Fight Night Champion Review
This fast-paced boxing game improves upon its predecessor in just about every way, and adds an entertaining story mode to boot.
The experience points used to level up your boxer's skills are earned not only in the various training minigames that you take part in between fights, but also by winning fights and fulfilling challenge criteria while doing so. Fight challenges are an excellent addition to Legacy mode; they award you bonus experience points for taking little damage during fights, scoring a knockdown before a specific round, and even for causing a cut on your opponent. It's not always possible for you to actively pursue these bonuses because just making sure that you win has to take priority, but there's no better feeling in Legacy mode than knocking out an opponent and then realizing that you completed all of the fight challenges before doing so. That way you have even more experience points to spend on skills, which itself is pretty interesting in this year's game.
For the most part, the skills that you level up in Fight Night Champion are specific punches (jab head, right hook head, left uppercut body), and when you spend points on them you can see that you're improving their speed, power, and/or accuracy. What makes the boxer growth screen so compelling is that as you level up your skills and they move closer to the level cap of 20, you hit milestones that unlock significant bonuses and even new abilities for your fighter. For example, at level six many punches gain a chance to stun opponents for a short time, and at level 15 they can score flash knockdowns. If you manage to get one of your punches to level 20--which isn't difficult if you forgo spending your experience in other areas--it becomes possible for you to score a one-punch knockout. It all sounds very artificial, but it doesn't feel that way at all when you climb into the ring because you can rarely get away with throwing the same punch that you've leveled up over and over again, and even if you do, there's no guarantee that you're going to score any kind of stun or knockdown. The action is believable for the most part, and what's most impressive about the fights is that even without the scripted events that add drama in Champion mode, you're never quite sure how they're going to play out.
Even if you always carefully select your next Legacy mode opponent by studying the skill ratings, recent fight histories, and physical attributes of all the guys who are available to fight you, they can still surprise you in the ring. In Fight Night Champion, as in real life, it can take only one punch to turn a fight around, so you can never get too comfortable, and you should never give up. Every fight has the potential to turn into a memorable one, so even if you spend nine rounds getting beaten up pretty badly, there's no reason you can't knock your opponent out in the 10th to claim the win. Similarly, if you score a lucky punch against a superior opponent and manage to cut him early in the fight or maybe cause so much swelling that his eye closes, there's a decent chance that--if you keep targeting the damaged area--the referee will stop the fight and award a technical knockout in your favor.
Referees rarely have much to do in Fight Night Champion, unless you resort to using the head-butts and low blows that are mapped onto the D pad. Regardless, referees now appear in the ring alongside fighters and, for the most part, appear to move around realistically, staying out of the fighters' way and trying to get a good view of what's going on. What's unfortunate is that, at least on the default camera setting, referees have a terrible habit of positioning themselves between the camera and the action, thus obscuring your view. Unhelpful refs aside, the camera does a great job of framing the action and of showing off the impressively detailed fighter models when they sit down in their respective corners. Without exception, the 50-plus licensed boxers are instantly recognizable and look superb, and while created boxers (which can again be shared with other players online) rarely look quite as good, they certainly don't look out of place alongside the likes of Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Joe Calzaghe, Jake LaMotta, Marvin Hagler, Ricky Hatton, and Manny Pacquiao, to name but a few. There are, of course, plenty of big names missing from the roster, but players are already creating and sharing likenesses of their favorite fighters complete with customized fighting styles, so even though they're not on the official roster, it's already possible to re-create famous matchups between British middleweights Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank, for example. You can even pit Rocky IV's Ivan Drago against Marilyn Manson if you really want to.
Once added to your roster, custom fighters appear alongside both licensed fighters and characters from Champion mode for use in one-off fights locally and online. Fight Night Champion's online offering is similar to that in last year's Round 4. Regular ranked or unranked fights can be found either through an automatic matching system that searches for players of comparable experience, or in lobbies that sort players by skill level and geography. Online gyms serve much the same purpose that clans and guilds do in non-sports games and afford you an opportunity to fight with customized rule sets and gameplay settings while using one of your created fighters. If you're more interested in individual leaderboards than in gym rivalries, you're sure to enjoy the Online World Championship mode. Here, you can compete for belts and titles in light-, middle-, and heavyweight classes secure in the knowledge that, because fighters are all given comparable stats, it's your skill that determines the result rather than the fighters' stats and skills. Should you manage to claim a title, know that there will be no shortage of challenges coming your way because a message pops up on the screen of every other player to let them know when you come online.
Online fights are smooth for the most part, but lag can be an issue on occasion. The lag is never so bad that it's seriously detrimental to the gameplay, but it's unfortunate that lag is present at all because, upon entering a laggy ranked fight, you have only three choices: continue playing, add a loss to your record by not getting up the first time you're knocked down (no thanks), or quit prematurely and gain a "did not finish" (DNF) rating. A DNF might cause other players to avoid you and that makes it harder for you to search for opponents, because you can't search for fights with players who have DNF ratings lower than yours.
Even if online competition doesn't interest you, Fight Night Champion is a great game that has a lot to offer. The story-driven Champion mode is an entertaining addition to the series, and once you get into the Legacy mode you might find that it's hard to put down your controller even after you've spent dozens of hours using the same fighter. And beyond those single-player modes there's a great deal of fun to be had with friends, re-creating memorable matchups and pitting great boxers from different eras against each other in fights that would no doubt have been fascinating in real life. The latest Fight Night might never be remembered as the greatest boxing game of all time, but for right now it's definitely the champion.
With the updates that have been released the game has become unplayable. In 15 attempted fights, landing many punches, I could not beat a single opponent. Couldn't even get their health below 75%. Even local multiplayer we could not make any sense of how the damage was calculated.