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Review: Fight Night Round 4 (Part I – Features) August 2, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Boxing, Game Reviews.
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[Note: only PS3 version played]

My first video game review!

Overview

Few boxing fans would disagree that when it comes to boxing video games, it often feels like the makers have no idea about the sport.  Games on other popular sports, such as basketball, football and hockey have made leaps and bounds over the years to the point where they can be said to be realistic simulations – but for some reason realistic boxing has been stuck in the mud.

The eagerly anticipated Fight Night Round 4 (FNR4) set out to remedy the perceived problems of the hugely successful Fight Night Round 3 (FNR3), which was revolutionary in terms of graphics but still relied too much on button mashing rather than the sweet science.  To some extent it succeeds, especially in terms of the gameplay and the increased realism of the visuals, but it still fails when it comes to being a standout boxing simulation.  The so-called biggest selling point, the new Legacy Mode, is also ultimately a huge disappointment (reviewed in Part III).

Features

Physics System

The greatest contribution FNR4 brings to the table is this ‘physics’ system that was hyped to the max before the game was released.  Back in the old days, boxers looked like 2 robots going at it mechanically.  Each fighter had a very limited set of movements, each of which looked exactly the same every time.

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The new ‘physics’ system is said to revolutionize the boxing game by applying real-world physics.  Punches are longer just ‘hit’ and ‘miss’.  You’ve now got glancing blows (which do less damage) and partially blocked punches that slip through the defense (that can still do damage).  Your punching arm can get tangled up in your opponent’s.  A jab that fully extends will do more damage than one that connects with a bent elbow.  You get the point.

Another related feature is improved inside fighting.  Before, there always seemed to be an invisible barrier between boxers, never allowing them to truly get on the inside to stick it to their opponent with close range shots.  Well, you can now in FNR4.  Fighters can sometimes look like they are leaning against each other at close range, much like their real-life counterparts.

In short, the result is fighting action that is a lot more fluid.  Bobbing and weaving becomes very important.  A boxer’s height and reach becomes more relevant than before.  Styles really do make fights in FNR4.  You can choose to box your way to victory by staying on the outside and peppering your opponent with jabs (which can be as boring as hell), or go for the knockout by sticking close to your opponent and rocking them with jolting uppercuts.

While I wouldn’t go as far as calling the new system perfect, it is a substantial upgrade on what we had before.

Total punch control

FNR4 gets rid of button-mashing completely by implementing what it calls ‘total punch control’ (TPC).  Punches can now ONLY be thrown using the right analog stick.  For an orthodox boxer, a jab is a flick of the stick towards the upper left, a straight towards the upper right.  A hook is a quarter-circle, an uppercut a half-circle.  You CANNOT alter the button settings to go back to the more traditional style of allocating buttons for specific punches (not yet anyway).

Personally, I like the IDEA of this punch control system, but I can fully understand why it would seriously irk many gamers.  Flicking a stick is about as close to throwing a real punch as you can possibly get, so I understand why EA would endorse this control system.  However, the system is HARD and FRUSTRATING.  In the heat of battle, the last thing you would want is to throw the wrong punch, but with TPC (ironically) it happens all the time.  You get better with experience and practice, but you never feel like you have 100% control of every punch you throw because some punches are executed so similarly to others that it’s very easy to mess them up.  It becomes particularly frustrating when playing the training mini-games which I elaborate on below.

As I said, I don’t mind the system, but EA should have at least allocated a traditional button configuration for those that can’t stand it.  Apparently this will be available soon via DLC (downloadable content), which will be downloadable online from EA Sport World.

Health, Stamina, Damage

I’ve never been a fan of having stamina/health bars at the top/bottom of the screen for the players to see.  I’d much rather want to know that my opponent is in trouble from their movements and the look on their face rather than judge it from a couple of bars on the screen.  For me, it takes away the realism and often reduces games to a mechanical exercise of trying to lower the health bar to zero.

However, FNR4 still endorses this system, and I guess it’s acceptable.  Boxers have a health bar (which will result in a knockdown when it reaches zero), a stamina bar (which gives you the energy to throw punches) and a block bar (which, when reduced to zero, makes you unable to block).

