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Fight Night: Champion improves the previous game by degrees. Night and day however is the introduction of a fighter's story than made me reconsider much of what I thought about the sport.
Fight Night: Champion is different from the previous Fight Night games because it begins with a single story. A little like Need for Speed Undercover, you are dropping straight into the action before seeing a single menu or option screen. From the off, it's clear that this is about the people of this world rather than just the mechanics.
Taking to the ring as Andre Bishop, you play as an amateur working his way up through the boxing ranks. It's a formula I recognise: with a bit of grit, determination and facial damage you can go from rags to riches in the space of a few months.
Although I've never really lapped up this type of macho films, playing it firsthand was a surprisingly absorbing experience. It felt like a master class in all things boxing, which coming from the wrong side of the tracks (being a girl rather than a boy) I knew little about.
I was slowly sucked in. Each fight presents a unique challenge as you work your way through the different opponents. Some prefer more powerful hooks while others nick away at you with jabs to the body. Then there is the outrage of biased judging and grisly horror bare-knuckle prison fights. It's an honest tapestry of the boxing world.
Watching the cut scenes between each fight gave me time to reflect on what was actually going on in the game.
Watching the cut scenes between each fight gave me time to reflect on what was actually going on in the game - rather than charging onto the next challenge like the previous Fight Night titles. This was a world that I would casually deride, talking to my friends, easily painting it as barbaric and outdated -- "grown men fighting each other".
But playing Fight Night: Champion made me reconsider. The amount of effort, punishment and injustice that Bishop takes on his way to the top meant I soon warmed to his gruff tones and muscular exterior. This really felt like a sport I was playing, a sport with a history. Something almost regal, that reminded me of my dad although I couldn't work out why.
After a few hours I'd completed the story mode and had to leave Bishop behind. Keen to try out the other options with my new found interest in the sport, what I couldn't leave behind was the sense that this was an ancient discipline with as much to commend as to condemn it.
Fight Night: Champion has been improved in a number of ways since the previous release. Punching now offer a choice of button or right stick, and you are reward for blocks, dodges, weaves and counters. The experience is more balanced and accessible to newcomers -- hence my prolonged presence in the ring.
I had found a way into the back story, the mythology, of boxing and that changed my view of it completely.
But for me these mechanical changes were eclipsed by the story mode. It connected me to this old sporting tradition in a way no film, book or videogame had managed. I didn't want to come away respecting boxing, but in the end had to admit that this is how I now felt.
Trying to explain this the next time I saw some of my friends was a rather frustrating experience. There was no one thing about the game that had made me change my mind, but as a whole it had been convincing. I had found a way into the back story, the mythology, of boxing and that changed my view of it completely.
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