Fight Night Round 4 Review (Xbox 360)
After a three-year hiatus, the champ is back to defend its throne. But during the long layoff, we’ve witnessed the returns of Afro Thunder and Little Mac, the rise of Wii Sports boxing, an appearance by Don King and the next-gen debut of Dana White and his UFC crew.
Sporting a new development team and a world of hype, Fight Night Round 4 retains the title and does it every bit as good as its predecessor. Read on to find out how.
In the Ring
After the three-year layoff, the game has returned with a quickened pace. Punches fly a mile a minute as your fighter loses steam. However, none of these punches are thrown by using the face buttons. The developers at EA Canada decided to focus solely on Total Punch Control (TPC), initiated by using the right stick. Button punching was definitely easier than analog punching in the first game, but it was not as engaging and led to a lot of button mashing. (In Fight Night Round 3, button punching became the option of choice for many online players, much to the analog-stick crowd's dismay.)
Beyond TPC and a quicker gameplay pace, another big gameplay change is the removal of the parry system. For the unschooled, a parry occurs when you physically move the fighter’s incoming punch, leaving him open for a punch of your own.
It's Fight Night, and it's back stronger and better than ever.
Essentially, the old FNR3 parry system is extremely similar to the new counter system. To set your opponent up for a counter punch, you must time your block or slip as your adversary throws his punch. The boxers who are able to adapt to this new style will flourish, because those counter punches can be devastating. Understanding the counter-punch system could be the most important thing to comprehend in Fight Night Round 4 (FNR4).
The counter punches can be potentially devastating because most flash knockouts occur during a counter-punch sequence. Nevertheless, you don’t have to walk on eggshells -- at least not as much as you have to when playing UFC 2009 Undisputed -- but nobody wants to face the lights.
You can also still become stunned and avoid a knockout in FNR4. When you get stunned by a punch, your best course of action is to push or clinch your opponent. Your health stops regenerating when you are stunned, and you’re likely to be dropped to the canvas if you don’t cover up.
Unlike UFC 2009, the boxer with the better stick skills will always win. While both games feature flash knockouts, they’re much less frequent here. Nobody will be dropped by the first punch in FNR4, which can be considered a strength and a weakness. Rookies will be deterred by veteran players, while there is nothing like going the distance with another experienced fighter.
The new knockdown system is simple enough to learn, but understandably gets more difficult to use effectively as the rounds wear on. When you are on the canvas, you use the left stick to get a meter to balance in the green area. Then, when you get the meter balanced in the green, you move the right stick in an upward fashion to get your boxer to rise from the ashes. I didn't really have any issues with the old system, but this one is fine as well.
There is now some more interactivity between rounds. Your production each round earns you a set amount of points, and you can use those points to your advantage. You can improve your stamina, health meter, damage meter or all three depending on how you fared that round. It is not an all-important new feature, but it does give you more control of your cut man.
The improved physics system has no major faults, just like its UFC competitor. Punches collide with faces, arms, incoming punches and everything else in the ring. The system allows for punches to connect without making impact, like when you’re too far away or too close. You’ll never see a punch go through someone’s head or body.
While the gameplay within the ring is very solid, two former cover athletes, Oscar De La Hoya and Bernard Hopkins, are nowhere to be seen. De La Hoya is retired, and Hopkins hasn’t fought since October, but these are two of this generation’s greats, and they belong in this game. The fact that Floyd Mayweather Jr. and others are not in the game is somewhat excusable since many of those absent boxers have not been mainstays in the FN series, but they are still missed. At least we have Mike Tyson, whose addition is welcome if not a few years too late.
The Graphics in FNR4 are the best of this gaming generation (sports wise) thus far.
The visuals in this game are astounding, but when you're playing the game, it's not easy to appreciate them. (There were times when I would have to take a step back and watch what was going on without moving, but that stopped as soon as my face became a punching bag.) You will really notice how amazing the game looks when you watch someone else play.
Basically everything looks great in the graphics department, except some of the faces. Most of the boxers are recognizable because of their bold facial features or hairstyles, but guys like Shane Mosley and Yuriorkis Gamboa look almost nothing like their real-life counterparts. That’s not to say that the boxers look bad, just some do not look like themselves.
However, the rest of their bodies look great. Unlike almost any other game, their muscles flex in real time during every punch or slip. Sweat accumulates as the rounds pile on, but the sweat will also fly off if you are not careful.
The arenas look authentic. I’m disappointed that we have the New York Arena instead of Madison Square Garden, especially when MSG was in Prizefighter and UFC 2009 Undisputed.
Each arena has a specific look and feel. The vast Staples Center is nothing like fighting in the cramped room in Mexico. Entrances vary as well, as you won’t have the dry ice extravaganza while fighting in the Aragon Ballroom.
The menus are easy to navigate, and product placement is less egregious this time around. Forget about Dodge and Burger King, instead you’ll be seeing ads from partners like Nike, Reebok, Everlast etc.
