Beauty can hold many definitions for different people. It can be used to describe a significant other, a cascading summer sunset, a serene, translucent lake. Or, if you’re like me, beauty revives memories of Ali and Frazier dancing around the ring and trading blows to the head. Memories of Jake LaMotta standing his ground, taking the beating of his life, but dishing it out three fold. Memories of jaw-dropping visuals. This was most people’s first experience with true, HD graphics that left millions awestruck through the sheer awesomeness that was Fight Night Round 3.
Here we are three years later, with EA Canada taking up the reigns from now defunct EA Chicago. Can Fight Night Round 4 recapture this beauty that left millions of gamers clamoring for more pound-for-pound action? To satisfy your immediate hunger, yes, Round 4 is a blast to both look at and play. Once you step into the ring, thoughts of other games seem to drift away as the lightning quick fighting takes hold. Flurries of punches are exchanged, with every hit accurately registering with booming sound and camera flashes that are frighteningly realistic. The new physics engine adds tremendously to this realism, rendering seemingly-flawless game mechanics that makes FNR4 a truly unique and simply thrilling experience.
The game launches you right into a tutorial, which may seem slightly frustrating for those unfamiliar with the Total Punch Control mechanism that Fight Night is known for. Those familiar with the series, however, will feel right at home as the tutorial is geared more as a refresher course than anything else, with some welcomed additions. Unless, that is, you were one who used the face-button layout in previous installments. Then you’re shit-out-of-luck. That control scheme has been scrapped in favor of complete TPC, one addition that anyone, including myself, who remembers getting their asses handed to them online halfway through the first round welcomes with open arms.
Yet, EA Canada isn’t just about addition through subtraction, as the tutorial also reveals two new moves in your fighter’s repertoire, upright body blows and weaves. With a flick of the TPC thumbstick to either the left or right (either straight or diagonally down), you’ll throw a swift punch to your opponent’s body without having to hold the left trigger and lean towards the opponent’s incoming fist. Weaves are performed with the left thumbstick by a quick quarter-circle motion that makes your fighter bob and weave his way toward the opponent. If timed correctly, punches can be dodged and allow for an opening where some serious brutality can be caused. Both additions proved to be invaluable as I began fighting tougher and more experienced fighters, using both in midst of combinations that more often than not left my opponent face down on the mat.
Blocking is no longer broken down into defending four quadrants of your body, rather, you’ll only need to worry about protecting your face and body, which indeed makes blocking easier. Though, this is balanced by an added third bar that shows how much blocking strength you have left and drains through continuous use, while recharging when no blocking is occurring. This effectively eliminates any spam-blocker one may have previous encountered and allows for more fast-hitting, face-smashing fights.
FNR4 plays much like its predecessor, yet faster and at a smooth 60 frames per second. Haymakers were given the biggest overhaul, lessening the dominance of the power-punch but not neutering it completely. Rather than performing a set motion as in Round 3, haymakers are now performed by holding the right bumper and throwing a normal hook or uppercut. I happen to be a fan of the classic motion, it proved challenging and required the utmost precision and timing to catch your opponent just right. However, making it more accessible to everyone makes for more brutal and face-planting matches, which is always a major plus.
Countering plays a major role in basic boxing strategies, as you’ll quickly find the AI likes to abuse it. Whether you time your block right before your hit (similar to classic fighting games) or are fast enough to bop and weave around punches, you’ll find that a perfectly placed counter-punch can leave your opponent stunned. If you find yourself on the wrong end of a counter-punch, your health and stamina bars will not recover and movement is sluggish, leaving you open for the inevitable pummeling. Being stunned is similar to being dazed in FNR3, but can happen at anytime and can change who’s in control of the fight with one powerful swing. Always being so close to defeat adds a certain edge to the fight that keeps the player on their toes. Something fighting games in general seem to not incorporate all too often.
Many fans of FNR3 will remember the in-between rounds minigame that helped recover health and stamina as your fighter weakened. This has been done away with for an all new system that rewards you for your skills as a fighter. If you keep your trainer happy, that is, if you meet certain criteria within each around (hitting at least 60% of your punches, knocking an opponent down), you’ll gain a set amount of points to be used in-between rounds. These points can be allocated to three different increments of health, stamina (how fast and hard your boxer punches), or damage (cuts and swelling that can lead to a fight stoppage) recovery. I always liked the little minigame from FNR3 in order to reduce swelling and cuts. If you were fast and accurate, you could gain a little edge over your opponent. However, this new system allows for more in depth healing and enables those who were inept at the previous system to receive a fair amount of recovery, while making you fight smarter and more strategically to keep your trainer happy.
Now, with Fight Night Round 3, the career mode always felt like many things were lacking. To address this, EA Canada gives us Legacy Mode, not quite perfect, but major steps forward to a more complete career mode for the Fight Night series. Before I delve further, when you begin your career to the top as “The Greatest Fighter Ever,” you’ll have to either create a boxer or choose one of 48 of the sport’s all-time greats. You’ll also have the option to import other boxers that you create (up to 50) for Legendary Mode, as well as other people’s creation downloaded through Xbox Live. Quickly flipping through the most downloaded fighters, I found myself sorting through the likes of Rocky Balboa, Real Deal Holyfield, Borat, and the Bald Bull himself. However, I suggest creating a fighter, for it can be very in-depth and equally as fun, proven through our wonderful peers’ imagination, or lack thereof, over Xbox Live.
