One Step Back, Two Steps Forward
Electronic Arts has been going through a rough stretch in 2009-10. The annualized EA Sports formula has been wearing thin and franchised games like Army Of Two gathered more critics than sales. EA were forced to lay off over a thousand workers. EA hit a wall last fall with the cancellation of NBA Elite 11. To their credit, they came forward and brushed off defeat with dignity by saying it would have been a horrible game anyway. It was a honest decision, which probably made them lose a lot of money.
Adversity is a strange thing. It’s when the sky darkens that people of valour are at their best. When the first Fight Night Champion trailers hit the internet, I felt like a violent gust of wind threw me on my back. The Electronic Arts Canada team went back to the drawing board and from what they’re showing, and they seem to have worked out a landmark game. After the release of Fight Night Champion this March, sports games might just have to live up to EA Sports’ latest work, the way games had to live up to Grand Theft Auto III ten years ago.
There’s A Friggin’ Story Mode!
How many of you have watched you favourite athletes on television and dreamed to be them? How many of you leave the theatre after a good movie and try to imagine what would have happened if you had been in the heroes’ shoes? In Fight Night Champion, you can be an athlete of exception and the hero of your own story with the champion mode.
The champion mode is your single player campaign in an adventure game. You camp the role of Andre Bishop, a talented young heavyweight, living in the shadow of his father. You have to earn your respect from the amateurs to the championship fight and while you get more popular, sharks start to circle around you and try to make money off your back.
It is not yet clear what kind of control you have over Andre, but you are apparently not limited to the ring. In the “Losing Everything” trailer, you see Andre fighting skinheads in last-man-standing bare-knuckle fights... in jail! Never before has a sports game gone that far with any sort of storyline. And the best part about the champion mode? It’s just the icing on a boxing game that already goes way beyond the standards.
A Deep Game? More Like A Crazy Deep Game
The bulk of the innovations in Fight Night Champion are directed towards improving the single player experience. The legacy mode, Fight Night’s franchise trademark career mode, also benefits from huge improvements in the gameplay department.
First, you have the possibility to run an amateur career before going pro. This time with a point scoring system (which is how real life amateur boxing functions), tournaments and trophies. It’s not said if you’ll be able to level up your fighter in the amateurs, but you sure can get a mastery of the controls before turning professional.
Also, terrific mechanical improvements were made to the stamina meter. The player doesn’t have just one stamina meter, but four. One for each arm, one for the torso and one for the legs. According to gameplay producer Brian Hayes, it’s to give a more realistic simulation of localized anaerobic fatigue (a term to say your arms might get tired, but not your legs) and encourage the gamers to think like boxers and throw combos.
The legacy mode monitors also the damage you’re taking in fights and takes away from your resistance if you get clobbered too much. This may require you to take longer breaks between fights and shorten up your career. Not every boxer can be Arturo Gatti, after all. In addition to this, there are sponsorships and media events to worry about and the player must manage his money and choose his training camps according to the fights he has lined up ahead. Overall, the simulation of the boxing industry seems to be in a different league from what we have known so far.
Will Sports Games Evolve On March 1st?
It feels good to see an EA Sports game that burns with ambition. Fight Night Champion brings a lot of innovative ideas to the table, takes a lot of risks and might very well change the sports games genre forever. If successful, it might also cement EA Sports’ legacy as the leader in sports video games for years to come.
One this is certain: future boxing and MMA games will have to live up to Fight Night Champion. Never before has a developer gone into such depth and taken their time to craft such a complex piece of sports game. It might be a fluke, the implementation of the new mechanics might be broken, but my pinkie is telling me that on March 1st, EA Sports will release a game that the gaming press will still refer to as a landmark of sports games ten years from now.