IGN Review of Fight Night Round 4
Sequels are always under a considerable amount of pressure to live up to the accolades of their predecessor, but Fight Night Round 4 has the unenviable task of improving on a title that helped shape this generation of gaming. Fight Night Round 3 was many people's first look at refined HD graphics and what that can bring to a living room gaming experience. Now EA Canada is taking the reins from the defunct EA Chicago and they're taking plenty of chances with the already-established formula.
They've made changes to the career mode, they've changed the control mechanics, and they've reshaped every move in the game by doubling its speed and adding an all-new physics system. So does Fight Night Round 4 live up to expectations or does it take one on the chin and fall face-first to the mat? Read on for the answer.
I'll first provide a short-and-sweet answer to the question above: Fight Night Round 4 delivers the best pure boxing ever seen in a videogame. Once you're in the ring it's an experience that no other game can provide and it is, in a word, fantastic. Punches fly at an alarming rate, boxers move around the ring while cascading light from flash bulbs streaks across their bodies. Punches land with thunderous sound effects and cuts and bruising are soon to follow. Everything in the ring is driven by the new physics engine and it's very nearly flawless. There are a few moments when punches that don't appear to make contact still register as a hit, but these moments are few and far between and don't overly hurt the experience.
When you first hop in the ring to trade blows with an opponent you'll notice that there are new controls governing the action. FNR4 begins with a helpful tutorial that gets you acquainted with the new moves, but things will still be a little rough in the early goings if you've never picked up Fight Night before. I'm not sure if inaccessible is the right word, but there could be a lengthier introduction to the intricacies – things like the counter system and how to utilize your fighter's style.
The real question is if these mechanics are as fun as what we remember from Round 3. For starters, everyone's favorite move -- the haymaker -- has seen the biggest change from FNR3. You no longer pull back on the right stick and throw it forward. Instead you'll now simply hold down on one of the right shoulder buttons and throw a standard hook. It's not quite as immersive as emulating your boxer's arm motion on the controller, but it does achieve the goal of de-emphasizing the importance of the massive power punch. Everything else is comparable to what you remember.
Hooks, uppercuts, jabs and straights are the same, but body punches can now be pulled off by simply flicking either right or left on the right stick. There are also new dodge moves performed by rotating in semi-circles (down and to the right or left or up and to the right or left) that let you get in close to the other fighter while dodging their punches. All in all the new controls perform very well and make sense with the direction that the new development team is trying to take the series.
Your activity in the ring is what determines how effective your corner will be at healing your boxer. You get a number of points based on things like how many punches you landed, how many punches you let your opponent land and whether or not you were able to stun him or knock him down in the round. The new corner activity is much less hands-on than in Round 3 and while I won't say that I don't like the new mechanic, I do wish that you had some direct impact on the effectiveness of your corner beyond attaining points.
In Fight Night Round 4 your basic strategy in the ring will inevitably be different than in Round 3. Not only is the haymaker less useful, but the way in which you approach fights is totally different. Parrying punches is no longer an option as blocking is now either high or low so you won't need to worry about guarding specific quadrants. So instead of parrying – and thus momentarily freezing your opponent – you'll instead have to dodge punches and look for split-second counter opportunities. There's an obvious camera movement that lets you know when a counter is possible, but it's up to you to land your next punch for serious damage.
The countering system, for the most part, does a good job of emulating real boxing. Boxers whiff on a punch and there's that small window for you to launch a punch at an open area of their body. Much like the real thing, I'd assume. The only issue that I have with counter-punching is that the AI is a bit too good at it. They occasionally react a bit too quickly to your moves and there were even instances when their missed punches wouldn't score me a counter opportunity. Maybe the game is biased toward AI opponents? Regardless, the system works best when fighting against a human opponent as they make logical and (sometimes) predictable decisions on where to punch next.
Overall the AI that governs your opponents throughout your single-player experience is good, but not great. You'll see fighters adhering to certain strategies, but it's entirely too easy to spam punches (rapidly throw the same punch to the same section of their body) and find success, even on higher difficulty levels.
