Monday, May 09, 2011

Megabits column: Fight Night Champion

Megabits of Gaming contributes a monthly column in Charged Middle East – a leading Dubai-based gadgets and games magazine that provides news, reviews and features on the latest home and consumer electronics.

Each month, Megabits takes a look at a new release in a gaming franchise and considers how its evolved over the years and what makes it great!

Here’s the latest of the articles from the May 2011 issue. For more about the magazine, check out its Facebook page after the jump.

We all love a good underdog story; a rags to riches tale where our hero comes good against unfathomable odds. It’s certainly not a new concept and we’ve seen countless variations over the years but Electronic Arts’ latest version has got the games charts buzzing.

Fight Night Champion is the next instalment in the long line of boxing games featuring some of the greatest names from the sport. This edition, however, arguably packs a heftier punch than its predecessors – thanks partly to its huge lineup of fighters, "Full Spectrum Punch Control" and the all-new story mode.

Boot up the disc and you dive straight into the action, the developers propelling you into the ring rather than a traditional static menu screen. Cleverly, it throws you in at the deep end, into the middle of a fight where you quickly have to fathom the controls and land as many punches as possible. It’s an exciting introduction to the proceedings, which sees you don the padded gloves and silky shorts of fresh-faced Andre Bishop, who is destined to make it to the big time.

It’s not all smooth sailing for Andre, however, as he soon learns when he spurns the advances of a dodgy promoter and gets framed. The result is a few years in the slammer and what appears to be the end of a promising career. Like all good tales, however, he gets one last chance to redeem himself and make an improbable comeback – ultimately taking on Ivan Drago-wannabe Isaac Frost.

I’ve just alluded to the inevitable comparisons with Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky movies, which also plotted the rise up the ranks of a nobody who eventually made it as champion. The parallels are clear.

Although the game’s narrative is short lived, it does prove entertaining and adds yet another dynamic to the acclaimed series. And you can rest assured that you’ll also get the opportunity to take control of some 50 real-life boxing greats from today and yesteryear, both on- and offline.

EA has a strong pedigree of pugilism dating back to Foes of Ali on Panasonic’s ill-fated 3DO in 1995. Back then, it was Ali and the likes of Henry Cooper, Sonny Liston and Joe Frazier who filled the roster and were lovingly recreated by the revolutionary (at the time) 3D graphics. The three main game modes - exhibition fights, tournaments and the career mode – remain the backbone of today’s boxing games.

EA went on to rule the virtual ring with its Knockout Kings games in the late nineties, before Fight Night was born.

Its debut, Fight Night 2004, really stood out from the crowd because of its improved controls, which added realism and provided increased input into all those uppercuts, jabs and hooks. Dubbed “Total Punch Control”, it was a revolution; making great use of the analog sticks that had seldom been fully exploited in boxing games before. Movements via the sticks could be modified by the left and right triggers for more fighting options. This was the feature that would become core to all the follow-ups and evolve into Champion’s new Full Spectrum controls.

Fight Night Round 2 was the inevitable sequel and offered more of the same, with slightly honed graphics and a weightier roster. For many, however, it was Fight Night Round 3 in 2006 that took the series to the big time. This marked its first outing on the current gen consoles, and reviewers at the time were waxing lyrical over the processing power of Sony’s PS3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 – so much so, that the glistening sweat effects on the fighters’ torsos was given almost as much coverage as the gameplay itself. For the first time, no HUD was displayed so players had to determine the condition of their fighter by his appearance – which proved pretty effective thanks in part to the graphical improvements over its predecessors.

Although Round 4 took several years to emerge (2009), it brought with it even more fighters, enhanced aesthetics and the celebrated Legacy mode. Fans thought it couldn’t get any better; this seemed to be as close as you could get to stepping in to that ring in real life... Fight Night Champion proved them wrong.