Game Review: Fight Night Champion (PS3)
Let me be upfront. You’re going to be reading a lot of complaining in this review.
Fight Night Champion, EA’s follow-up to the popular Fight Night Round 4 (my multi-part review of that game starts here), is a game that can be viewed in two ways. For those who have not played FNR4, the game will probably be the best boxing game you have ever played, whether it’s in terms of graphics, sound, gameplay, game modes or online play. On the other hand, if you already own FNR4, you’ll likely be sorely disappointed. The truth is, while FNC is an undoubted upgrade over FNR4, the improvements are so uninspiring and minor that it makes you wonder why they bothered with it in the first place. Well, apart from the obvious — make more money out of a successful franchise.
FNC is basically a suped up version of FNR4. The ‘supposed’ improvements included:
- blood, bruising and swearing;
- improved gameplay and controls;
- a new ‘Champion Mode’; and
- an improved Legacy Mode.
There are still apparently over 50 licensed boxers (I didn’t count, but most of the ones from FNR4 are there, including add-on boxers from puchased updates, plus a couple more, including Tim Bradley and David Haye). Still no Floyd Mayweather Jr, no Juan Manuel Marquez, no Sergio Martinez. Heck, not even Naseem Hamed or Kostya Tszyu. At least you can still create your own or upload ones others have made.
The graphics and sound are, I suppose, also improved. So is the presentation. But they are, by and large, so similar to FNR4 that you won’t really notice them unless you care about minor aesthetic changes or study the game closely.
Let’s take a look at the supposed changes and improvements.
(to read on, click on ‘more…’)
Blood, bruising and swearing
Thanks to the higher rating of the game, FNC now has blood, bruising and swearing! Makes sense, considering it’s a boxing game. Opponents can now get cut badly and get their eyes swollen shut. Aesthetically speaking, a huge improvement on FNR4. Very nice to see the blood splatters on gloves and shorts too. The swearing I suppose adds more realism.
Improved gameplay and controls
Basically the same controls as FNR4, with the ‘full spectrum’ punch control, which utilises the right analog stick, and movement (body and feet) with the left stick. The key improvement is that instead of having to make circles and half circles with the stick, you now just have to shift it in a certain direction. Unlike FNR4, however, FNC allows users to punch with buttons as well, rather than having to wait for a downloadable update. That meant nothing to me because I had gotten used to the right stick.
The most significant improvement was the replacement of ‘haymakers’ with ‘power punches’. Well, they’re actually pretty similar except the punches are not as powerful and don’t take forever to execute. Nevertheless, this was a welcome change as the haymakers were really a joke.
Also gone are the ‘signature punches’, another waste of time because no boxer in reality throws such punches. Counters are still largely the same, except the slow-down window is not as long or as obvious.
A new emphasis has been placed on combinations (probably thanks to Manny Pacquiao). Boxers can now string together more punches than ever, which is very cool.
Blocks are now just a single button, which automatically blocks high and low, though punches can still slip through and hurt you.
And thankfully, those stupid health and block bars are now gone from the screen. All you have to be wary of is stamina, which makes fighting more than just a bar reduction exercise. The between-round mini-game is also gone. Instead of acquiring points to replenish your health, stamina or reduce damage, everything that happens is now automatic, though still based on performance in the ring.
As a result of these changes, the gameplay of FNC is slightly different to FNR4, and takes a little while to get a handle on the new controls. But once you figure it out, it’s pretty much the same. I will say though that you do get a better feel for each boxer’s strengths and weaknesses and you do have to apply different strategies against different opponents — going in with the same tactics won’t work every time.
When you’re fighting, it’s now possible to get ‘hurt’ and get ‘stunned’. Hurt means you’re susceptible to being knocked down. Stunned means you’re stunned and can’t fight properly. The best addition is probably the one-punch knockout, which can happen every now and then with a powerful puncher and a weak chin.
Apart from that, everything else is similar to FNR4. The things I complained about last time have not been fixed (except making it less easy for fights to be ended on cuts or swelling). You can still pretty much tell every time whether a boxer you just knocked down will get back up because of the limited animations available. And most of those animations are still silly and completely unrealistic. You still don’t get situations where the doctor checks out a fighter either in the fight or in between rounds. Referees or corners don’t stop fights where a fighter is still on his feet but seriously hurt or not fighting back. Dirty moves (eg headbutt or low blows) and clinching are all still too obvious and lacking in realism. Still no accidental head clashes. Still no slips or false knockdowns. The list goes on and on.
