Fight Night Round 4 ReviewBy Sterling McGarvey - Posted Jun 25, 2009
Although Fight Night debuted five years ago, millions of gamers became virtual pugilists when Fight Night Round 3 bowed a few months after the Xbox 360 launched. After several hours of virtual pugilism, I believe that once hardcore fans take the time to learn the new system, they'll discover that it's above and beyond the efforts of past games. This one comes with a steep learning curve, but it provides deep rewards.
- Highly-tuned and refined boxing system
- Gorgeous visuals that deeply affect gameplay
- Vastly improved career mode and online integration
- Steeper learning curve than previous games
- Training minigames leave a bit to be desired
Although Fight Night debuted five years ago, millions of gamers became virtual pugilists when Fight Night Round 3 bowed a few months after the Xbox 360 launched. Since that 2006 release, EA Chicago, the original home of Fight Night, closed down, and the series switched hands to EA’s Vancouver-area mega-facility. It shows, since the Canadian team gutted so many well-established systems. As I started playing Fight Night Round 4, I was concerned that the new approach to boxing will prove polarizing. After several hours of virtual pugilism, I believe that once hardcore fans take the time to learn the new system, they’ll discover that it’s above and beyond the efforts of past games. This one comes with a steep learning curve, but it provides deep rewards.
Work Off the Jab!
Round 4 offers a dramatically different approach to boxing than its predecessors. EA Canada has fine-tuned its approach to boxing styles to reward shorter fighters who work on the inside, as well as tall boxers who can do damage with distance. Button-mashers will be dismayed to know that they’ll have to use the sticks to fight -- analog boxers, on the other hand, should love the news. Button taps aren’t the only thing out the window. Round 4 introduces a completely different style of defense. If you played Round 3 using lots of ducking and weaving to avoid punches, Round 4’s movement-based counterpunch system will feel natural after a few warmup fights. If you’ve been playing Fight Night for years and came to rely on blocks and parries to box, you’re either going to learn to like the new approach, or you’re going to walk away from the series. Hopefully, you’ll stick around, since it’s a much more intense experience than past games.
The difference lies within those gorgeous visuals and fluid animation. There’s some real substance behind the style. You need to carefully watch your opponent to move away from his punches. And like the real sport, you can’t completely avoid a barrage. The best thing you can do is block a flurry of blows or duck out of the way. You’ll see and hear indicators that you’ve got a window of opportunity to counter-punch. And although people often bandy tech jargon around too cheaply, Round 4’s collision detection has a genuine impact on how you play. When your punch is slightly deflected, the glancing blow will still affect your opponent. It offers you plenty of visual cues and demands that you assimilate them in order to master its new approach to pugilism.
The roster, while sparse in lower divisions, is packed with a great mix of legends and new talents. Although I’m sad to see the likes of lower-weight greats like Bernard Hopkins and Mickey Ward go, I’m happy to see that some great heavyweights are debuting in Round 4. Obviously, the addition of “Iron” Mike Tyson is welcome, since he epitomizes the inside boxing style that EA Canada has honed. But there’s Lennox Lewis, who, like Ali, has great reach, and 70s-era George Foreman, who’s indefatigable. I’ve always chosen middleweight boxers for speed and power, but heavyweights are a lot more fun to use this time around.
Goodbye Under Armour Challenge, Hello Legacy Mode!
Many gamers complained that once they cracked through Round 3’s career mode and collected their 1000 Achievement Points, there wasn’t much left to do. EA Canada answers with Legacy Mode. Yes, it’s career mode. But it’s got the widest spectrum of options compared to its predecessors. Instead of boxing your way through a pre-set calendar and picking from two or three opponents, Legacy Mode offers up a multitude of choices, whether you want to flesh out your record with minnows or fight your way up the rankings. Since the game shows you what’s going on in other divisions, there’s always a sense that you inhabit a living world with other competition going on around you. But the clock’s against you, and your fighter will age and diminish over time.
If there’s any particular stumbling block to the experience, it’s the training minigames. The rule of thumb for Fight Night career mode is that you always increase your stats faster (and by bigger quantities) by playing the minigames instead of auto-training your boxer for half the potential stat boost. In this case, the games are so unintuitive and convoluted that you’re better off auto-training to win three points (of a maximum six) than playing a minigame and only earning one. Skip them and focus on your matches; the minigames annoy, but can’t drag down an otherwise sublime boxing experience.
If there was any dispute that Fight Night is a sports game, and not part of the fighting genre, Round 4 pretty much settles it with a decidedly “EA Sports” approach to online. With online championship belts on global servers, Round 4 brings boxing games into a new realm: genuine world championships online, 24 hours a day. It’s an impressive accomplishment that the game effectively pulls off. In addition, EA Canada has taken a page from other EA titles. Like Skate and FIFA 09, you can edit and upload your greatest knockdowns to EA’s servers. I cut together a few good finishing blows, and it works quite well. You can also share your created boxers online, and rate other players’ boxers. If you just want to box in good ol’ ranked or unranked matches, that feature’s still intact and works fine.
EA Canada has ensured that Fight Night Round 4 offers plenty of fleshed-out features that bridge the long gap between the previous game and this one. Although the refined boxing system might turn off some players with its steep learning curve, it’s worth the time investment. Plus, Round 4 offers that all too rare experience of seeing stunning visuals have a profound effect on gameplay – yes these boxers look amazing, but the way that you box move will have an effect on how long you’re standing. Factor in a highly improved career mode and an in-depth online title chase and you’re looking at one of the years finest titles across any genre. The franchise is in new hands, and after several hours of jabs and hooks, I’m happy to say that it’s in good hands.