Fight Night Champion is a Knockout
By Gabriel Montoya, from Maxboxing.com (March 5, 2011) Special to Doghouse Boxing
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Once again, the team at EA Sports has outdone themselves with the new “Fight Night Champion” out in stores this week. With camera work that takes you right into the action, streamlined controls, and a new storyline feature, this edition is sure to please fans of the game dating back to the original EA boxing game “Knockout Kings.” Truly, “Fight Night Champion” is to boxing as what the Madden series is to football.

Champion Mode…

At the first bell, “Fight Night Champion” lets you know you are in for something different with its “Champion” mode. Essentially a movie where you control the main character, rising middleweight star Andre Bishop, the mode introduces you both to the often ugly politics of the game of boxing while teaching you how to use the new features. It’s a perfectly engrossing piece of video game cinema. I won’t spoil the twists and turns of a very cool plot but suffice to say, you’ll learn everything from how to survive in the dirtiest fight ever to brawling your way to victory to dealing with an injury to more than just your face. Each fight you take on is a test designed to give you a look at a new aspect of the game. For instance, at one point, you break your hand and must find a way to win with just one hand. The penalty of using the injured paw? Permanent damage that can result in retiring your fighter early. While you can obviously restart and try again, the honest gamer will take his lumps, should he damage his created fighter in the “Legacy” mode. This adds an element of danger and realism into the game never before seen.

I suggest you take your time in “Champion” mode. The scenes are good, the plot fun, but most importantly, the game teaches you how to box patiently instead of just button-mashing and going for broke, which is fun but misses the nuances of the new controls.

Full Spectrum Sweet Science…

In previous versions of “Fight Night,” EA had implemented the “haymaker,” a devastating punch that was slow on delivering but game changing when it landed. The problem was too often when you fought online or with a “frenemy,” you would get a haymaker festival with the “Sweet Science” going out the window. Boxing is chess, not checkers, with angles, counter attacks, timing and defense always coming into play. EA has solved the problem this time around.

Whereas before you had to hold down a ton of buttons, now all the punches are controlled by the right stick. The haymaker has been replaced by the right bumper button (or “R1,” depending on which system you use. I played the XBOX360 version), only now it’s simply called a power modifier, meaning that you throw a little bit slower and heavier with a shot. However, landing with it doesn’t necessarily mean the fight is over or the opponent is stunned. You can modify any punch this way by holding the “R1” button and throwing a shot with the right stick.

Defense is also controlled by one button (“R2”). You still have to use the left stick to move around and hold down a trigger to move your upper body so now the game does not feel like a complex series of things to hold down or up. When you want to punch in any direction or to the head or body, simply move the right stick in the direction and trajectory you want to land on. Straight up but slightly angled is a jab or a cross depending on your angle. Straight down is a jab to the body or a cross depending on the same. Hooks and uppercuts can be found in between on either side. Simple, easy and precise.

Defense wins championships…

The defense. It’s been streamlined to one button as well (“L2”). EA calls the improvement “reflexive blocking,” meaning you don’t have to hold your gloves in any particular down or up motion. If you employ the defense button, you will block where your opponent throws. This forces you to think and set up attacks rather than go hog-wild with button-mashing or volume. Now you have to slide around the ring, feinting, jabbing and throwing in combination to get anything accomplished. The game has become a sophisticated simulation.

The best part of the defense is that it has been integrated into the offense. You can actually move around while holding the button down and throw while you have your guard up. You can hide in your shell, get off a combo and go right back into your guard. How cool is that? The catch-and-counter game never worked so well on here. Gone is the parry move that was fun and great when you pulled it off on someone else but fake when you had it done to you.

Boxing in 360…

There are two interesting additions that have caught my eye here. One is the camera work for this game. Before, when you boxed a guy, you were either on the right or the left. When you circled, the whole ring would basically turn, leaving you both with the same orientation. Now? The fighters can switch sides by circling and either man can end up on the left or the right. So if your opponent is uncomfortable fighting on the left or the right, he better learn quick or he’ll get put in a position he has no idea how to deal with.

I’m fair and can be fooled…

The second addition I absolutely love is the third man in the ring. Never before have we had a referee visible. Sometimes, when you fouled an opponent, the ref would warn you. Other times, he’d miss it. With the ref visible, you can pull a Bernard Hopkins by positioning your back to the ref, hiding your opponent and headbutt or low blow. As a proponent of the theory that all is fair in a fight, I think this is awesome.

Build Your Legacy…

EA has made some changes to the “Career” mode this time around. “Legacy” mode lets you create your own player and by using EA’s camera, you can take a picture of yourself and upload it to the game so your boxer looks just like you. Talk about “It’s in the game!” In “Legacy” mode, you take your fighter up the ladder from an amateur tournament all the way to a title but it is not easy. Training is a bit challenging and you have to be smart how you build a character. Just adding power and a good chin is not enough. Balance is key.

Before each scheduled fight, you have to pick a training camp first. “Fight Night Champion” offers several gyms around the world to train in from England to Puerto Rico to Detroit and many more. Depending on where you train, different attributes get enhanced.

Once that is decided, you have two different aspects to train.

First is the skill of your fighter. When you fight and train, you gain experience points (“XP”) that you spread around to various punches. In this game, you have the full spectrum so you can give your guy, depending on what type of fighter you want to develop, a jackhammer jab, great left hook, or an all-around skill set. It all comes down to how well you train and how well you fight. In addition, you get “XP” bonuses for achieving certain goals in a fight like taking a challenger out in a certain amount of rounds, cutting them, etc. Knowing you have to fight to achieve a specific goal adds an interesting dynamic to the game, a sense of urgency.

The second aspect to train is for athleticism. Your athletic gifts change as you progress but regress based on losses, injury, and age. I’ve yet to find the right balance with my personal fighter but EA recommends working on skill early and athleticism late. Maybe that’s why I got KO’d early stepping up in class.

When you take your personalized fighters into online mode, you have a multitude of gyms to choose from as well as creating your own gym and gym team options. You can personalize your logo and fight other gyms, creating rivalries. EA looks to be having events where “XP,” cash, and prizes can be won. I can’t wait.

So real you think you are bleeding…

The graphics on this version are ridiculously real. When you get cut, blood gets everywhere from the canvas to your shorts and the fight being stopped as a result is a serious possibility. Sweat visibly rolls off your guy. Ring card girls jiggle as they move about the ring. When you are too close throwing a hook, you miss but wrap your arm around a guy’s head. And arguably my favorite move in boxing, what I call the “'Tito' Trinidad push-off with the elbow” is now a part of the game. Expressions change; bodies visibly tire and the sound effects are just the right mix of real and heightened reality.

I could go on for days about how great this game is. There are so many nuances to the game, it will take more than just a week to take it all in. As an avid gamer and obviously a big fan of the sport of boxing, this is the game I’ve always wanted. As with Madden, my other favorite title in the EA Sports canon, I can imagine how good the series can get from here. But don’t just take it from me; see for yourself what a boxer in the game along with his crew thinks about EA Sports “Fight Night Champion.”

Personally, I’m giving it two gloves way up.

You can email Gabriel at maxgmontoya@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him on each Monday’s episode of “The Next Round” with Steve Kim or tune into hear him live on Thursdays at 5-8 PM PST when he co-hosts the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com. Gabriel is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

* Special Thanks
To
MaxBoxing.




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