Fight Night Champion Review (Xbox 360)
Welcomed by the rhythmic sounds of a fighter’s heart, drums from The Roots beat slow and steady as the opening track brings Fight Night Champion to life.
Players are thrown right into the storm, assuming the role of Andre Bishop in a boxer’s tale. As the humbled and focused Bishop, players live out this champion boxer’s storied history and battle through his path to redemption.
Heavily taped fists cut through the heavy air with the new controls scheme. EA Sports has named it Full Spectrum Punch Control. This new method allows for sharp and precise shots to be snapped off with a simple flick of the right analog stick. There are both pros and cons to this scheme.
Combination punching can now be pulled off with ease. But you will have to pre-load your throws to pull off three- or four-punch combos. When you do it right, the result is beautiful and natural throwing motions.
The negative side of this new control scheme is how easy it is to unintentionally flick the stick in the wrong direction. Even when I want to flick the stick once for a jab, I will sometimes get a straight because of how close together everything is on the right stick.
The control scheme is also not as "revolutionary" as EA would have you believe. Still, it is certainly more accessible, and it is a smart way to invite more gamers into the fold. At the same time, hardcore fans should still find a challenge and level of depth here because users still need to be precise to tactically succeed with the new control scheme.
The punch modifier (the R2 button) in Fight Night Champion will result in more force behind your punches. Boxers will plant their feet, and the animation will be slightly longer and varied -- these punches can damage and knockout opponents if they walk into them.
Flash KOs occur based on a variety of variables, but the fighter that falls to a flash knockout typically will have just used a lot of energy throwing a few combinations in a row. Another factor can be the angle at which the punch connects. If a fighter ducks right into a hook to the face, that might just be all she wrote. Momentum on KOs is better than ever; fighters fall naturally in the direction of where they were struck.
The new stamina system is a welcomed addition, simulating the human body’s muscle zones. Throwing repeated lefts or rights will fatigue the corresponding arm, weakening it in later rounds. Abusing or spamming the weaving to find counter windows is now countered on its own. Player who abuse the weave will find their fighter’s torsos slowing down dramatically late in fights.
The cover up button can now be held down while still throwing punches. As you throw from cover, the punch animation completes, and if the cover is still held, your fighter will return to his guard. While held, the fighter will protect the targeted zones of his body on his own.
Holding your gloves in cover for rounds at a time can be tiring, especially when flexing your trapezoids muscles embracing for impact. The collision-detection technology shines in this aspect of the game. Opponents will eventually be able to break down your guard with stiff jabs and power hooks, so timing your blocks is valuable.
It follows that the basic strategy in FNC is to attack all zones of your opponent with variety. Jabs and crosses should be followed by a weave and body shot. Remaining balanced in all phases will help you last the fight.
Animations in the game are also technically sound. Hookercuts have been added, and signature fighting styles have added personality to the top boxers.
It would be great if each fighter had signature style and motion capturing done. After all, boxing is all about individuality and matchups. Having that level of detail would create endless possibilities and dream match-ups in the ring.
What holds back this fighter from true greatness is the lack of footwork. The dashing technique in FNC feels like an afterthought. The base, frame and footwork are the foundation of the fundamentals of boxing. The movement feels unnatural at times. When dashing around the ring, you must wait for the fighter to complete his animation before attempting another punch, taking precious milliseconds out of our hands.
FNC can also feel like a slugfest a majority of the time; shoulders rotate and pop off like engine pistons pumping, with gloves snapping off jabs as they connect with opponents.
For better or worse, that’s just how the game is played -- people want to throw like Rocky. While playing offline, game settings and sliders are accessible to curve the arcade feel of the game (at least on the PS3 version, the 360 sliders seem to be relatively unusable). Online, a stamina system that is too forgiving allows people to swing wildly for too long, but if you survive for some rounds, you can still take advantage later in the fight.
Game speed, punch power, stamina, damage and other elements will help customize the game to your liking. The simulation boxers will be able to hit the “simulation” presentation setting, and this will get rid of the flashy graphics and counter-window flash in the ring, which should lead to the look of pure boxing.
The graphic artists at EA Sports Canada have designed the most realistic player models in sports gaming. Even the muscles flex with different degrees of movement.
According to EA, the developers have rendered a sub-surface beneath the skin textures. This allows for scattering blood under the skin, improving the look of realistic bruising. Bruising occurs on the body as well. With incredible sound design matched with HD visuals, you can feel it in your hands when the punches meet the frames of fighters, and the dual-shock controller rumbles. In addition, upon cutting a fighter, you will hear a different sound at impact as the cut is split open.
Each venue boasts different atmospherics. Smog and dust float in closed stadiums, with immaculate lighting in venues such as MSG and MGM. Fighting in open stadiums features a different set of lighting tones; the night sky paints the crowd a dark blue, and dimly lit signs glow in the distance. The shadows and muscle tones change in each setting. The game is absolutely gorgeous in motion, blazing waves of colors and shadows as fists fly.
