Fight Night Round 4ESRB:
Developer – Electronic Arts Canada
Publisher - Electronic Arts
Players : 1-2
Online Multiplayer: 2
When Fight Night Round 3 arrived on the scene a few years ago, many were blown away with its highly enjoyable gameplay and slick looking visuals. At the time we at Game-Boyz declared it the undisputed king of boxing games. So needless to say the sequel had some pretty big shoes to fill and my expectations have been considerably high as the game has been in development for quite some time. Well after stepping into the ring with Fight Night Round 4 (FNR4) I am left with some mixed impressions. On one hand there is no doubt it is still the best virtual boxing franchise on the planet, but on the other hand I cannot help but feel a little unsatisfied. Simply put, the feeling I had with Fight Night Round 3 is not there this time around.
Visually it comes as no surprise that FNR4 is stunning and it certainly lives up to its billing. The screen shots and trailers which have been shown prior to the game’s launch did not lie one bit and this is evident from the moment you step into the ring. The game offers a level of realism unlike any prizefighting boxer game seen before. The detail of the boxers is incredible as the sweat, muscle contortions, and facial expressions on the various combatants are incredibly realistic. Landing blows, which completely distorts your opponents face, provides a slick effect and has you replaying some of the knockdowns over and over again. From the gob of spit that goes flying to the real-time bruising and blood that appears as a match wears on, FNR4 raises the bar in the visuals department for a boxing game yet again. Oh and did I mention there are no clipping issues? Not once did I ever see any clipping which is truly amazing for such a close quarter fighting game.
Another area I was impressed with was the venues and crowds. From the dungy dirty boxing gyms to the huge arenas, FNR4 delivers in the venue department. The only letdown is that I was disappointed with the total number of venues available. Regardless of the number though they all look great and you can notice how the lighting effects even the smallest of venues. As for the crowds, I have no complaints here as they manage enhance the experience. The crowds are in 3D and become an active part in the fight in terms of momentum. I should also mention the photographers, announcers, and ring girls all look great in FNR4 too.
Overall, FNR4’s visuals are arguably the best selling feature of the game. At 60-frames per second the game runs incredibly smooth and the boxers themselves fight in a silky smooth manner. All in all I was impressed with the games visuals.
On its own FNR4 is solid in the audio department, but when compared to Round 3 this instalment does not quite measure up. In terms of the positives, the punching effects are incredibly realistic and you can even hear the boxers exert shorts bursts of air from their nose as they deliver. The slo-mo punch cut-scenes are also very cool and for those with 5.1 surround sound these scenes will give your subwoofer a nice ride as you watch a knockdown punch. Granted some of the sounds in the game are a little far fetched (e.g. crackling cheek bones); however it does add to the entertainment value of the game. Compared to Round 3, the sound effects in FNR4 are certainly much richer this time around.
As far as the negatives are concerned, I have to say I am a little disappointed in the game’s soundtrack. Maybe it will grow on me over time but my first impression of the tunes is not a good one. Round 3 had a terrific soundtrack, and although it was repetitive they were catchy and perfectly suited for the game. I recall the tunes playing over and over in my head for days on end. Simply put, you do not get that lasting impression this time around and I actually found the majority of the soundtrack forgettable. That being said, the game does have a couple of gems with some recognizable artists, but for the most part the soundtrack is weak.
As far as the manager and announcer voices are concerned they are a clear and understandable. The announcers are spot on with the blow-by-blow calls and there is very little repetition. Round 3’s over-the-top manager who referred to you as “playa” is gone; instead you have a manager who gives you solid advice in-between and during each round. His voice could be a little more prominent in the game but it is an improvement over Round 3. As far as the rest of the audio is concerned, FNR4 is decent, although that ring buzzer (heard when there are 10 seconds left and when the round is over) is annoying and sometimes chimes in too loudly. Nevertheless, for those new to the franchise you likely won’t have any concerns with the games sound.
When compared to Fight Night Round 3, I found the gameplay much more realistic this time around and in many ways it is much more polished. Unfortunately it is not quite as enjoyable as it was the first time. There is no question the developers crafted the closest real-to-life boxing game available, yet in doing so some of the fun has been lost. The pendulum has clearly swung more towards the simulation side of the house and in doing so some of the ‘arcadish’ enjoyment from previous years has seemingly disappeared. That being said, FNR4 still has plenty to offer.
Round 3 placed a great deal of emphasis on technique and fight management. FNR4 places even more emphasis on being able to manage a fight and has taken it a giant leap further. Gone are the days of steamrolling through the career mode knocking out everyone in sight after a couple of rounds. Instead, FNR4 makes you pick your punches and forces you to focus on your defence and counter punches; perhaps placing too much emphasis on the later. Throwing haymaker after haymaker will do you no good in this time around, but if you know how to accurately counter punch in the right spots when the camera shifts ever so slightly you will be able to cruise through the single player experience. The online experience is a different can of worms but I will get to that below.
