Fight Night Champion

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 March, 2011, 12:00am

Fight Night Champion
EA Sports

Boxing, to the uninitiated, is a sport of drama. But the truth to anyone who's watched a fight is that boxing is often either over too quickly to build excitement, or too drawn out to keep your interest.

Game developer EA Sports has dominated the boxing video game since 1995. In 2004, the company all but revolutionised the sub-genre with Fight Night, using a 'total punch control system' that recreated the fast-paced and harrowing hits of the sport. Three sequels followed - none of them much better than the first - but with the recently released Fight Night Champion, EA has once again delivered a knockout.

The game has all the standards we've come to expect from the series - exhibition matches, online multiplayer, the 'legacy mode' where players build a boxer from scratch - but with the brilliant addition of the title's single-player champion mode. Players take full control of the fictional fighter Andre Bishop from his days as a lowly jail-house brawler to the greatest fighter of all time. The five-hour journey seamlessly blends challenging matches with well-acted cutscenes, and, while the story is jigsawed together from decades of boxing flick cliches, for once the fights have meaning.

From no-holds barred prison rules to amateur bouts, matches are fought and won based on the player's place in the story. A cut above the eye in the first professional match sends the player reeling, while breaking a fist in a championship match means either continuing southpaw or risking the title. It all culminates in the final fight, with an endurance test on a par with Rocky's bouts. And when a cutscene reveals that your Don King-like promoter has fixed the fight, there's no greater feeling than one-punching the opponent in the 12th to void all bribes.

Along with the much-needed drama, EA has also finally updated total punch control - no more frustrating half-circles for uppercuts, no more quick-angle jabs; just one flick and your punch is delivered. It initially seems like a dumbing-down, but the new system stresses tactics and strategy, rather than the timing of the player's opposable thumb. Fights flow quicker and boxers' movements are smoother; button-mashing is gone, and a bad defence can land the player on the canvas just seconds after a win seemed in the bag.

It all adds up to easily the finest boxing video game ever created, a treat for true fans of both the real and the fictionalised sport.