With an impressive legacy behind it, the Fight Night series can be considered the reigning champ when it comes to boxing games. Still, past success doesn't guarantee greatness, and Fight Night Round 4 substantially changes up its game by shifting control to the analog sticks, and cranking the realism up with some impressive physics. Fight Night may look a little different this time around, but it's still a contender.
Once you've run through the game's quick tutorial to learn the basic controls, it's time to step into the ring with a roster of 50 real-life fighters, from flyweights to heavyweights. Lead by in-their-prime versions of Tyson and Ali, it's a solid list with enough thoughtful inclusions to balance out any disappointing omissions. Each fighter's weight class and reach has a big impact on his fighting style, and while computer controlled opponents don't enjoy the unpredictability of human players, they do show some personality.
The no-nonsense fight now option delivers on its promise, letting you get straight to the action. If you're looking for more than a one-off fight, you can take on the considerable task of building a legacy with an existing fighter, or create your own original, would-be legend.
If you decide to build a career from scratch, the road ahead is long and involved. You'll schedule fights, build your stats through training sessions, and try to move up the ranks in your weight class. Detailed stat tracking lets serious players really delve into the numbers, but less committed players will soon start to feel the grind.
You start with a middling fighter, and it's up to you to whip him into shape. Training sessions between fights give you just one shot to succeed, and auto-training only nets you 50 percent growth, so unless you actually train for your training sessions outside your career, you only see a very gradual rise in overall ability. If you want to become the greatest of all time, you have your work cut out for you.
There are only two options for online play, but if you want to test yourself, your expectations will be met. The game's eight weight classes are condensed into three to ensure healthy competition, making it easier to find a match. If you're really hungry for fame, you can take a created character into world championship mode, where stats are auto-leveled to ensure player skill is always the deciding factor. There's only one belt up for grabs in each weight class regardless of what country you hail from, giving a lot of weight to the prize.
Character creation offers a lot of flexibility to modify your fighter's style and appearance. If you want to make it personal, you can take a photo and have the game generate a likeness. You can't actually map an image onto your boxer, but at least you're spared the sight of other, less photogenic body parts standing in for some dude's face.
Customization also extends to the overall experience, letting you change both regulations and the general feel by adjusting health, stamina, strength, and damage levels. A user friendly replay editor rounds out the package, and you can upload clips to EA Sports World when you find a moment you just have to share.
Stepping into the ring, it's clear that Fight Round 4 has the depth and balance to be a great competitive game. It's both complex and reasonably accessible, but one oversight can affect your initial experience with the game: the hard lesson of stamina. Fighters with low stamina feel sluggish, weak, and ineffective, so learning to keep your yellow bar up is crucial. Unfortunately, this isn't really emphasized in the tutorial or training videos, which can lead to unexciting and ineffectual performances early on. Fortunately, fighting your way to the top of the game's learning curve gives you a clear view to a better fight.
Fight Night Round 4 gets you through the tutorial and into the ring in record time, but the underlying complexity of the controls and gameplay means that you need to put in some considerable effort before you're any good. The game is much more enjoyable if you can keep your fighter on his feet.
First, you'll have to come to terms with using the right analog stick to throw your punches. Since the difference between a jab and a hook is a very slight thumb movement, it can take some practice before you're nailing the execution every time. Quick combinations and good timing will easily trump someone randomly spamming punches, so practice is well rewarded. When you can throw the right punch from the right range, you start to feel like a true fighter.
Being able to bust out uppercuts at will is a valuable asset, but fighting smart is absolutely crucial. Defense is a huge part of your boxing IQ. Putting up your gloves guards against punches, while the left analog stick lets you lean and weave to avoid incoming blows. Well-timed blocks and dodges create counterpunch opportunities that prompt you with zoom-in effect, and produce noticeably bigger hits if you connect. Counters aren't required to win, but you learn to work them in as you play, and given the bonuses, there's plenty of incentive to go for them.
Beyond the basics, face buttons let you push for space, clinch to buy time, throw your boxer's signature punch, or go for an illegal hit. Shoulder buttons modify your punches, letting you specifically target the body, or throw telegraphed but damaging haymakers. Along with counter-hits, connecting with a clean haymaker is a great way to stun your opponent, getting you that much closer to scoring a knockdown or a match-ending K.O.
One of the defining qualities of Round 4 is the feeling of momentum that builds over the course of a fight. When you reach the final rounds and have 20 minutes of effort and a considerable amount of virtual sweat and blood invested in the outcome, you really feel the pressure. Mounting a late comeback can be tough, but there's still plenty of room for back and forth.
Hard work is rewarded in the form of points for the quick but strategic corner game. The more you score with punch accuracy, stuns, and knockdowns, the better your cutman can fix you up. You're free to decide what areas need attention yourself, but if you opt out, you can trust your corner to make smart decisions aimed at keeping you in the fight until the next bell.
These professional fighters rarely go down easily, so scoring a knockdown feels like a real feat, even downright miraculous if you drop your opponent in an early round. On the receiving end, you feel humbled at the very least. The fighter getting up from a fall he knows he's at a disadvantage, giving him a healthy sense of fear, while the man who scored the knockdown might actually be glad to see his opponent rise for the chance to put him back down, and bask in a few additional seconds of slo-mo glory.
Fight Night Round 4 isn't shy about flexing some powerful technological muscles. Fighters truly look powerful and more or less true to life with an impressive level of detail. Even the crowd manages to look convincing.
Not content with merely having the most realistic sweaty-looking guys in gaming, Fight Night Round 4 makes a huge investment in physics, letting fighters get up close and personal, interacting more realistically than in perhaps any other fighting game. The face-warping punches are absurdly vivid.
There is some bad with the good, though. Punches look great when they cleanly connect, but if you're used to having every hit's trajectory pre-engineered, you may find the realism of glancing blows a bit underwhelming. More problematic are punches that don't quite look like they connect, but still manage to put your opponent on the floor. Most of the time, however, the hits ring true and you'll have no shortage of footage for a highlight reel.
The latest Fight Night pushes hard to deliver a game that feels realistic and authentic to the sport while also being extremely playable, and offering plenty of staying power. Even if boxing as a sport barely piques your interest, this game delivers tension, drama, and punishment to rival the best fighting games out there. If you enjoy a good one-on-one battle, Round 4 definitely deserves your attention.
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360.
Source: EA Sports