I'm a long-time fan of EA's Fight Night series -- it's one of the better sports franchises of the past decade. Its analog control system essentially reinvented the entire boxing genre, leaving its predecessor Knockout Kings in the dust. However, like many individual sports (like the upcoming Top Spin 4, which I'm also playing right now for review), it always struggled to deliver a career mode that was as compelling as team sports like baseball, football, and basketball. Obviously, there's no real coherent league structure or -- especially in boxing's case -- a season schedule. This takes away a lot of what people love about Madden, etc.: managing rosters, drafting, coaching, and making trades. No matter how well done the gameplay, any individual sport career mode has essentially been little more than a dressed-up series of matches. There's nothing particularly wrong with that -- or at least I didn't think there was. However, after playing the first hour of Fight Night Champion, it's clear that EA Canda has done something very special.

The game's Champion mode plays out very much like a boxing film. You star as Andre Bishop, an ex-amateur boxing champ and convict. From the very first second, you're instantly transported into the ring -- in this case, a brutal prison boxing match. After besting your opponent, you're then taken to the prison showers, where your in-ring foe and his white supremacist buddies beat you down. It's dramatic; you don't know why you're in prison, but it's clear that your life went off the rails somehow.

After the prison sequence, the game flashes back to four years earlier, as you see Bishop entering the ring as an up-and-coming amateur. Again, you're thrown directly into the action. After winning, the story development begins. In a post-fight TV interview, Andre's brother Raymond hogs the camera, trying to overshadow Andre. From there, it's back to training with our grizzled trainer Gus (an amalgam of Mickey from the Rocky films and Mike Tyson's real-life trainer Cus D'amato). Our sparring session is interrupted by a sleazy promoter named McQueen, who's there to steal us away from Gus (he's joined by his daughter Meagan, who seems to be a potential love interest). After we refuse his advances, he storms out and promises we'll live to regret our decision.

This all happens in less than an hour. It's amazingly effective. Boxing has always lent itself to the silver screen, and the story I've seen so far seems to hit many of the classic tropes of boxing films. I can't think of a game -- especially a sports title -- that hooked me so quickly. I can't wait to see where it goes, especially considering the early foreshadowing of Andre's eventual fall from grace. This is a direction more sports games should pursue. So far, Fight Night Champion has my undivided attention.