Improved yes, but not by much, and still with a long long way to go. The game looks a little nicer and plays a little smoother, but it still hasn’t managed to replicate the fluidity, motion and excitement of real boxing.
A huge deal was made out of this new ‘Champion Mode’, which is essentially a story mode for the game. At first, this seemed like such an awesome idea. Missing from boxing games of recent years (apart from Japanese ones) is a ‘story’ with characters and heart. Enter Andre Bishop, the fictional protagonist that you can use to climb to the top in a Rocky-like fairytale.
Andre starts off in prison and recollects his amateur days and climb to the almost-top before he was set up by a nasty promoter. Eventually he gets out of prison and seeks redemption. He has a trainer that is an obvious rip-off of Mickey from Rocky (or Cus d’Amato). He has a gigantic baby brother (aka ‘Big Baby’) who has potential but lives in his older brother’s shadow. His enemies are the unstoppable and tattooed Isaac Frost and the aforementioned nasty promoter. You just can’t get more cliched than that. It’s almost as though the writers sat around a table and made a conscious effort to come up with the cheesiest, most cliche-ridden boxing story in history. Fair enough, it’s just a game, but there’s just zero originality here.
The most commendable thing about Champion Mode is that Andre Bishop is black. Sorry, but it’s about time a mainstream game featured a black protagonist (and white antagonists). The female lead is voiced by Eliza Dushku (didn’t realise until the end credits). The cut scenes are well-directed and look quite nice, giving the game a movie feel. The ESPN segments with Brian Kenny (best known for his verbal wars with Floyd Mayweather) are fantastic. The fights themselves are made more interesting by the challenges that Andre needs to overcome. A particular fight might have a corrupt referee. Another might have corrupt judges. You might hurt your right hand and be forced to fight with only your left. Stuff like that.
I will admit I enjoyed Champion Mode, though like almost all ‘story modes’, it pretty much becomes redundant as soon as you play through it once. Frankly, despite all the hoopla, Champion Mode is overrated.
‘Improved’ Legacy Mode
I reserved my harshest criticisms on FNR4 for its Legacy Mode, and unfortunately I will do the same again here for FNC.
Legacy Mode in FNR4 was a piece of crap. It was boring, repetitive, unimaginative and unrealistic. Legacy Mode in FNC is supposed to be vastly improved. They did make a number of changes to it, but the crappy core of the original mode remained the same. You can throw chocolate sprinkles on a pile of dog shit, but at the end of the day, it’s still a pile of dog shit. That’s the ‘new and improved’ Legacy Mode in a nutshell.
Like the original Legacy Mode, you start with an amateur tournament. After that, you turn pro and schedule fights and train and fight. Repeat, rinse and repeat. The main differences are the stat system and the concept of the training camp.
The stat system has been overhauled. It now uses XP points, which are basically experience points which you can earn from training (the better you perform in the training games, the more XPs) and fights. You can then apply XP points to ‘level up’ different categories, such as your head jab, body straight, head left hook, right uppercut, heart, chin, combinations, etc. You can’t max out a fighter, so you’ll have to be selective and decide what kind of fighter you want to create.
There is now also this concept of ‘athleticism’, such as strength, speed, toughness, reflexes, etc. Basically, if you don’t train, your athleticism goes down. Ordinarily, you’d like to get athleticism to reach the maximum of 100 before a fight, or else your overall rating will be lower.
So the training camp business is supposed to make the game more exciting, but it’s not. Unless you have take a fight at short notice, you always have 4 weeks of camp, and you can choose which camp to attend. There’s the ‘Home Gym’, which is free, and a bunch of other venues such as ‘Detroit’, ‘Mexico’, ‘England’, and the most expensive one, ‘Big Bear’ (where De la Hoya used to train all the time). You pick one of the gyms and you train. You can either choose Skills training (interactive mini-game such as sparring, heavy bag, etc), or Athleticism training, where you just pick an aspect of athleticism and how hard you want to train. Each time you train, you use up stamina, so you’ll need to rest, or otherwise you won’t be 100% for the fight.