As far as the controls are concerned, the Total Punch Control (TPC) system is back but with a few more tweaks making some of the more advanced punches a tad more difficult. The TPC is accomplished by using the right analog stick, and you can select from a variety of punches and fake-outs by using the TPC in conjunction with other buttons such as the bumpers and triggers. Learning the TPC is obviously critical to your success. Fortunately, FNR4 features a brief tutorial mode to get you acquainted with the controls. For those that played Round 3 the control scheme will feel similar but you will notice right off the hop that everything appears a little quicker while haymakers are not as easy to land this time around. The delivery seems slow in this one area thus making it difficult to connect. Perhaps with more time playing the game this does not become an issue but it was certainly an issue for me even after a dozen fights.
For newcomers, the learning curve is steep and as mastering the TPC can seem awkward especially if you are used to using buttons with any kind of boxing game. For veterans of the franchise you will really have to learn to be patient. I consistently had a tendency to launch hurtin’ bombs towards my opponent, but more often than not I would leave myself open to some punishment. As I already suggested, FNR4 really places an emphasis on being able to pick your spots and not going after your opponent with a battery of haymakers. Instead it is essential you wait for openings, use counter punches, and listen to your coach. Many fights become incredibly frustrating as knocking down an opponent is not as a frequent occurrence as years past, but if you have the patience you will love FNR4’s pace.
I spent the bulk of my time playing the games Legacy Mode which is essentially FNR4’s career mode. Here you can create your own fighter, or choose one of the greats like Muhammad Ali or Roy Jones Jr. Creating your own boxer is simple and straight forward. You can adjust everything from weight and body mass to ear shape and cranial depth. All of the major classes are represented and you can also select a basic punch style (e.g. speed, slugger, etc.) as well as block style (traditional block style or the less orthodox cross-up technique). Different styles each have their advantages and disadvantages. This is nothing new to the franchise yet the ‘create a boxer’ feature is much deeper this year.
New to the Fight Night series is a feature called “Photo GameFace”. Similar Tiger Woods PGA Tour, you can take your picture with a USB camera on your console, or use EA’s website (EA Sport World) and download digital camera photos. You can then import all these photos into the game and create a boxer that looks like you. Of course once you have your ‘mug’ in the game you can even fine tune it more in an effort to get an exact replica. Furthering this customization, after you get your look, find all your equipment, choose your “enter the ring” style, and even what effects you have when walking to the ring, you can then upload your created character to EA’s servers for others to download. There is no doubt that EA has made the effort here not only to make the game customizable, but to keep the community involved too. I have to say that there are some really great community created boxers out there.
As part of building your boxers career, and prior to your fights, you can participate in training exercises to build up your fighter’s attributes such as stamina, chin, speed, power, etc. This is a big part of your career mode and it is also the most frustrating. There are more training exercises in FNR4 then before and the difficulty level for each one has been increased as well. Obviously, the more you train the more you increase your attributes; which is nothing new to the franchise. The problem is however it takes much longer to build up your skill attributes because of the difficulty of the training exercises and you only have so many training exercises per fight. Unfortunately you cannot keep training until you max out your skill set as the game limits you. With 12 different attributes to rank up, and only one training exercise per fight on average, your career mode will undoubtedly be a lengthy marathon. As you can imagine, with your fighter growing older as he progresses through the career mode, and the limited amount of training exercises to boost your attributes, getting a championship belt match can be a tall and lengthy ordeal. There is an auto-train feature where you don't have to repeat the exercises over and over but this comes with a penalty as you only get half the available points for simulating the exercise.
In legacy mode you can also monitor your statistics, check your boxers rank, win awards (such as fighter of year), and get advice from your trainer. You also get useless periodic e-mails as well. The legacy mode is decent and for those who have recently played THQ’s UFC game, the career mode is very similar. Overall the mode is good but does take a serious time investment.
Fight Night’s online gameplay is back this year. It is pretty enjoyable but it is not without its concerns. Quick ranked and unranked matches get you fighting in no time. If you are new to the online Fight Night community, make no question you will get destroyed in the beginning. I found it a little disheartening getting thumped time and time again. Throw all the rules of the single player experience out the window as guys were pummelling me by simply unleashing a flurry of left and rights. It was ridiculous and did not accurately represent a boxing match in any way. So really it comes down to whom you are fighting with (character wise) and against (online gamer and who they choose for character) for your overall online experience to be a positive or negative one.
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