There’s something ultimately satisfying about boxing; something primal. Two men (in the case of Fight Night Champion, anyway) standing toe to toe, ducking, weaving and trying to knock the other out cold using nothing but their fists. It’s a sport that stirs something up within a lot of people, so it was about time someone released a boxing title that managed to do that as well.
Fight Night Champion starts off in a way unlike any sports title before it; upon hitting start you’re not presented with menus. Instead, you get a hazy close-up look at the canvas. You’ve been knocked down, and it’s up to you to get back up on your feet to ensure that Andre (your character) takes out his opponent. This is your introduction to FNC and also your first look at a mode that belongs in every sports title from now on.
Champion Mode is basically a single-player story mode for this boxing title. Andre Bishop is a tough-as-nails middleweight boxer who manages to upset the wrong people and ends up in prison serving time for a crime he didn’t commit. It sounds like a cheesy story to a bad sports movie – and in a way that’s exactly what is going on here – but in this case it’s not a bad thing. Every opponent presents a new challenge for Andre: in one bout you might have to ensure you get a knockout, while in another you’ll only have access to your left hand. And while one or two of these scenarios may make you want to break your controller and/or TV, I can’t help but feel the developers missed a great opportunity in omitting similar scenarios from the other fight modes. While the story itself may be clichéd, a couple of the fights may be frustratingly difficult and that you’ll possibly spend around six hours in it, Champion Mode is only one aspect of what is an incredibly deep title.
No boxing game would be complete without a career mode, and Fight Night Champion’s is extremely comprehensive. While it’s possible to edit a premade boxer, or even download a user-created boxer, I find it hard to believe that people will not play this mode as anyone other than themselves. EA Sports has truly outdone itself with its player creator, and while it may take you sometime – with creating an EASports.com login, uploading photos, then synching your account to your gamertag/PSN ID – the final outcome will be reason enough to go through the process. Not only can you choose what your boxer looks like, but you can also customise his entrance to the ring, from the fireworks display down to the music playing. And if your console is connected to your home PC, you can even choose a song from your collection. But no amount of customisation will save you if you’re just going into this mode for a slugfest.
Legacy Mode pulls no punches in letting you know what you’re doing is wrong. The game tells you from the start to train and train hard. While it’s possible to win fights with little-to-no training, or even bad training, you’re not going to climb those ranks without putting in some decent time. While it may be tempting to try all training types, you want to stick with what you excel at. Athleticism is broken down into seven individual stat bars. These deplete after each match, and only a decent training session in a good gym will help you bring these back up before your next match. Sneak in a couple of failed attempts at sparring and your stamina will drop, your punches prove ineffective and your reflexes slow down. Training means everything in this mode; train well and you’ll climb the ranks, snatch the belts and maybe even change your weight class to take on something a little more challenging.
But what would a boxing game be without multiplayer? Whether you’re after a random match against an AI-controlled fighter, a head-to-head across the couch with a mate, or a match over Xbox LIVE or PSN, there are plenty of options here to keep you happy. That is, if they worked well. While the biggest online mode is filled to the rafters with options and fight types, the thing that really lets the whole system down is the matchmaking. More often than not (100% of the time so far for me) you’re matched against someone who has either played a bunch and upgraded one punch to knock you down in seconds, or with someone who has purchased XP packs with real money and upgraded one punch to knock you out within seconds. Thankfully, you can create clans in the form of gyms and fight with trusted people, and spar with them to gain more XP for your own fighter. But to stand a chance in the OWC you’ll want to use every bit of XP to upgrade one punch to the point of knocking someone out within seconds. Fortunately, there’s enough game outside of the Xbox LIVE matches to mean that you never actually need to try your hand at the abysmal online modes.
It can’t be easy to reproduce the excitement and nervous energy that go hand in hand with entering a boxing ring, yet EA Sports has truly managed to do that. If you don’t come across a fight that has you sweating, shoulders tensed, and worried that you could go down at any moment despite leading by points, then you’re clearly not playing Fight Night Champion