Everybody loves an underdog. Society is enraptured by these heroes, with their diligent struggles, unwavering perseverance and faultless commitment to success; these David and Goliath stories have been kept within easy grabbing distance of our storytellers for thousands of years now, and contemporary creations like the peppy, zeitgeist-riding phenomenon Glee remind us there's no chance of these little guy tales subsiding anytime soon.
In 1977, underdog movie extraordinaire Rocky won three Oscars: Best Director; Best Film, for which it was up against Taxi Driver - seriously, Taxi Driver; and Best Film Editing. The movie was nominated in seven other categories, including a Best Actor nod for Sylvester Stallone, and has remained in contemporary pop culture for over three decades despite a glut of largely inferior sequels. It has an incredible training montage.
Fight Night Champion, bafflingly, does not. For what is an almost shameless riff on the same notes which made Rocky so successful, it is bizarre that the game's headlining Champion mode opts to go without the quintessential moment of hitting the gym and then running up the steps and then "Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!" and so forth.
Judged as a narrative, told through a procession of ham-fisted cutscenes, Fight Night Champion is about as delicate as being hit in the face by Tyson. All of your favourite clichés make an expected appearance. Tick them off the boxing movie register as you go along: the up-and-coming amateur hero who believes in truth, justice and a good face-smashing; his unremittingly evil rival; a carbon copy of steadfast trainer Mickey Goldmill who never gives up; the villainous tycoon promoter who uses the sport for evil; the wayward brother; the father who never quite made it; and the virtuous love interest.
Andre Bishop is your lead man, rising up the ranks of the amateur league and on the cusp of turning pro. Wedged in the middle of cutscenes where Bishop's resolve never wavers are the boxing matches, most of which take on the form of themed brawls where you're either not allowed to perform a particular move, such as body blows, or where you're encouraged to focus on a particular attack. Long-term fans of boxing games will notice how it's like the distilled essence of Punch-Out!! has been squeezed through a blood-stained canvas.
A brief jaunt in the middle of the game has you thrown in prison for seven years - because the game is dark and gritty now, and this is conveniently the best way to show off the new blood effects - where you engage in a few rounds of bare-knuckle boxing against some Aryan bruisers, and then it's back out to walk the long path to redemption and a whopping great title belt. Despite it only taking about twenty minutes in real life terms, you know Andre's been in prison for a while because he puts on 60lbs of muscle and grows a beard.
While Champion mode is the game's headline feature, there's simply not that much substance in it. The campaign barely pushes two hours of fights, although you probably spend a fair chunk of additional time watching its cutscenes. The mode functions as a rather brief distraction, although beginners will find the disguised bits of advice helpful to understanding some of the finer aspects of the game.
Series veterans will probably skip straight to the other modes, though not until they've weighed in on the undying buttons-versus-sticks debate. After their notable absence at Fight Night Round 4's launch, button controls sheepishly find themselves returning to the mix by default, though EA still clearly favours the analogue-stick batterings dished out by their spangly new analogue input method - dubbed Full Spectrum Punch Control by the suits in marketing.