Fight Night Champion Review (PS3)

Fight Night Champion is an odd one. In a sport ruled by theatrics and pomp, Champion is surprisingly brutal. That's not saying boxing is Knock-Em Sock-Em Robots played by media-gleaning prissy boys – there are a select few who are prepared to take the smacks to the face for the chance to wear that belt. Yes, that belt – the one that signifies the highlight of a career. Potential brain damage? Sure, but holding up the leather proclamation that you’re the best in the world in front of a roaring crowd drives many to try.

With previous Fight Nights we were given a Mortal Kombat style selection roster and left to our own devices without so much of a “Let's Get Ready to Rumble” to get our blood pumping. This time it’s different – boxing can be rough, extremely violent and overall, dangerous and EA Canada have attempted to inject some life into the sport.

Taking It At Face Value

You can’t say it hasn’t been coming. Champion's predecessor did a good job of adding some much needed finesse to the series. Prior to FN4, the series was a ‘swing your fists and hope for the best’ game. That or choose boxer Big E, the Goliath who eats a full cow for breakfast, and squash your opponent into the ground.

This time around the adjustments sees Champion bringing more control to virtual boxing. It transforms it into a violent ballet with the two men shifting their weight around the ring, taking pot-shots in the name of pay-per-view entertainment. It's the raw spectacle that matters and one that the developers have managed to hit on the head perfectly.

Not only has EA managed to produce the most realistic boxing game ever, but they’ve also succeeded in bringing some structure to the game in the form of a half decent story. Not content with sticking to beat-em-up fragmented fights, there's a Rocky-esque narrative driving on the player. You can still throw in the towel of ‘I Am Boxer’ to play with boxing’s rich history, but those hankering for a purpose to their virtual pummelling will find themselves pleasantly surprised.

You take control of Andre Bishop, a hulk of a man who's on the way to the top. With the stereotypical old-timer as coach and an uppity media-yearning brother, the orphaned Bishop is your typical rags to riches story. Except it would be if the game didn’t begin with plonking you in prison.

What’s the punchline?

At the receiving end of a vicious beating, your near-death experience leaves you recollecting the journey to the big house. We’re then led on a retrospective recap of corrupt officials, melodramatic opponents and everything else in between.

It's occasionally a tad convoluted, but on the whole it works, especially with the sport being so focused on the individual (don't ask us how it'd work with EA's other sporting franchises).

Storyline aside, let's return to the actual boxing. Fight Night Champion is easily the most satisfying game there has been in a long time. Nothing beats that connecting moment, the moment when fist hits flesh with a perfectly timed counter punch. The crunch of bone, the slow motion rippling skin, the beads of sweat flung across the screen. It's visceral - a flurry of punches look like they have real force behind them. The momentum carries the boxers forward, the thud of an uppercut as it's blocked. It’s all very ‘in-your-face’.

Minute control of punches is now possible with the Full-Spectrum Punch Control system and tacticians out there will quickly realise the true nature of Champion's fighting. It’s all about the tactical selection of moves – it trumps impatient frenzied play every time. Put simply, it's a complex version of Paper, Scissors, Rock. Overdo the power moves and your boxer is left panting, open to a swift combination that’ll send him reeling to the floor.

Presenting all this violence is Champion’s superb graphics engine. It’s a stunning title and remarkable when you consider the age of current hardware. Ripped arms, expressive faces, lively arena environments - everything combines together to create one beautiful looking game. You can see the passion in the eyes and at a glance, it looks as though you're watching a real life boxing match. That’s no exaggeration.

Bringing the pain

All the big names are there and they look like the real deal. Ali, Foreman, Haye, Holyfield, Lewis, Tyson, Calzaghe, Sugar Ray Leonard – there’s everyone you’d expect and then some. Fans will not be disappointed and there’s even the option to create-your-own with the hope they’ll stand alongside the greats. You can then run them through the tweaked Legacy Mode that boasts new features and a more streamlined experience.

Finish with the option to inflict pain online to friends and random contenders and you’re looking at the most definitely Fight Night yet. Even if you’re not a fan of boxing, punching each other in the face appeals to the majority of gamers. What EA has done is capture the sport perfectly, fleshing it out to near perfection. It’s a game you’ll keep coming back to again and again. A remarkable achievement.

Top Game Moment: Replaying knockouts over and over again in slow motion.