Note you can still get flash knockdowns, which instantly reduces the health bar to zero (unless you get back up), and there’s also the old concept of ‘stunning’ your opponent – which can be attained by reducing the health bar close to zero or scoring a critical punch.  Your opponent will wobble around with his health bar on red and be unable to replenish his health or block bar for a given period of time.  Step in with a few solid combinations and you’ll score a knockdown.

In between rounds, you get to see a damage bar.  When the damage bar is full, the doctor will stop the fight.

Gone from FNR3 are the mini-games of reducing swelling and sealing cuts between rounds.  It was an interesting idea but got too tedious after a while.  The new system allocates points to a boxer depending on how they performed in the previous round (eg extra points for scoring a certain punch percentage, stunning the opponent or getting a knockdown).  These points can then be distributed to increase health or stamina or reduce damage.  It’s a good system in the way that it rewards boxers for boxing smartly, but it’s not realistic and it’s not fun.  And since the AI does a good job of allocating the points for you automatically, I generally tend to skip it.

Knockdowns

To get up from a knockdown, you have to shift the left analog stick until the indicator is in the middle of the balance bar, then push up on the right analog stick to stand up.

I suppose that is also an attempt at a realistic simulation of a boxer who has just been knocked down, but it doesn’t depend enough on skill – if you have enough ‘Heart’ (rating), you should be able to get up easily from the first knockdown (say at the count of 3) and struggle to get up if you are knocked down for a second time.  But your ability to get up seems to be heavily reliant on your Heart rating.  If you don’t have enough Heart, all the skill with the analog sticks won’t be able to get you back up again.

AI

The computer AI in FNR4 is pretty good.  You don’t get the feeling that you’re constantly fighting the same opponent because the computer will tend to utilize the physical strengths of the boxer and adjust to your style mid-fight, so you can’t keep using the same strategy.   There are those who like to attack, and others who like to stay back and counterpunch.  There are orthodox boxers and plenty of southpaws.  You’ll have taller and shorter fighters in the same division.  Some are more susceptible to uppercuts, others hooks.  It’s not perfect – you still want a bit more variety and adaptability from your opponent, but it’s already a substantial upgrade from FNR3 and most other boxing games.

Boxers

One of the biggest selling points of FNR4 is the number of licensed boxers in the game (around 50!).  Many gamers will buy the game for the inclusion of Mike Tyson alone, but it’s good to see they’ve also got many boxers from the lower weight divisions and a good mix of current and former boxers, legends and lesser-known fighters (they’ve even got Anthony Mundine!).  The full list can be found here.

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Iron Mike Tyson is back!

The obvious ones missing from the list are guys like Floyd Mayweather Jr (who reportedly wanted more money than all 50 other boxers combined!), Oscar De La Hoya and Juan Manuel Marquez (just to name a few), but you can create your own versions of them using the ‘Create Boxer’ feature.  However, unless you use a photo and tweak with the sliders a fair bit, you’re unlikely to create one that closely resembles the real life counterpart.  Even if you do use a photo, there are still some difficulties, especially with the choice of hairstyles, which are simply too limited.

If you want a realistic version of a boxer not in the game, your best chance is to go to EA Sports World and grab one uploaded by someone else (who obviously has more time on their hands than you).  And from what I can see fans have not stopped at real-life boxers, creating guys like Rocky Balboa, Bruce Lee and even Barack Obama and Michael Jackson!

Unfortunately, there is a limit on the number of boxers you can have on your roster overall, so you can’t download them all.

Graphics and sound

FNR3 was revolutionary in terms of its graphics and sound for a boxing game.  FNR4 makes minor improvements, but I don’t think you can say it made great leaps.  That said, it’s still one of the most visually and aurally impressive sports games I’ve ever see – the sweat running down the skin, the lights and shadows,  the movement of the ripped muscles on the back and arms; even little things such as the crowds and the speckles of blood on the glove tape as the fight goes on.

What I liked the most personally were the slow-motion replays of knockdowns, coupled with the bone-crushing sound effects.  Sure, the buckets of sweat that fly off the bodies from each connected punch are a bit over the top, but it’s there for added effect.

