In addition to being perhaps the best simulation of the Sweet Science to date, EA’s Fight Night Round 3 had the distinction of being one of the first true visual showcases of this generation. Gamers around the world have been anxiously awaiting the chance to bob and weave their way around the sequel, and the opportunity has finally presented itself with the release of Fight Night Round 4. Not content to rest on the laurels of the amazing Round 3, FNR4 ups the ante over its predecessor with a ton of changes, both in terms of gameplay and features.
First things first, Round 4 delivers in a big way in the graphics department. Everything from the menus to the in ring action features a level of polish that most games never reach. The boxer models are fantastic, and feature realistic damage. Every punch, every dodge, every step is flawlessly animated, and punches land with devastating impact. The rings and arenas are likewise great looking, and are incredibly immersive. There is the occasional collision detection issue, however its only an occasional problem and doesn’t detract from the overall experience.
EA went out on a limb with changing the gameplay in Round 4, both in terms of control and focus, and I’m pleased to report that it was mostly a very successful gamble. Punch control is still handled by the right stick, however some additions have been made including the ability to throw body punches by simply flicking the stick right and left. This makes the transtion between hooks to the body and shots to the head more fluid, and makes the combo’s look more realistic. Haymakers do not hold the same level of importance as they did in Round 3. Now, Haymakers are controlled by holding down the right bumper button, then performing the right stick motion of the punch you’d like to throw. I can’t overstate how much this shift in focus adds to the game, as you won’t find a lot of success just throwing big punches anymore. You’ll have to make sure you build up to throwing the Haymaker, or you’ll find yourself on the wrong end of a big time counter punch.
Counters are also handled differently in Round 4, as you’ll find the parry function replaced with a simple high/low block. The ability to lean is also back, functioning nearly the same as it did in the last version. Finally, you’ll also notice the addition of a weave ability, triggered by a quarter circle motion on the left stick. Timing your block or dodge perfectly will result in a minor but noticeable change in the camera, telling you that if you act quickly your next punch will register as a counter punch. These punches hit with extra damage, and will be a definite key to success at the higher difficulty levels. This shift in defense is a big plus for the game, and like the other changes it makes for a much more realistic experience.
Another change is the new corner system. No longer will you have direct control over icing your boxers bumps and bruises or swabbing their cuts and injuries. Now, you’ll earn points by boxing well that you can spend between rounds to increase either your boxers health or stamina, or reduce their damage. I’m not a big fan of this change to be honest. I much preferred the more direct approach of the last game, and hopefully that will return in the next game.
Career mode has been completely overhauled in Round 4, a necessity given the bare bones nature of Round 3’s effort. You can choose to either begin a Legacy mode with a created boxer, or take your favorite pro boxer on a rewritten path through his career. If you choose to create a boxer, you’ll have the option to either pick a standard head, or import a picture of your own mug. You can do this via an attached USB camera or by uploading your pic to EA’s website, and then downloading into the game. I’m glad that the Game Face feature made its way into the game, and it works very well provided you follow the instructions. My only qualm with the create feature is that the advanced sliders for face creation are only available if you use Game Face, so if you pick a stock head you’ll have to live with whatever it looks like.
Advancing your boxer’s career is no longer solely focused on a ranking system; the Legacy mode in Round 4 also takes boxer popularity into account. Similar to the fight booking system in UFC: Undisputed, you’ll be given a calendar and tasked with booking your next fight. You’ll need to decide whether you want to fight on short notice to get more bouts under your belt, or if you want to space out your fights so you can get some training in. Training plays out via 6 mini-games. These range from standards like Heavy Bag and Sparring, to a Maize Bag and one that tasks you with staying on your feet with low health and stamina. These training games are mostly well done, however they are incredibly difficult to perform when you first begin your career. You’ll probably find yourself simulating the training until your attributes get above a suitable level. Hopefully in the next edition the training will do a better job of scaling to your boxer’s current skill level.
Perhaps the best part of the new Legacy mode is the sheer volume of stat tracking. In addition to your weight class rank, you’ll also be assigned a pound for pound rank that allows you to measure your talent across the entire talent pool, regardless of weight. You’ll have access to a complete history of your fights, including breakdowns on judges scoring and individual punch totals. You’ll also have access to punch stats for every boxer both in your weight class and outside it. Know who your next opponent is? Jump into the punch stats section and see what punches he throws the most, how his connect percentage is for that punch, and begin to formulate your strategy. You can even break it down further to find out how many shots to the head and body you can expect. Such exhaustive stat keeping really helps to legitimize the career mode in Round 4, and its importance cannot be overstated.
The AI in FNR4 serves up a pretty good challenge, although it does have its flaws. Computer opponents are sometimes wildly inconsistent when it comes to defense, even in the same fight or round. You’ll have situations where it seems the computer is able to counter shots that a normal human opponent would not, then in the same round the computer seems to forget about defense all together, allowing you to basically mash the stick at will until the defense turns on again. While this may simulate the way some human opponents play, a more consistent blocking/countering approach would have helped increase the realism of the game.
As with its predecessor, FNR4 is much more fun when you’re playing against other people. The game features full online multiplayer with multiple modes. You’ve got the standard Quick Match and Custom Match options, and also the new World Championship mode. This mode allows you to pick a created boxer and earn titles by beating others and making your way up the leaderboards. The mode is divided into three classes: Lightweight, Middleweight, and Heavyweight and you can win each class’s championship as well as titles for assorted accomplishments like winning fights, KO’s, and others. The game also features an online Boxer Share feature that allows you to share your created boxers with others around the world. This is a fantastic addition and there are already a number of great created fighters online.
The sound in FNR4 is somewhat hit and miss. Commentary is mostly very solid, coming from Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas, however it suffers from the same problems with repetition that most sports games do. The in ring sound effects are great however, and they add a great deal to the impact of each punch.
Overall FNR4 improves over its already fantastic predecessor in nearly every way. The fact of the matter is you won’t find a better boxing game on the market. If you’re a fan of the Sweet Science, you owe it to yourself to pick this game up. Hopefully some of the minor flaws that the game still features will be ironed out in the next version, but as it stands you’ll have a blast floating like a butterfly, and stinging like a bee.