FNC boasts a couple game modes to keep online competitive play interesting. Online World Championships and personalized Online Gyms allow gamers to set up tournaments, compete to be champions of their class, or just become the most dominant gym in the online boxing field.
Online Gyms can be customized to build a team of your liking, and you can invite friends to challenge other gyms. Game sliders cannot be adjusted in online fighting (this was originally promised), and you can spar with gym buddies as well. Essentially, the Online Gyms feature seems more like a first step than a finished addition. The feature is a little buggy -- tournaments seem to freeze up at various points being one example -- and so it comes off feeling a little rushed.
You can also just take your created characters online and fight them against unique fighters from across the globe. Some created characters will have maxed-out abilities that will attempt to take advantage of the create-a-boxer philosophy implemented by EA Canada. Basically, you either have to look for guys near your rating, take your lumps until your ratings increase, or buy the boost packs like many others have to get a highly rated boxer from day one.
This is a new angle for sports gaming career modes, titled Champion mode, where players are able to connect with a main character and act out a lead role in a story fit for the big screen.
Scripted by Hollywood screenwriter Will Rokos, Fight Night Champion's presentational elements are unmatched in the sports-gaming genre.
The tone of this short film, if you will, is daunting, dark and continuously ominous throughout. Bishop is an orphan from the streets who is patiently waiting for that one moment to be crowned the greatest to ever do it; it seems to be drawing on parallels from Mike Tyson’s own storied career.
The art direction of this title complements the story, with its flattened out colors and an added attention to strikingly realistic shadowing. The colors accentuate the story with grayscales and dark schemes present throughout -- portraying the deep introspective mind of Andre Bishop.
Bishop’s name symbolizes the moral character of the hero in this tale. His attire is clean, sporting pure white and cardinal-red trunks. Andre finds himself in a constant state of internal conflict when loyalty must come before his own endeavors, even when it leads to heartache and despair.
The voice acting and script are rough, which is the nature of the sport. ESPN’s Brian Kenny comments from the set of Friday Night Fights, blending reality with fiction.
The musical scores are cued when the battles in the ring are peaking, and vary in pitch and intensity when players are cut or stunned. This aspect might be the most brilliant portion of the mode, but sometimes the music cues come in at the wrong times, which throws everything off a bit.
Champion Mode is directed and produced at a level sports gaming has never witnessed. While the story itself does not do anything new in the boxing genre, it still takes some risks for a video game. Plus, most importantly, every moment feels like it can be a defining moment in your career. The 5-8 hours to complete the mode will be considered too short by some, but since this is almost treated like an extended tutorial mode, that range feels kind of right.
The philosophy of Legacy mode in FNC is about trying to improve on the past versions. You can now take your fighters around the globe to train in prominent gyms, each gym having a specialty in some aspect of your game.
As I played through the mode, it became clear that a similar points system exists in the Tiger Woods series. Experience points (XP) are earned as you train, and you can go in and apply these points to each facet of your game. Build up your left hook or right uppercut with each gym session that passes.
Visually, your boxer does not progress in size or weight over time. This is a step backwards because Fight Night Round 3 displayed the hard work you put in via adding definition to your boxer’s player model. As your boxer gets older and the wear and tear sets in, it will also be harder to earn XP.
Your boxing style is fully customizable, each fighter being unique in skill set. The downfall, as I mentioned earlier, is that there will be boxers online who max out certain punches, and repeatedly throw that punch. The best advice I can give is to use your defense to counter punch the punches you see coming.
Severe damage in career fights will carry over, and it can even force boxers into retirement. This is a cool feature to emphasize maintaining your body in the right way during your career.
Fight Night Champion dances on the line of greatness. On the simulation presentation settings, it’s a joy to pay close attention to the varying speed of the fighters, their fatigue, and their breathing patterns as they grow tired. Well-fought matches are always satisfying, and when the game is played by two tacticians, it's a joy to behold. While that perfect blend is hard to capture across the entire spectrum of modes, the game is successful in creating a fun experience that is easy to come back and play at a moment's notice.
Learning Curve: Easy to jump in and throw, and the new controls lead to more chances for advanced combos. Champion mode almost acts like an extended tutorial mode. Play that mode and you should be set by the time it ends.
Control Scheme: It's not as revolutionary as EA makes it out to be, but it should do a good job of bringing more people into the genre.
Story: Art direction, sound design and gameplay all blend masterfully in Champion mode.
Career – Following the path of EA Sports MMA, it's unoriginal but has some enjoyable elements to manage.
Visuals: These are the most realistic player models in sports gaming. Muscles flex and bruise while the gloves pound away.
Audio: The score from The Roots lends a motion picture feel to Champion mode. Audio design enhances the in-ring experience.
Score: 8.0 (Great)