Also available on: Xbox 360
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release date: June 26, 2009
Back in November, Digital Spy reviewed the light-hearted boxing title Facebreaker. Despite having some redeemable qualities, the game didn't quite have the depth or gameplay to make it a true contender. We ended the review by pleading with its developers to resume making the brilliant Fight Night series. Fortunately for us, EA Canada has done exactly this, and returned with Fight Night Round 4 for the PS3 and 360.
However, with its predecessor receiving unanimous praise for its controls, depth and stunning graphics, what exactly could Round 4 do to make it an essential title? At least with EA at the helm, you know that there will be some improvements and plenty of content, but will the improvements be vast enough to warrant recommending the sequel?
Fortunately, there are plenty of changes, and while the majority of them are significant, almost all can be spotted and appreciated within the opening moments of the Fight Night Round 4 experience. Firstly, and because they were such an important part of Round 3's appeal, let's talk graphics. Despite not having the ability to blow you away like its predecessor (due to the fact that we have been spoilt since), the visuals are still stunning. The beads of sweat, the cuts and bruises and the character models themselves look incredible. The biggest difference with Round 4 is that the fighters look just as good in motion, with the frame rate issues of the previous title well and truly K.O.ed. The popular slow-motion knockdown replays also make a return, and despite my first impressions being slightly skewed due to the fact that some knockout punches didn't actually appear to hit my opponent, this is only a minor glitch and doesn't feature prominently throughout.
The knock-on effect of the improved frame-rate and animations is that it leads to a much more fluid gaming experience, and this in turn allows the pace to be upped significantly. Anybody who played the demo will understand what I mean, with the lighter weight boxers moving at such a blistering pace that they can be hard to contain, especially if and when you get caught with a few dizzying blows. It should be pointed out that the faster pace doesn't come at the expense of realism, but instead allows players to inject further strategy into their fights, with slow and measured boxing making way for flurries when a knockdown is on the cards. Of course, the more you punch, the more stamina you burn, and emptying the constantly recharging stamina gauge really has an effect on the speed and power of any subsequent punches thrown.
The punches are once again performed with the all-encompassing right analogue stick, only this time there is less emphasis on haymakers, and more on ease of mixing up body and head shots. The right stick does largely the same job as before, with jabs, hooks and uppercuts all executed with logical analogue motions; holding L1 and swinging targets the body, while holding R2 and throwing a hook unleashes the sole haymaker. With the haymaker's importance somewhat diminished, Round 4's knockdowns tend to come from well-timed counter punches. The counter system is based on timing blocks or dodges to perfection, with the window of opportunity presenting itself with an obvious split-second visual effect. There are two ways of making this happen - moving your head out of the way of a punch by holding L1 and moving the left analogue stick, or perfectly blocking a punch by holding R1 and moving the right stick. If you manage to land the fatal punch, quite often the opponent will be dazed and weakened for a short period, and this is the time to go in for the kill. The removal of the haymaker's influence may annoy some people, and the counters may favour the computer slightly more than the player, but it does result in a more realistic experience, with the mixture of inside and outside boxing essential to avoid being stung by an open shot.
The career mode is another aspect of the game to receive a makeover; although one feels that this is still the main area which can be improved upon. Players can choose to play with a created fighter or one of the 48 licensed pros that feature in the title. All the stats are reset to that of a rookie's, with fighting and training the only way to improve as a boxer. The career mode, now entitled Legacy, sees players start at the bottom and work their way up the rankings by booking their own fights and training. The more time between each fight allows for more training sessions, with the training itself present in the form of a number of games such as heavy bag, sparring, double-end bag, and simply staying on your feet. Each game improves certain stats and has a slightly negative effect on others. The biggest problem is that the games can be very tricky for newcomers, which is exactly when you need to get the most out of them. This means that with potentially only one training session between each fight, it can be more rewarding to simulate the training at the expense of some points, knowing that you are at least guaranteed 50% of the potential stats available. The Legacy mode is an improvement on the previous game, but it's a shame that there isn't a bit more to it than book a fight, train and fight; of course, there are the yearly awards, which reward the year’s best fight, as well as the prospect of the year, and other significant landmarks. It would be nice if you could view the fight of the year, or round of the year, because as it stands, the awards seem slightly random.
The online mode also features a ranking-style career element, with players able to create a fighter (potentially with a slightly deformed version of their own face), and compete against individuals in the World Championship mode. To be honest, the online mode is a pretty standard affair, and occasionally prone to slow-down regardless of internet signal strength. However, with a counter system that sometimes favours the AI a little too much, online is where it evens out and becomes the best place to learn about timing the move, which in turn will hold you in better stead in the main game, and let’s face it, it’s always more enjoyable to fight and defeat (or not) human opponents.
All in all, Fight Night Round 4 has benefited from having a slightly longer development period. The title now has the fluid, fast-paced gameplay to match its stunning visuals. While the Legacy mode is still lacking something, the presentation, depth and multiplayer all help to ensure that Fight Night is still the best boxing title in the business. Throw in a whole bundle of extras and you are guaranteed to be playing and enjoying what Fight Night Round 4 has to offer way beyond the count of ten.
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