. But if the mode is balanced enough that you don’t get stuck on any one match for too long, and EA can effectively whisk you from scene to scene like in the initial sequences, I think the mode could really make an impact. And it’s the type of impact that could add a new wrinkle to the sports gaming landscape.
Oh, and by the way, there better be a montage somewhere in Andre Bishop’s story, or someone at EA is going to be sorry.