Fight Night Champion hands-on: exciting, savage... and slightly dumbed down

We won’t lie. We’re really conflicted when it comes to Fight Night Champion. On one blood-stained glove, it’s arguably the most surprising and thrilling game in the series. And on the other… well, lets just say the boxing is currently more ‘Hulk smash!’ than sweet science. Based on our hands-on with the game at a recent EA event, it’s definitely got all the hallmarks of a champ… just with a bit of chump snuck in there, too.

Above: Champ or chump? Find out below

One punch knockouts are amazing

So much so, we reckon they’re the most exciting thing to happen to the series in years. Yeah, yeah. We know they were supposedly in predecessor Round 4. But over dozens of fights we were lucky if we saw more than three or four of the buggers. Thankfully, our afternoon with Champion is different, because nearly half our matches end with these bout-kiboshing mega shots.

Above: Smokin' Joe Frazier loves laying the knockout juice on thick

Not convinced? Just use your eye holes to watch one of them below, shortly after the two minute mark...

Above: Champion also has refs on-screen during bouts now. That's worth an extra point, right?

The new Heavy Punch Modifier (which can potentially turn any shot into an instant KO bringer by pressing RB/R1 when you unleash a punch), mean fights are often over before you’ve time to pick your shattered gum shield off the mat. Thank Manny Pacquiao’s beady little eyes, the fiddly Haymaker system has been ditched. Because the split-second knockouts Champion’s new heavy punches bring to the table are (and excuse our non French) shitting brilliant.


The action feels worryingly dumbed down

There’s no getting around it. Despite the fancy Full Spectrum Control moniker, Champion’s revised punching system feels oversimplified. Past Fight Nights felt so visceral thanks to their arching circular right stick gestures, which forced you to recreate the general motion of a hook or an uppercut with your thumb. But now, you simply perform hooks by flicking the stick left or right and uppercuts with downward diagonal flicks. Sadly, it makes the stick feel like a glorified set of face buttons.

This simplified system also means you’ll find yourself throwing far more punches because they’re easier to pull off. Of course, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What it does do, though, is rob fights of some of the natural ebb and flow of the earlier games.

Above: Stamina now regenerates on its own, depending on how many punches you throw

Because the mid-round healing system is now automated, fights feel more even than in the past. From the ten or so bouts we play, it’s harder to dominate your opponent. And the automatic blocking system (which sees your fighter defend himself from all face and body shots just by holding down the block modifier) puts more emphasis on mindless punching than careful blocks and parries. In a word or… eh, several; Champion currently feels less tactical and involving than Round 4.

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  • Grobie - February 3, 2011 12:19 a.m.

    Just played the demo, the controls are terrible... shame. Fight Night 3 got it spot on, refining the sometimes-too-easy mechanics of it's predecessor. I'm finding it difficult to enjoy any sweet science with this one.
  • Xerxes667 - February 2, 2011 6:52 a.m.

    I agree with NeelEvil! Round 3 was the best in the series. The controls were PERFECT! the ontrol changes made to Round 4 detracted from the gameplay so much a returned the game 2 days after i bought it... it was unplayable. and judging by this review, i will not be buying this game
  • FauxFurry - February 1, 2011 9:04 p.m.

    Butterbean is in the game? It looks as if they realized that the only way that a boxing game to compete with MMA games was to add jiggle physics of the totally mantastic variety into the game,after all. Now,if they throw in prison romance in the story mode as well as the expected bromance,it can pull in a more diverse audience and cinch a game of the year nod or two.
  • Japanaman - February 1, 2011 7:42 p.m.

    Those graphics are FAR too realistic for Butterbean to be in it. I do NOT want to see slow motion breasts fly around after I know him on his keyster. Eww...
  • MajorPonch - February 1, 2011 6:05 p.m.

    I think it looks good, but we can pretty much all agree that Eliza Dushku will be awful.
  • asspills - February 1, 2011 5:19 p.m.

    Yeah I RRREEALLY hope they make the old controls an option. My main problem with EA Sports MMA right now is that it doesn't have the cautious art of dodging blocking ducking and countering that Fight Night did. I rather dislike one button blocking.
  • NeelEvil - February 1, 2011 11:58 a.m.

    Seeing as it's from EA is there any chance you can select the old controls? It's an option they usually put in all their other sports franchises. If not it looks like I'm still sticking with Round 3 (didn't like the changes to Round 4 either!).
  • cart00n - February 1, 2011 10:44 a.m.