Every week you must choose to either train, rest, or attend an event if you are invited to one (such as sparring with the champion, a TV special, or autograph signings) to improve your popularity. Amazingly, no matter what you choose, the whole week is spent doing that ONE thing. So realistic.
Yes, it means if you attend a two-hour filming session with ESPN, your whole week is gone and you can’t train or rest. What it basically means is that the whole training camp business is a complete waste of time. After a few fights, you’ll realise that the ONLY thing you have to do is train, rest, train, rest for the four weeks. And you always train for Skills (which give you XP) because your athleticism also improves because of it, but not the other way around. And you always pick the same mini-game, the one you are most skilled at so you can maximise XP (I have only ever played sparring). And once you have enough cash (from fights), you always train at Big Bear. You never have to try anything different because you soon find out that this is the most effective way to train your boxer, and doing anything else just slows you down. You never attend any events apart from sparring with the champ (which earns extra XPs) because they waste an entire week and can happen the week before a fight, which means you can’t rest. Your popularity goes up as you win anyway, so there’s no point in attending.
In other words, the new Legacy Mode is just as boring as the old one. The email system is the same — boring and repetitive. There is now money in the game (something I pointed out was imperative for a boxing game), but it’s only used for one thing — pay for training camps, and it becomes pointless after a few fights, once you can always afford Big Bear. You can now get paid by sponsors to wear their brand for money — big deal, you wear different gloves or shoes for a couple of fights. You can now get injured from a fight — so what? You just pay $12,000 and you’re as good as new. You finally become champion of the world and think you’re in for a mega payday? Think again, because the most you can earn from any fight is around $500,000. All these so-called improvements to Legacy Mode are so pathetic it makes me angry. They had the right idea with some of these things but they piled it on top of the originally flawed system instead of rebuilding it from the ground up.
What is worse is that all of the horrible things from the original Legacy Mode have been retained. You are always so restricted in who you can choose to fight, and once you become champion, you’ll find yourself fighting the same five or six people over and over and over because you can’t fight anyone else. You only get to change weight classes once, after you take on an opponent in a single catch-weight bout, meaning you are forever stuck in the same weight class after you make the jump, taking on the same few opponents until the end of time.
And don’t get me started on the stupid awards and rankings, which reek of laziness and idiocy. At the end of each calendar year, various awards are presented, but the system for deciding who wins what award is a joke. When I was a 10-0 (10KO) prospect,the ‘Prospect of the Year’ award kept going to chumps with losing records. When I became a triple-belt unified champion, I somehow managed to win ‘Prospect of the Year’ three years in a row, while some bum with a 8-6 record wins ‘Fighter of the Year.’
And how’s this for realism? There are almost zero undefeated fighters out there (and none once you get to the top), no new names, no up and comers to create mega fights or challenge your legacy. Instead you have guys with records like 30-22-9 holding title belts, or worse, guys with records like 97-5-11 and still fighting in the modern era. The pound-for-pound rankings are equally absurd. Say I am 10th on the P4P list and I beat the guy in the number 1 spot five times in a row. What happens? I move up to 5th and he remains at number 1.
What a total embarrassment. Whoever designed the logarithms for the rankings and awards should be fired.
I don’t play online but I hear it’s not too sweet. Check this video review out.
As you can tell from my review, FNC was a massive disappointment, a flagrant abuse of goodwill from FNR4. Personally, I think it was no more than a ploy to make easy money from stupid gamers such as myself, who long for a decent boxing game to come along and sweep them off their feet. The blood and more realistic damage is a welcome addition, as were some of the minor gameplay adjustments, but that’s about it. The highly touted Champion Mode and the so-called improved Legacy Mode alone are not sufficient to justify a brand new game. Perhaps if they added Playstation Move compatibility — that would have been a genuine difference — but no, they never had any intention of doing that.
That said, FNC is probably, sadly, the best boxing game out there at the moment. The graphics are crisp, it has licensed boxers, and the gameplay is still pretty darn addictive for boxing fans. But if you already have FNR4 and were expecting something revolutionary, then please, put away your money. It’s just not worth the effort.
5.5 out of 10
PS: If you’re wondering what I think would make a good boxing game, check out my Fight Night Round 5 Wishlist.