It’s nice to know that even the kings of phone-it-in yearly updates, EA Sports, understand that not every game needs a an annual release. The Fight Night franchise has been something of a prize possession of EA, and has only seen the light of day every few years, making it somewhat more interesting than most in their stable, at least from a reviewer’s point of view. It doesn’t seem as if much has changed though, so don’t worry about any great sea changes in gameplay, or anything genuinely new or interesting, it’s the same fighter you saw last time, just with one new trick.
You ever seen that shitty Rocky wannabe film, Gladiator (not the over-emotional slurry about ancient Rome with Russell Crowe)? If you have, you might remember numerous scenes involving Brian Dennehey and a little trick he has with his head (sounds like the worst pornography you’ve ever seen, but stay with me here). Bear in mind this is a fat man, and one who has looked like a walking heart attack for about 30 years. Anyway, in this laughable 1992 effort, Brian had this little trick as a boxer, where he dipped his head whenever his opponent tried to land a straight or a jab, causing them to hit the top of his head and break their hands. Nonsense, of course. Now apparently, this got a man with cholesterol almost visibly seeping from his pores to the top of the boxing ladder. Watch the film, if you haven’t already, it’s complete toilet, but enjoyable in a 1992 kind of way.
Anyway, as a fighter in the standard legacy mode, you feel a bit like a well-toned Brian Dennehey, only without the 1980’s film royalties to fall back on. You have your trick, and you perform it over and over again. In my two cases, it was working from the outside (a fancy way of saying “using jabs and straights”) and counter punching (a fancy way of saying “dodging”), which I’m not overly good at. In both these cases, the game forces you to perform torturous amounts of the same move. Sure, all the training shows you how to do other things, but it’s a bit like the game is hanging around soup kitchens with foie gras earrings and a fillet steak necklace going “Ooooh, look at me and all my wonderful food. I don’t know how to use it, and you can’t have any, but doesn’t it look wonderful?”.
I guess this is all in the pursuit of realism, and in that respect, Fight Night Champion gets it all right. Fights are uninteresting and usually go the distance with little of note happening at any point. Fighters have distinct styles, and will never, ever, deviate from them. You get bored watching it, and wonder why you bothered paying for the privilege. The trouble is that boxing is about the spectacle, and it does seem that in trying to capture the realism of boxing, EA Sports Canada has failed to generate any bloody fun. This is the main oversight in a game ostensibly competing with titles like EA MMA, Undisputed and Smackdown vs RAW!
Legacy mode is where you’ll be spending most of your time, and it definitely loses out when put up against similar modes in EA MMA, or Undisputed, despite their faults. Your goal in this mode is to build up your boxer, balancing the need for 100 per cent stamina on fight night, with the desire to level up your character as quickly as possible. It feels a little catch 22-esque here, as levelling up is difficult without winning fights, and winning fights is difficult without levelling up. Again, this is reasonably realistic, as it’s hard work to become a boxer. You’ll get wiped out so many times in your career, in the chase to accrue more training time, and that doesn’t seem the right way to go about it.
The heavy repetition and tear-inducing constraints put on you by the game mean that your road to the top is a slow and painful one. That said, for anyone willing to put in the hours, it can be incredibly satisfying to win matches, as it’s actually difficult – something that hasn’t happened in the franchise to date.
So what about the titular Champion mode? It’s on a par (and actually, surprising similar to) 1992’s stellar Brian Dennehey vehicle, Gladiator. It’s cheesy as hell but makes for good watching nonetheless. You play Andre Bishop, a once up-and-coming boxer, who, due to his keen sense of loyalty and common sense, finds himself fallen from grace and has to make his way back to the top again. EA Sports has made a big deal about this being written by award-winning Monster’s Ball writer, Will Rokos. Yeah, whatever. I imagine he doodled this on the back of a napkin from whatever bar he was in during the phone call with EA. Okay, so it may not be Pulitzer prize material, but it fits wonderfully well with the nature of boxing games, and gives you an entertaining break between fights.
What it doesn’t do, however, is make the boxing any more fun. Again, you’re so constrained in your actions, and the torture is no less unrelenting than in legacy mode. One fight, for example, you fight a guy with a punishing left hook. “Fine”, you think, I’ll watch out for that, then. Until you realise that the game has scripted you to go down in the first – the game’s predictable way of saying, “See, now look what’s happened. You’d better listen to me in future, stupid boy!”, you don’t realise exactly how demandingly predictable it is. And near enough every fight has some kind of stipulation like that. “Don’t hit him with your right, you idiot, you broke that one”. “Don’t bother trying to fight him in the first round, you numpty, tire him out.” “Work from the outside, you cheeseweasel, because you know what happens when you don’t do exactly as I say!”
It all feels like EA’s Fight Night Champion is the worst mother in the world. It punishes you for not doing exactly what it wants, exactly when it wants you to do it. Then makes you feel like an idiot for trying to express your individuality. When it walks in on you masturbating in your own way, it doesn’t express shock and leave in an embarrassed rush, but gets the whole family round to laugh and point until you start masturbating the way the family has been doing it for years.
It’s not a bad game, I just don’t think it really captures what gamers want. It offers endless bouts of dull, journeyman boxing and very little opportunity for you to feel like a superstar. Indeed, it’s only when you max out a couple of stats that you become in any sense dangerous. And even then you’re still relying on the style of boxing that you originally chose. It’s all well and good to tie someone into a playing style, it makes the game worth replaying, but when “style” equates to “limitation to two moves”, you see the problem.
There are a bunch of excellent multiplayer features for the online aspect – something in line with EA MMA – which is no bad thing. The spectacle is somewhat more enticing in multiplayer, and much like any fighting game, you’re going to get your ass handed to you numerous times before you find the key to online fighting.
Like your mother, while you may have the odd tantrum with it, the fact that she’s doing it for your own good makes a difference. Sure, with Fight Night Champion you’ll be doing plenty of sulking in your room, but you’ll also come back to it and make amends. Legacy mode has a number of repetition problems, not just in the fighting itself, but in the training and stupid, stupid email system that no game has ever needed, but every developer insists on including. If you can give it the right amount of time, and are prepared for the “realism” of boxing, then this is a game with plenty of legs.
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