The sport of boxing is one that is notoriously difficult to get right in videogames. A lot of fun can be had from the likes of Punch Out, but for purists, and it can be hard to come by a game that accurately reflects both the brutality and the great skill of the sport.
The Fight Night series is one that has probably gone to more great lengths than others to give a fair representation of the sweet science, and in this latest rendition of the game they may have peaked in terms of realism. It's the very first game to receive an MA rating from the EA Sports stable, and it definitely shows. PALGN was lucky enough to get a look at the multiplayer mode of Fight Night Champion. But just what did we think of it? Step into the ring and find out!
The first thing that you'll notice from delving into two player combat is the stunning array of boxers that EA have secured the rights for inclusion in the title. Alongside past greats such as Sonny Liston, Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson, you'll also find present day fighters like Manny Pacquiao, Bernard Hopkins and Wladimir Klitschko. For good measure, they've even thrown in George Foreman in his latter years and a DLC version of him with an afro from earlier in his career. Each fighter has their own overall rating and are placed in their appropriate weight class. Switching between weight classes is done with the press of the trigger buttons. They are organised as such because you are unable to have fighters that are two or more weight classes apart, as this would potentially lead to some very uneven fights.
Once you've selected your fighters, the ring selection menu next pops up. There's quite a variety of places to choose from which range across many countries. You could choose to stage your bout in a top arena which is overflowing with spectators, or you can stick with a more intimate setting of a sparring gym. When you have chosen the stage for your stoush, you'll be taken there fairly quickly. After the Tale of the Tape graphic is shown, it's time for the bell to ring and the bout will begin.
Once in the ring, you have a variety of tactics at your disposal to take your opponent out of the game. With a press of the left control pad, you are able to issue a variety of taunts to get under your opponent's skin. One of these has a more practical application however: the headbutt mavueover, unsurprisingly, will cause your boxer's head to collide with your opponent. This will damage them, but overuse of the tactic will result in you losing points for that round. Headbutts are extremely rare in actual boxing, if non-existent, but they still can occur and have consequences, so it's nice to see that Fight Night Champion retains this level of detail.
The face and shoulder buttons are used for punching and dodging respectively, while the left control stick is used for moving around the ring. The mastery of these three skills is vital, and Fight Night Champion is set up in such a way that there's a great sense of balance. Your punches consist of straights, jabs, hooks and uppercuts. Pound away at your opponent hard and long enough, and you will knock them to the floor. If you punch too often, however, your stamina meter will run down and you risk being knocked to the mat yourself. To avoid this, it's vital that you dodge your opponent's own punches and occasionally step away from your opponent and rest. This will allow your stamina meter to refill, and the fight shall be on again. The stamina system allows fights to be much more balanced and varied - sometimes, people will pace themselves and put on an epic contest of several rounds where nobody ends up off their feet, while others will see people tank out early and hit the mat.
If you do end up knocked down, all is not lost. A first person view will present itself in super-blurry vision, and you will see the referee conducting a ten count. When this happens, you have a chance of getting to your feet again by following the on-screen control stick prompts. You will have to apply just the right amount of pressure left and right or up and down to hit the green zone, and repeat until you are counted out or get back onto your feet.
Overall, the controls in Fight Night Champion are very easy to pick up and, just like the real-world version of boxing, a players wins and losses are much more about strategy than what the computer can pull off for you. During PALGN's bouts, we had six fights and won three of those, with a mix of first-round knockouts and more drawn-out fights across wins and losses. Though there are overall rankings and statistics for each fighter, it really does come down to tactics in the end and the mindset you have going into a fight. You might be in the same weight class as your opponent with a lower overall ranking, but if they swing wild punches too early they can and will tire themselves out, leaving them vulnerable to a KO.
While we didn't get a chance to test out the single player campaign of Fight Night Champion, the multiplayer aspect looks very promising, along with the core gameplay mechanics. The combination of fighters from across all eras of the sport and a heavy emphasis on strategy over brute force leave us floored.