The concept behind Fight Night Champion's narrative "Champion Mode" inspired me when I read of it. I looked forward to it as a breakthrough opportunity for the sports genre. But it served up a tray of disappointingly bland cookie-cut characters and conflicts, and the progression of your career was too short and too rigid. That doesn't mean it was a bad idea.
Career modes are wildly entertaining and gamers are all too willing to supply their own backstories, contexts, rivalries and other details as their players and teams fight for glory. Champion Mode was wise to exploit this, it just didn't serve up a rich enough experience.
Spoiler Alert: There is a discussion of Champion Mode's major plot points and resolutions following.
In Fight Night Champion, you must win all but one of your 20 bouts, period, many of them in a prescribed manner. I felt Champion really needed an interstitial career period where Andre fought more open-endedly. Providing a branching-path narrative would be prohibitively complex for something that, in the end, is adjunctive to the main game. But a period of several fights where players could win or lose with Andre in their own way would deepen their connection to the character.
Second, the character of Isaac Frost didn't get much of a rise out of me, beyond the repeated beatings he delivered as I struggled to win the finale. I needed to come to that bout highly motivated to kick his ass. The setup to that point got it completely backward. As Andre, you tank a bout to your brother, in an outcome determined by cutscenes, not your own participation. Then you fight as a super-powered Frost who beats Raymond Bishop into unconsciousness. This in no way supplies the revenge motive.
You should have fought as Raymond, have had no hope of winning, and endured a savage, relentless beating. Given the screaming I did, against lesser boxers, I would have been jacked up to beat the daylights out of Frost. There just wasn't any hate in that final tilt.
Other quibbles: Andre is too pure of a character, start to finish, and really takes no journey, which is saying a lot for someone who enters and leaves prison; his sibling rivalry with Raymond is too much of a rush job at the end of the game. It's a very rich theme that any gamer can understand, and should have been given more depth.
These criticisms are only worth so much. This is extremely arrogant, but I wrote my own treatment, what I would do with EA Sports' property. I wanted to understand how hard this really is, even in the single evening I was going to put to this. Coming up with a fictitious story that really does speak to people is the toughest sell of your life, especially if your audience is in the millions, as Champion's is. And that's before you confront the realities and limitations of video game design.
I don't think I pulled it off.
But I think I came to understand the appeal of this mode. Even after completing Champion Mode, and complaining about it, I couldn't stop thinking about the story and its characters. Andre Bishop and his brother may not be compelling, but I can't stop revisiting what brought them to life, and would definitely be interested in a sequel or something like it down the line.
A narrative mode can serve not just a boxing game, but a game with a singleplayer career in any sport that has a decent-sized cinematic history - which is to say, most of them. I want to see more. In lieu of that anytime soon, here is my vision of the characters in Fight Night: Champion, in a rebooted story treatment that is likely flawed.
But if a video game - a sports game - provoked me to imagine and write it, it's probably on to something.
The game opens with an interactive sparring session between two adolescent boys in headgear and boxing gloves, as their father barks advice off camera. The player takes control of the much larger boy. The smaller one is no match, and ends the bout in tears after being subjected to a playful beating.
Present day: Andre Bishop is in prison. He was three years into his career, overcoming a checkered past, when he beat a man unconscious while defending a friend. Bishop had unwittingly driven his friend to a drug buy that went wrong. For this, he is midway through a seven-year sentence, with the possibility of parole at five years.
His younger brother, Raymond, is the clean-cut amateur with a future in boxing. Raymond became the responsible member of the family after their father died. He is deeply disappointed in his brother. The sporting press speculates their estrangement is because of Raymond's violent past and incarceration, which were a distraction as Raymond went from an assured spot on the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team, as a heavyweight, to a near-miss nonqualifier.
Still considered a rising star with professional potential, Raymond is wooed by D.L. McQueen, a corrupt fight promoter but boxing's second leading kingmaker, looking to wipe out his competition and become the don of all promoters. One of McQueen's more outlandish ventures, we learn through an interactive flashback, is a behind-bars fight involving Andre and a civilian professional, Isaac Frost.
Andre loses on orders from McQueen, who then reneges on Andre's compensation. This we learn would have gone to Raymond and his training for an Olympic bid. Raymond suspects Andre lied about not being paid. That leads to their estrangement more than Andre's violent history or his incarceration.