If you’re fortunate to own the 360 Live Vision, you can quickly snap photos to create your likeness in the game. Otherwise, like me, you’ll have to create an EASportsWorld account and upload pictures, which can then be downloaded into the game. The process takes a small chunk of time (around 15 minutes or so), but the results are worth the wait. It was pretty damn cool to see my character have some direct resemblance to me, as the nose, eyes, and mouth looked very much like my own. The process is very simple and requires a PC and an internet connection. Sorry, Mac users.
Besides being able to put your own face in the game, the create-a-player has been tweaked slightly. Depending on which boxing style you chose, your stats will be altered slightly, such as Power gives an increase to the power rating, but decreases speed slightly, while Hyper will affect hand speed, head movement, and stamina. You’ll also choose an AI for your fighter, just in case you feel like taking a break from all the ass kicking you’ve been dishing out (or receiving, who knows). Options vary from a boxer, which is the all-around AI to the unconventional, the not-so all-around, yet very effective.
After you’ve chosen your fighter to begin where a majority of your time will be spent, Legendary Mode throws you right into an amateur tournament that breaks you into the professional boxing circuit. As one of the top prospects of the boxing world now, you’ll book fights using a calender, allowing for more control when you’ll fight and for how many years you’ll be able to withstand physical beatings for. Your career will also track a vast amount of statistics from everyone of your fights, such as showing the percentages of punches landed and where, allowing you to see where and how you are most effective. The calender system is a great leap forward from the old career system in FNR3, even though some aspects weren’t addressed. I liked being in control over when and how often I fought, allowing me to train more often to boost my stats. I didn’t like that this is where the control ended. Why can’t I choose who I train with? Where I train? Who my manager is? Furthermore, am I getting paid for these fights? Where’s Don King when you really need him?
Depending on how many months you leave in between each fight, you’ll have the opportunity to train more often. More months between each fight means more training can be done, but if you don’t fight enough, your popularity rating will dip too much and you’ll be fighting an uphill battle. The more you fight, the more popular you are, and the more popular you are, the more opportunities will arise for your chance at greatness. But the more you fight and the less you train, the more your body will breakdown with age and physical abuse. So a balance must be reached between fighting, training, and rest.
Although the training system features all new exercises that are more closely related to boxing, they are just as tedious as FNR3. Yet, in the early stages of your career, they are as equally difficult. Each training exercise becomes easier as your stats increase, but with your fighter just being a prospect with mediocre stats, achieving full scores while training proved to be rather annoying. I found myself more often than not using the auto-training feature, confident it would net me more stat points than I could through my own ability. And why does hitting a heavy bag only train the power in my right hand, while pushing a heavy bag only trains the power in my left hand? EA Canada definitely took a step in the right direction by including some more faithful exercises, but one awfully small one.
As you fight your way through the rankings of your given weight class in Legendary Mode, you’ll notice that throughout each fight, your opponent may be adapting to your tactics. This is what is called R.E.A.L, or Record, Evaluate, Adapt, Learn. The AI uses this system to adjust to how you fight, and will exploit your weaknesses to no end. I liked how it kept me on my toes throughout the fight, but as I made my way towards the top of the rankings, I found it a little absurd how quickly and efficiently the AI would change on me. I decided to try my hand online, hoping that human error (and predictability) could be my key to success.
The online modes now offer the normal quick and custom matches, but features an all new Online World Championship mode. Here, you’ll take your custom fighter in one of three weight classes (lightweight, middleweight, and heavyweight) to compete against others around the world. You’ll gain skill levels, increase in worldwide rank, and even have chances at title-shots. If the community builds and keeps a continuous flow of players, World Championship will be where the real fighters looks to test their skills. One thing to keep in mind while fighting online; since there are only three weight classes, you’ll have to be careful who you choose, especially while fighting heavyweights. My custom boxer is a lean 170 lbs, but is considered a heavyweight and when I’m set to fight 230 lbs behemoth, it’s like Mike Tyson fighting his wife (again).
Fight Night Round 4 looks simply amazing; never has a slow-motion blood-squirting smash to the face looked better in high resolution. Combined with a physics engine that may have no competitor and a control scheme that feels natural and responsive, FNR4 quickly fiddles with perfection, but falls short with some abusing AI and some lackluster career options, though EA Canada’s efforts are definitely in the right direction. Besides the length Legendary Mode (around 50 or 60 fights per character), the amount of time that can be devoted to the Online Championship mode is virtually infinite, for even if you are the champion, you still need to defend it. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with the game, even with some of its shortcomings and urge fans of the series and newcomers alike to step into the ring and go toe-to-toe with one of the best boxing games out there.
Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review
A near-flawless physics engined coupled with some of the best visuals out there provides for a wonderfully vivid experience.
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Besides some flaws with the AI and Legendary Mode, getting in the ring to duke it out with some of the sports’ greatest is a blast.
Each punch thundering from the speakers was music to my ears. The EA Trax were pretty solid too.
Legendary Mode is long enough to keep you satisfied with 50 different fighters, but Online World Champion can go on almost forever.
This is the best boxing simulation out there, bar none. Although the game has its flaws, it still provides a thoroughly enjoyable experience, one not to be passed up.