Getting better with every round.
Back when this gen was next-gen, Fight Night Round 3 shocked and awed everyone with its graphical prowess. It was the first game to truly show what the current batch of consoles were capable of, and anyone with a HDTV lapped it up just to flaunt to their friends (and anyone that happened to be in the vicinity). It was a power horse for the next-generation, showcasing fluid animations, fantastic lightning effects and all the slow motion sweat and blood anyone could ever need. Of course it was helped by the fact there was actually a pretty competent boxing game hidden behind its pretty exterior; one utilizing a unique control scheme to help new players master the art of this vicious sport. Fight Night Round 4 builds on those solid mechanics, bringing an added sense of depth and strategy to the proceedings whilst also beefing up Round 3’s lacklustre career mode and adding to its online component to appeal to both the online and offline crowd.
The changes might not jump out at you straight away, but once you get going the improvements become noticeable and eventually play into your boxer selection and strategy. The most obvious of which is your boxer’s height and reach. If you pick a tall guy with a long reach you’ll want to stay on the outside, keeping your distance while throwing in a few straights and jabs; whereas if you choose a smaller guy with a shorter reach you’ll want to get in your opponents grill and start drilling him with uppercuts and hooks for some explosive damage. Essentially it’s a case of a Muhammad Ali type outside fighter or a Mike Tyson style inside guy - the games two cover stars. The type of fighter you choose will shape how you play the game, so you’re constantly trying to play to your strengths whilst stopping your opponent utilising his, thus dictating the pace of each bout. It’s a fantastic system that adds depth to the madness as you begin to build different strategies for each fighter.
And that’s just the tip of the bloodied and bruised iceberg. One of the big new mechanics of Fight Night Round 4 is the counterpunch; an, often times, devastating move that can change the whole outcome of a fight in one person’s favour. You could be up against the ropes with no way out, but if you time a block or weave correctly, the game will slowdown for a split second allowing you to come back with a thundering counterpunch, dazing your one-time cocky adversary as you move in for the killer blow. It’s not some kind of game breaker that unfairly shifts the advantage to someone else, though. The counter is a common occurrence throughout most fights, but it becomes deadly in the latter rounds when both fighters are at their ends, particularly when up against human opponents. There’s no better feeling than avoiding someone’s haymaker and coming back with one of your own. Counterpunches pack a much grander visual impact and it’s extremely satisfying to pull off.
Especially in conjunction with the returning analogue controls from Round 3. Quick flicks of the stick will result in speedy straights and jabs, while you can turn and flick it upwards for hooks and uppercuts. It may not be quite as precise as simple button presses, but they’re extremely intuitive and enjoyable to use as you really feel like your putting some weight behind each hit. Different modifiers will result in blocks, weaves and haymakers, so you’ll be sizing up the best in no time. However, it you are struggling with the controls there’s sadly no other layout. Face buttons have been thrown out the window so it’s analogue control or bust. A patch can remedy this if enough people complain, but it’s odd that it wasn’t implemented in the first place to at least give people the option, regardless of how good the default control scheme is.
Once you’ve adjusted to the controls you’ll eventually want to make your way to the legacy mode; Round 4’s new and improved career mode. Don’t get your hopes up, though, it’s not the drastic overhaul we were hoping for. It essentially consists of two menus: an e-mail inbox and calendar, and both are pretty redundant. You’ll receive e-mails from your manager basically giving you useless information that you’ll never care about. It’s often about new kids arriving on the block or a new champion in the specific weight divisions. It wouldn’t be so bad if it actually showed you who these guys were, but instead he’s just letting you know that you can exit back to the convoluted menu system and find the information there. Why it couldn’t be implemented into the e-mail I’ll never know, it just seems really pointless and you’ll probably never bother looking at it again.
And the calendar is just as inane. You use it to schedule your next fight and train, but this could have been done anywhere. All you end up doing with the calendar is choosing a bout and then simulating through the months until you can fight; it basically amounts to watching dates countdown until you can actually play the game. There’s definitely a lot more to this career mode than before, but it’s full of needless menus that take away from the actual fights. There is some added interaction thrown in with training, but these events are fairly lacklustre as well. You’ll have one training session before each fight where you can choose what area of your fighters skills you want to improve upon; so performing different combos on a heavy bag may improve your fighter’s arm strength, while sparring will help with his speed and ability to sustain hits. They’re okay to play but they can be needlessly difficult at times and auto-training doesn’t seem to have that much of an affect on your progress so it’s easier to just skip it all together.
And you’ll want to just to get to the actual act of fighting, especially when it’s with a created character. You see, in legacy you can choose to take one of Fight Night Round 4’s 48 licensed fighters from bum to the greatest of all time, or create a guy yourself and take him on the journey instead. This can be done with your basic sliders, but if you have the option you can scan your actual face in using an EyeToy or take a picture with a digital camera and upload them to the EA Sports official website. From there it’s a case of setting up the markers on your face and generating everything in. It can be a bit hit and miss but when you get it right the results can be laughably uncanny, and you can choose to upload it for everyone to see.
There seems to be a decent community building up already with an abundance of user-created fighters going up for download. And of course a big part of Fight Night is taking these guys on yourself in any one of the games online game modes. You have the basic ability to jump into a quick match or create a session, but the main pull will be the World Championship. Here you’ll choose a weight division and then use your created fighter to take on the world. Everyone’s stats are the same so there’s no unfair advantage for anyone; you’ll need to keep fighting people until you eventually get a chance at winning a championship belt yourself. A few players will hold one at a time, and they’ll obviously keep changing hands as it’s constantly placed on the line. It’s an enjoyable system that adds to your basic leaderboards, and it should be fun to see some rivalries develop as everyone’s contesting for the glory of a championship.
Luckily the game runs smoothly both on and offline; at a blistering 60fps, nonetheless. Once again the graphics are outstanding, one-upping the visual fidelity seen in the first game; and with that smooth framerate the animations have come a long way. You’ll see individual muscles flex as a fighter goes in for a punch, and their facial expressions excellently represent their current predicament. The collision detection is also much improved with each and every punch making contact just how they should. It truly is a marvellous game to look at with all the elements combining to create a spectacle for the eyes - and occasionally the ears. The commentary team do a good job of describing the action while also throwing in some neat little anecdotes and discussions on the sport. Eventually it does begin to repeat and can drag; particularly throughout the legacy mode when you’re constantly referred to as “him” if you’re unlucky enough to have an unpopular last name.
Fight Night Round 4 has raised the bar from the previous instalment. The new and improved mechanics are fantastic, adding some much needed depth and strategy to the game and combining it with intuitive controls that anyone should be able to get to grips with. Whether you’re playing online or off, the art of playing the game is sure to please, it’s just a shame it comes undone when you have to deal with needlessly confusing and impotent menu systems that could have been easily streamlined for better use. Regardless, if you’re looking to play with friends or take on the world there aren’t many better fighters out there. This is a sure-fire knockout.