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Check out the muscle movement

Oh, and the game features some awesome music, extremely addictive.  You’ll soon find yourself singing along.

Cut-scenes

One of the weaker elements of FNR4 is its fixed animations and cut-scenes.  I’m talking about the ring entrances and introductions, the between-round instructions, the ‘getting up from knockdown’ sequences and the post-fight celebrations.  It’s not that they are done badly, but there is so little variety that you feel like you’ve seen everything if you just see it once.

The ring introductions are generally pretty cool, especially if you are a belt-holder (or multiple belt-holder).  But they are always the same.  If you create a boxer, you get a couple of options in customizing your ring entrance, but there’s not a whole lot of variance.

The ring introductions are similar.  And it seems you’re always fighting under the same couple of referees.

In between rounds, your corner doesn’t have much to say except a few mumbles.  That’s rather disappointing because it would be good if they could give you some constructive feedback.  I suppose the focus is on the new point distribution system, so they’ve kind of forgotten all about it.

Another sequence lacking in variety is when boxers get knocked down and are trying to get back up.  It doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of them and they don’t seem to correspond with the force of the knockdown.  A boxer can get clobbered in the head with a vicious shot (and pounded with 3 or 4 power shots on the way down) and yet still get up at the count of 5 as though it was a flash knockdown.  On the other hand, a boxer can get dropped by a seemingly light combination and stagger around the ring like Zab Judah.

The most disappointing of all are the end-of-fight sequences.  Whether it’s a knockout win, a decision or a loss, the cut-scenes always feel exactly the same, just with different boxers.

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Commentary

The in-fight commentary is provided by Joe Tessitore and the colour commentary by Teddy Atlas.  Both are adequate, and at times what they say hit the mark.  It’s unreasonable to expect never to hear the same thing twice, but I tend to hear the same comments in every fight my created boxer participates it.  On occasion I even hear the same conversation in different rounds of the same fight.  I’m not sure if it’s attributable to my fighting style, but it does get a little repetitive.  A minor complaint but in general I think it’s good enough.

Online

I haven’t really explored the full capabilities of online play in FNR4.  As I already mentioned, you can download boxers created by other users, but of course you can also play against others in online bouts and tournaments.

But perhaps the best part about having online capabilities is the DLC (downloadable content).  The first package is coming out in early August 2009, and details of what will be included can be found here.  The main change is the ability to use the traditional punch system that utilizes the buttons on the control pad.  This change undoubtedly comes from the complaints that EA has received regarding the arbitrary use of the right analog stick, so it’s good to see they’re at least listening.

Next up: Part II: Gameplay!

Part III: Legacy Mode

Lastly: Fight Night Round 5 Wishlist!

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Comments»

1. Review: Fight Night Round 4 (Part II – Gameplay) « About Writing – The Personal Blog of An Aspiring Writer - August 3, 2009

[…] Review: Fight Night Round 4 (Part II – Gameplay) August 3, 2009 Posted by pacejmiller in Game Reviews. Tags: AI, controls, difficulty, Fight Night Round 4, FNR4, gameplay, KO, physics, review trackback Previous: Part I – Game Features […]

2. Review: Fight Night Round 4 (Part II - Gameplay) | Phasing - August 3, 2009

[…] Previous: Part I – Game Features […]

3. Review: Fight Night Round 4 (Part III – Legacy Mode) « About Writing – The Personal Blog of An Aspiring Writer - August 6, 2009

[…] Round 4, FNR4, legacy, Legacy Mode, Mike Tyson, PS3, review, video trackback Previous: Part I – Game Features; Part II – […]

4. Fight Night Round 5 Wishlist « About Writing – The Personal Blog of An Aspiring Writer - September 10, 2009

[…] has just been released and it will most probably be years before we see Fight Night Round 5 (FNR5), my recent review (with many complaints) has prompted questions about what I would like to see if the game came to […]

5. Game Review: Fight Night Champion (PS3) « About Writing – The Personal Blog of Pace J Miller - May 11, 2011

[…] EA’s follow-up to the popular Fight Night Round 4 (my multi-part review of that game starts here), is a game that can be viewed in two ways.  For those who have not played FNR4, the game will […]


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