Fight Night Champion review

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Fight Night Champion review

Nearly every veteran Xbox 360 gamer remembers the moment they first laid eyes on Fight Night Round 3 in early 2006. It’s our version of the “Where were you when astronauts landed on the moon?” memory. The fledgling next-generation console hadn’t even begun teething yet, but here was this boxing game — a boxing game! — that emphatically raised the bar for what the future could look like. Fast-forward five years (and two iterations) to Fight Night Champion, and while the wow-factor may be gone (unless you’re a new Xbox 360 owner, in which case, prepare to feel your face melt), the rest of this sweet-science simulation has been honed to, well, a sweet science.

The four- to six-hour, story-driven Champion mode is the biggest new feature. Casting you as riches-to-rags-back-to-riches fighter Andre Bishop, it starts off a bit hokey, wedging several F-bombs into the first few seconds of dialogue just so you damn well know this game is Mature-rated. But to its credit, it settles into a very pretty, well-produced, quickly paced story that, while predictable in its outcome, remains engrossing. Only in the climax against the super-powered Evil Heavyweight Champion™ do the wheels come off, with poor design ruining the boxing simulation and harshly reminding you that you’re playing a videogame. “What’s that, Mr. Trainer? Don’t hit this guy for three rounds? Then land 75 body punches in the round after that? Sure, because that’s fun!” Some of the load times in this mode are also egregiously long.

Still, the overall solid Champion mode takes nothing away from the rest of the game, which is every bit as terrific as it was the last two go-rounds. Legacy mode returns, allowing you to create your own boxer or rebuild the career of one of dozens of legends, including Ali, Frazier, and Tyson. The career-progression system has been subtly but pleasantly refined, with a detailed XP mechanic that shows your progress in each skill, detailing your potential upgrade paths in a decidedly RPG manner. It’s simply much easier to dig in and enjoy it than previous Fight Nights were, a sentiment bolstered by the fact that the training mini-games are no longer impossibly frustrating.

Controls have always been a hallmark of Fight Night, and they’re better than ever now. Face-button and thumbstick controls return intact, but they’re joined by a refined right stick–flicking system that replaces the quarter-circle motions and thumbstick twirls of the previous games with a simple flick in any of eight directions. Both control styles are active at any time, though, so you can mix and match during a fight as desired and not be penalized if Round 3 or Round 4 instincts take over and you accidentally, say, swivel the stick for a quick left hook.

Presentation, of course, is this franchise’s other headliner. And even if you’re a Fight Night vet, there’s no denying how astoundingly gorgeous Champion is. Animations are almost 100% convincing, and we didn’t see a single instance of clipping. Skin and tattoos, meanwhile, appear photorealistic. Even the referee is now rendered and in the ring with you, but unfortunately, he often gets in the way. Sure, it’s only for a split-second, but it’s annoying when it occurs.

Finally, online play deserves kudos for being more robust than ever, as gym (read: clan) support lets up to 32 friends train and compete with each other before challenging other gyms. Global world championships let you take your custom boxer online to try to become the belt-holder in your weight class, while prizefighting events let you see who’s best with the licensed fighters.

Compared to the last two games, Champion is much more evolutionary than revolutionary, but the series remains one of the 360’s finest sports sims — and it requires almost no boxing knowledge to understand or enjoy it. Landing a big punch feels more satisfying than ever, and if you give the game enough time, you’ll find it’s infinitely more than just a pretty face.

On Xbox 360

+ Great controls and control options.

+ Amazing presentation; we’re not sure we ever saw a hint of clipping.

- More iterative than Round 3 and Round 4; climax of Champion mode is anti-fun; ref sometimes obscures the camera.

? Do Butterbean’s moobs really have to jiggle so realistically? Eww!

8.5

 
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