So Andre Bishop blames a lot on McQueen, and his resentment deepens when Raymond signs with him. Meaner, but not streetwise, Raymond begins a rise through the heavyweight division, though he's being held back.
Bishop gets out of prison and goes back to work on his career with cynically low expectations for it. He brutalizes opponents in club fights, spars with unblemished professionals, tanks matches if the offer is right, fights drunk occasionally and generally avoids life. But he is convinced McQueen intends to use and screw Raymond the way he screwed Andre and he resents his brother for walking blindly into his own ruin. Carise is, subtly, also exploiting Bishop and especially his apathy, a point made clear by Megan McQueen [she'll need a new last name]. Megan, seeing a fighter with more promotional potential than his bookings can fulfill, makes a move to sign him over.
Megan [again, not McQueen's daughter in this story] is a strikingly attractive former operative of McQueen's until she sued him for sexual harassment, winning a sizeable settlement and opening her own promotions operation with it. She takes on Bishop as a project with potential. The two grow closer together, even briefly romantic. Fitting together what they know separately of McQueen and Raymond, they realize McQueen intends to use Raymond to get a title, then force him to relinquish it in a rigged bout to McQueen's preferred fighter, Isaac Frost.
Frost is a contemptible cheater whose boxing license in Nevada has been suspended for two years. None of the top contenders will fight him. McQueen only wants Raymond to win and hold the title safely until that suspension ends, at which point he will be discarded and the belt will go to Frost, a more marketable and dominant performer.
Andre Bishop tries to convince his brother to leave McQueen but is cut off. Andre only knows that he is on an ascent path to a title fight. Andre realizes that to thwart Frost and McQueen, his brother must lose before he gets that shot. Andre and Megan lure McQueen into a brother-vs.-brother promotion, an insanely profitable fight given the very public split between the two siblings. Raymond is confident he will flatten his older brother.
In the epic bout, Raymond Bishop fights valiantly, he is knocked down four times and gets up each time. It requires a horrific beating to finally stop him. Raymond lays motionless on the canvas, his baby-boy good looks hideously deformed by the assault. Andre, sobbing, crouches over his semi-conscious brother and tells him that he loves him.
"Ray," he says, almost pleading. "They lied to you. You don't have what it takes."
McQueen is panicked that he lost his gamble on Raymond Bishop against his brother. The reigning champion won't fight his next bout anywhere other than Vegas, at the opening of a grand casino resort in which he has a part interest. Frost can't fight there for another year. If, however, Frost can become the No. 1 contender, the champion will face a mandatory defense from the sanctioning authority or be forced to give up the belt. He won't be able to wait out Frost's suspension.
McQueen, sensing that a rematch would also serve his thirst to punish Andre Bishop for his interference, arranges the bouth between Andre and Frost to vault Frost into contention. Andre is all too willing to be the only guy who'll fight Frost.
The story has its fighting climax in New York. Andre Bishop destroys Frost in a cathartic revenge bout. It is a complete and total payback for the prison screwjob, and puts a nearly paralyzed Frost into an ambulance, with a hysterical McQueen along for the ride, to Harlem's fabled Flower Fifth hospital.
Andre Bishop, now in his early 30s, ends his career without a belt or even a title fight - but he knows he is a champion. We then begin the epilogue.
Andre visits Raymond in his gym. Neither can say the first word to each other. Raymond trains [in an interactive gameplay sequence, the player as Raymond] as we hear voiceovers of both men's thoughts. They tell this story:
Deeply embittered and changed from a cheerful, optimistic person into an angry, vengeful man, Raymond doesn't buy Andre's rationalizations. He considers what Andre said to him after their fight to be an insult, not a warning that Raymond was too good and trusting a person to survive as a champion among so many predators in the boxing world. Raymond, only knows that he's lost two shots because of his brother - the Olympics, for the training money Andre never delivered, and now this.
Still, with both Frost and his brother out of the picture, Raymond has only one loss on his record and no real threat between him and a title fight. He still can work his way back to being the heavyweight champion of the world. The story ends with him savagely disposing of a sparring partner.
From the doorway, Andre finally speaks, and says he was wrong. "You have what it takes."