Boxing fans get your gloves ready...
Fight Night Champion is going to cause a bit of a split amongst the franchise's fans. The main point of controversy is the switch from Total Punch Control to Full Spectrum Punch Control. Where, in the past, TPC was based on movements of the right analogue stick - which mirrored the real life swings and jabs of your on-screen boxer - FSPC utilises flicks alone.
Think of it as a clock face: Flicks to the left and right, either side of 12 o'clock work your jabs, 3 and 9 o'clock are mapped to hooks and either side of 6 o'clock triggers the always desirable uppercut. What's important about this new system though is that every other point on the spectrum triggers a slight variation of the six stock punches and they're driven in at the angle of the stick.
A flick to 10, for example, will trigger a left hook with more of a downward angle, coming in over the top. Flick to 4 and you'll have a right uppercut with a more diagonal trajectory targeting the lower side of the torso or jaw.
EA Sports has implemented this system firstly because it felt that some of the punches were a bit awkward with the TPC system: Punching is now quicker, more fluid and it's easier to put together combos.
Secondly it allows for a much wider range of shots. Because you can throw shots at pretty much any angle you can now look for the gaps in an opponent's guard and actually aim for them rather than just going for the left side of the head because he's guarding the right. Is that pansy blocking shots from the left and right? Why not throw one over the top? Try and hit the soft spot.
Originally posted on CVG: Fight Night Champion review
Fight Night Champion: Defending punches
Blocking punches has been simplified. Now, by holding the right trigger, your boxer will guard and automatically adjust to where the shots are raining in from. If you're taking combos, though, some of them will land and your guard will eventually be broken down.
A much better defence is to tap the right trigger as a punch approaches to parry the attack and open up your opponent for a counter-punch - although counter-punches are much easier to pull off by evading a strike with a lean using the usual LT and left stick combo.
So punching is quicker, blocking is simple, both are certainly easier to pick-up but harder to master, but Champion won't let you just run in flailing.
Fight Night Champion: Stamina
Stamina plays a bigger part than ever this time and it will wear down pretty quickly across the duration of ten rounds if you don't conserve energy, making you slower and more prone to getting rocked should your opponent catch you with a good shot.
This aspect of Champion seems a bit inconsistent though. We've had matches where we've done nothing but throw punches for four rounds and others where our man in shorts is pooped after a couple of rounds of flailing - how it should be.
One thing is guaranteed though, since your capacity to store stamina decreases generally over the course of a bout, by rounds six and seven out of ten, your boxer will be little more than a lump of slow meat if you've been reckless with your energy.
Fight Night Champion: Champion Mode
In this Rocky style story players take control of Andre Bishop - a promising young fighter, who gets framed by a bitter and corrupt boxing promoter and ends up going to jail only to come back and climb the mountain again. It's the classic comeback tale that's been told so many times. Are there training montages? You better believe it, but the whole thing is actually done really well.
At around five hours long depending on your ability, the story is simple and pacey, but with a truck load of swearing and even a sickening head stomp it's not exactly a lightweight or sugar-coated affair. It goes well beyond the call of duty considering it's an addition to the main thrust of the game.
From a gameplay perspective story elements are cleverly integrated into your matches to shake things up a bit as well. When corrupt judges in one of Bishop's matches have been paid off to score against you, for example, you need to knock your opponent out to avoid going to a decision. Most importantly Champion Mode makes you care about the string of fights that it's based around just that little bit more.
Fight Night Champion: Gym
Players can take a created boxer online and create or join a Gym made up of other human beings. From there you can organise internal seasons and tournaments to determine your Gym's champion or you can challenge other Gyms to become the dominant group on the net. All of this, of course, comes with showers of XP at every knockout.
Fight Night Champion: Verdict
Fight Night Champion is a stunning visual package - one of the best we've seen in gaming, nevermind the Fight Night series - and with the addition of Champion Mode as well as a developed Legacy Mode and new online opportunities too, it's feature rich as well.
The change in mechanics will get a mixed reaction, the new Full Spectrum Punch Control is a good addition offering more than it takes away from what Fight Night fans have come to know, but it does take some getting used to. Champion Mode is a risk that paid off particularly well, and the addition of Gyms means players can now invest in their online reputation a lot more.
What we have to dock points for, however, is a diminished sense of impact, and apparent damage, behind a lot of punches and stamina that seems grounded in realism one minute and in abundance the next.
If you can stand the new mechanics; if you can learn to get along with them like you'd have to an unfamiliar, hectoring trainer, then you'll love the rest of what Fight Night Champion has to offer.
Fight Night Champion release date: Out now on PS3 and XBox 360, link EA
Fight Night Champion price: £34-£42 online