Fight Night Round 4 Review - July 13th 2009

Fight Night Round 3 was a reinvigoration of a series and a genre. Can EA do the same again with Round 4?

Fight Night Round 3 captured the imagination of people who had no interest in boxing. It sold astonishingly well considering its original target audience, and had incredible production values for such an early title in this generation of consoles. We certainly loved it, but the question hanging over Round 4 was whether it could better its predecessor, which broke so many boundaries and impressed so many gamers.

Perhaps the best indicator of how good Round 4 could potentially be is borne out in EA's strategy with the series. There are not many EA franchises that do not boast year-on-year releases, and while you could say that this is because something like boxing does not need to be kept as up to date as football or ice-hockey, that doesn't stop them from churning out Tiger Woods games every year. From the outside, it appears that a great deal of care, attention and pride goes into the Fight Night series. We wouldn’t want to suggest this is any different to EA's other franchises, but a bit more development time and breathing room for the EA Canada team must have been a godsend. As such, the game has been revolutionised. While just looking at it you won't see much change, even in areas such as the graphics and audio (though certainly there are improvements here), it's the controls and gameplay, such crucial areas in Round 3, that have had the most work done.

Fight Night is back.

Round 4 is a heck of a lot faster than its predecessor. Part of this is down to the physics, which allow punches to connect at close quarters and far more accurately than before. This promotes flurries and desperate jabs when on the back-foot. Before, players favoured slow haymakers or trudging hooks and really there wasn't a lot of urgency to the action. It was perhaps more realistic than Round 4 in that way, but lacked the variety of a real bout. EA Canada have therefore added something sorely lacking in Round 3, and that is counters. While dodging did play a part in Round 3, it was a very underused feature. Far more important was just the ability to block punches, and even then, counter-punches didn't really feel crucial to the match. In Fight Night Round 4 you are given visual cues to prompt you into stunning counters once a block or dodge has been pulled off successfully. The punches then connect with such ferocity, showcasing the game's improved physics and graphical tweaks to really give you a sense of superiority and achievement. When such an important shot lands, your opponent's status bars go red, the camera shakes and you know that if you land another stunner, they'll be down on the canvas. Frequently your opponent will get out of this situation, particularly in the early rounds, but that doesn't make it any less important or satisfying.

The game's new control system also promotes more action-packed gameplay. All punches, except for signature moves and illegal shots, are mapped to the right stick. While they are tough to pull off accurately, they are faster on screen. You hold the right trigger to activate haymakers, and use the same techniques on the right stick to select which type of shot you want to pull off. Uppercuts are selected with a sweeping low-to-high motion, whereas straight jabs are simply performed by nudging from right to left on the stick, and so on. I personally had problems replicating at least one technique on the right stick on the Xbox 360 version, but this was hardly detrimental to the overall package. (A patch is in the works to allow gamers to pick the more familiar face button-orientated controls of previous boxing games to make it more accessible). It is also easier to chain moves together than in Round 3. Get your opponent on the ropes and you can pummel them with quick-fire jabs to get their health down.

The training modes aren't exactly enthralling, but they do reward you in the end.

Occasionally you will get into unstructured combat with your opponent, just exchanging jabs with no one even attempting to block or counter. These defensive techniques are slow and somewhat cumbersome to perform, even after the game's tutorial introduces you to them. However, to create a balance there is now a stamina bar which prevents you from just spamming the quickest punches before your opponent can muster a block. Low punches are very hard to defend against, as while dodging is effective for headshots, body blows frequently still connect regardless. You have to either physically move your body out of the way, or use your mitts to fend off the attacks. It is certainly hard to manage attack and defence, especially as the two are not really coterminous in terms of their method of deployment. With practice however, like in any good fighting game, you will be able to read your opponents' punches and counter them very effectively indeed. The early stages are as a result harder than in Round 3, which may put some off seeking an experience that is just as accessible.

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