Joe Tessitore also took a ton of heat last time around, mostly because of his generic commentary. This time he’s joined by former trainer and current analyst on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights, Teddy Atlas. The wisdom of Atlas shines through here, and he will drop nuggets of information throughout a match. Someone unfamiliar with the nuances of the sweet science could learn a lot from Atlas. Some of the lines get repetitive after a while, but they are still somewhat poignant after the 10th listen. Atlas can also help you with the fight you’re currently in, giving you tips or telling you exactly what you’re doing (or not doing).
The soundtrack is your typical EA Sports rock and rap play list. No complaints here since there are enough songs to pique my interest, but it's still just background music.
The Online options on the game offer tons of replayability.
New to the online game is the World Championship mode. In this mode, you compete in three divisions with your created fighter. The stats are even, giving the best overall player the advantage, not the one who trains hardest. This mode is also one step above the ranked mode -- you’re fighting for world championship belts and bragging rights after all.
Of course the typical ranked and unranked matches are still there, along with leaderboards and the ability to share settings.
While not new to video games, EA Sports’ Game Face is new to the Fight Night series. Here you take a picture of your face, submit it to EASports.com and have it uploaded in the game. Next you map your picture to an in-game character and voila, you’re in the game. It’s simple but imperfect. My character does not really look like me, even after tweaking the sliders. This technology can definitely improve, but it’s a solid start.
Though there are definitely holes in the roster, Boxer Share does something to alleviate the pressure. In this area, you can download boxers that are not in the game -- at this point users have paid special attention to Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather and Evander Holyfield. You can even download fictional characters like Rocky Balboa, Apollo Creed and Borat. As time goes on the quality of these boxers will improve, and the aforementioned Game Face will definitely continue to help matters.
If you cannot find your man in Boxer Share, there’s a chance he’ll appear as downloadable content (DLC). The Fight Night store is currently empty, but there will be DLC in the future.
And to think haircuts like that have been considered cool at times in the past.
The Legacy mode is the career mode in FNR4. Here you take a created fighter or someone already in the game, and take him through the ranks. If you choose an established fighter, his stats will drop considerably. You can also change weight classes during your bid to achieve boxing immortality.
An interesting note is that while the game is supposed to be in present time, you will have the opportunity to face some legends of the sport. After you wade through nameless scrubs and other unheralded fighters, Jake Lamotta and "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler will be waiting for you at the top of the Lightweight division. Another interesting feature is being able to import your created fighters into the Legacy mode. So instead of fighting randoms, you can take shots at your friends or fighters downloaded from Boxer Share.
After you schedule your fight, it’s time to hit the gym, but training is not a priority. While you have to do it, it’s basically one round of training between every fight. In other words, you definitely spend more time in the ring against real opponents.
The training itself is no cakewalk. There are six options in all, with you being in complete control of your choice. It’s beneficial to mix up the training, but it hurts when you do poorly. An awful training experience will net you only one or two ability points, while simulating it will get you three. However, a successful training session can get you up to six points. You can practice these training sessions in the options menu if you want to get your game up to snuff.
Once you schedule your fight, anything can happen. While your match will more than likely happen, your opponent may drop out due to injury. If that happens, you’ll face an opponent that has been chosen for you. It makes for interesting opportunities when you have to go up against a fighter you have not prepared for. At some points, it's also up to you to accept or deny a challenge.
All this means that there are plenty of options in Legacy mode, making 50 to 60 fights go by much quicker than it sounds.
Each fight feels different as well. Fighting in the training gym is nothing like being under the bright lights of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Commentary accompanies only the bigger fights, and Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas make sure you know where you are. Championship fights also feel like championship fights, which gives the game personality.
While Mike Tyson vs. Muhammad Ali will never be decided, the fighting game of 2009 can be. After three years away from the ring, FNR4 shows why the hype was present in the first place. No matter what is released from here on out, FNR4 will be mentioned as one of the top sports games of 2009. With boxing losing ground, this game shows it still has a puncher’s chance at remaining relevant. I can say with certainty that if you’re a boxing fan in any way, this is the game to pick up this year. Even if you are not a boxing fan, it’s never too late to learn a thing or two about the sweet science.
In the Ring: Gameplay is quick but as tight as ever. The addition of gameplay sliders is also a positive, now the developers just need to add a stamina slider.
Graphics: I never knew pounding someone’s face in could be so beautiful.
Presentation: Teddy Atlas can teach you a thing or two, so pay attention.
Online: World Championship mode, Boxer Share and Game Face give you plenty to do on Xbox Live or the PSN. You do still have to deal with some stick mashers, but that shouldn't be too surprising to read.
Entertainment Value: Fun gameplay makes it worthwhile online, in-person or against the artificial intelligence.
Learning Curve: Total Punch Control will take more than a few rounds to master. Some will miss the option to use the buttons.
Score: 9.0 (Exceptional)