The AI issues also extend to Legacy Mode, where players will spend most of their time. While, yes, Legacy Mode is much-improved over its predecessor's career offering, some of the new additions don't pan out the way I would have liked. I'm mainly talking about the new yearly awards that are handed out. At the end of every calendar year boxers in every weight class will be awarded things like Fighter of the Year, Defender of the Year, Fight of the Year, and Knockout of the Year (to name a few). The only problem is that the logic that governs who gets these awards is totally broken. Prospects of the Year will have a record of 5(2)-3-0 while my fighter is sitting at 6(6)-0-0. Why didn't I get Prospect of the Year? The same goes for Fight of the Year. I had numerous ESPN Classics not make the list while a sixth round knockout did. Doesn't make much sense to me.
Another disappointing aspect of Legacy Mode is the new training games. There are six of them and most are entirely too difficult early in your career. Stay On Your Feet and Open Sparring are easy enough (they're basically just standard boxing) but others like the Maize Bag and Double End Bag are dependent on your fighter's attributes and abilities which, if you haven't built them up, aren't going to yield good results. I found myself auto-training more than in Round 3 despite the hit in potential gains. So while the new training games are more in line with the sport of boxing, they could've used a bit more tuning for the early stages of your career.
But there are also plenty of good elements to Legacy Mode. The new popularity system makes much more sense than the old pseudo-ranking system and you'll also find standard rankings and pound-for-pound rankings as well. There are tons of stats being tracked once you step into the ring and you can check out virtually every punch you've thrown throughout your entire career to find out where you're finding the most success. The calendar system is also a cool addition. It lets you select your own dates for a fight which also gives you control over the number of training sessions you'll have pre-fight. I would've liked to see the user's control over their career extend to the trainers and promoters, but sadly that didn't make this version of Fight Night.
The terrible rivalry system from Fight Night Round 3 has been remedied somewhat here. While you'll no longer be given arbitrary rivals to go up against, now there's no rivalry call-out at all and no special attention paid to your rivals. Instead, you'll instantly be challenged to a rematch when you have a great fight with someone. It's more organic yet less involved than the feature was in the past.
There are other additions to the career mode that you'll notice at the onset, before actually getting in the ring or training your fighter. First of all, there's Photo GameFace, a feature that has been in other EA Sports titles but is making its first appearance in the Fight Night franchise. Not only that, but you can take whatever boxer's you've created and share them with your friends online. The results of your Photo GameFace experience will vary from mine, but I got a decent virtual representation of myself and was also able to find a hilarious version of Barack Obama online.
Not only will you sculpt your boxer's face, but you'll also have control over things like your fighter's boxing style, blocking style, his best punch, and even elements to his ring entrance like whether to include dry ice and pyrotechnics in the show. You'll also assign a last name and a nickname that the announcers will be able to recite as you bring the pain.
Once you've created your virtual likeness (or our president's virtual likeness) you can hop into the new World Championship mode online. Basically it puts everyone's created fighter on a level playing field by making all of their attributes equal, establishes a ranking system for Lightweight, Middleweight and Heavyweight (the three weight classes available online) and lets them duke it out. You can claim belts, you can lose them, and you can level up your boxer as you take part in more and more fights. There weren't enough gamers online with FNR4 yet to fully experience the World Championship mode, but if everyone who buys the game latches on, it should be a winner.
The usual online quick matches and created matches are also available, and are also restricted to the three weight classes. You'll need to be mindful of who you're picking online as the surrounding weight classes are lumped into Middle, Light and Heavy (an example is 175-pound Roy Jones Jr. being in with the Heavyweights) which could produce some lopsided matches if you aren't careful.
Whether online or off, on either PS3 or Xbox 360, Fight Night Round 4 looks spectacular. The way players look when bobbing and pivoting in the ring is breathtaking thanks to muscles that flex and move realistically. You'll also notice facial expressions change during the fight. Like when a fighter totally misses a punch, the look on his face is one of shock mixed with horror of what's coming his way. Since the game moves at a blistering 60 frames per second, there is never slowdown, nor is there any sign of clipping or other inaccuracies. Everything from the menus to the in-ring action in Fight Night Round 4 looks great.
The sound of the game is a bit more of a mixed bag. While Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas do a good job of bringing energy and insight to the ring, their quips repeat all too often and can be too generic to be useful. Sometimes they'll reference a fighter with the ambiguous "he" rather than the fighter's last name or nickname. "He's got a nasty cut above his eye" doesn't really help you determine whether you should be more defensive or keep gunning for your opponent's head. Sound effects in the ring perform better with big wallops rumbling your sound system and little shots following suit. Surprisingly enough I was most impressed with the illegal headbutt which brings a perfect representation of a skull slamming into another skull. It's sickening but great.
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