When Fight Night Round 4 launched last year, we praised it for the improvements it made over previous entries in the series, but criticized the career mode minigames and its tolerance of players who spam punches rather than fight realistically. Thankfully, EA Sports is on the case with Fight Night Champion, with an interesting new story-driven game mode and a host of improvements that should add to the realism of the game. We met with the development team at a recent EA event to find out more.
One of the most immediately striking features of Fight Night Champion is how good it looks. That's no small feat considering that Fight Night Round 3 astonished at launch with its good looks, with Round 4 going even further by upping the frame rate to 60 per second. In Champion, the boxers themselves look better than ever, cloth deformation on shorts is nigh-on photorealistic, and the background is rich with details that were missing last time around.
The main new addition is the Champion mode referenced in the game's title. EA Sports isn't saying much about it at this stage, other than the fact that it will be a story-driven mode in which you have to guide a young boxer from amateur level to belt-winning form. It's clear that we can expect a gritty, story-driven campaign that deviates from the usual career mode, although that will still be present. We'll just have to wait to see how far EA Sports pushes it. One thing's for sure, though: This year's game won't boast the traditional cover athlete like last year's Ali-versus-Tyson matchup, although both boxers will be featured in the game.
For traditionalists, Round Four's Legacy mode will still make it into the game, albeit with some key changes. EA claims some players tried out the training games last time only to realize that if they were bad at it, their boxers would actually be worse off than if they'd just skipped the session completely. This time, Fight Night will be more rewarding to players, as well as "not calling them a bum," according to the development team--again responding to player feedback.
As for gameplay, EA Sports is making some big changes to improve the realism. The big new feature is that stamina is now applied to each section of the boxer's body--right arm, left arm, right leg, left leg, and core--meaning that you have to vary punches to avoid fatigue. This should help avoid the situation in the last game in which online competitors were able to hammer the same punches over and over for decent results. We were shown a demo of this in action, with one boxer making the same jab over and over. It started off fast, but as fatigue set in, he would soon slow down.
The corner game is also automated this time around, meaning that you don't have to worry about assigning points to recuperate your fighter between rounds. EA Sports has also toned down the slow-motion effect when a big punch is landed--again adding to the gritty realism of the game. One unexpected result of this striving for realism comes from the crowd chants. We noticed one sports fan screaming, "Knock that motherf***er out!" during our demo.
The game is currently just past alpha stage, which is a good indication for an earlier, rather than later, 2011 release (EA is currently citing a vague 2011 date). We're sure to see more of the game in the run-up to release, so be sure to keep an eye on GameSpot for more info as we get it.