jump to navigation

Game Review: Fight Night Champion (PS3) May 11, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Game Reviews, Reviews.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
3 comments

Let me be upfront. You’re going to be reading a lot of complaining in this review.

Fight Night Champion, 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 probably be the best boxing game you have ever played, whether it’s in terms of graphics, sound, gameplay, game modes or online play. On the other hand, if you already own FNR4, you’ll likely be sorely disappointed. The truth is, while FNC is an undoubted upgrade over FNR4, the improvements are so uninspiring and minor that it makes you wonder why they bothered with it in the first place. Well, apart from the obvious — make more money out of a successful franchise.

FNC Overview

FNC is basically a suped up version of FNR4. The ‘supposed’ improvements included:

  • blood, bruising and swearing;
  • improved gameplay and controls;
  • a new ‘Champion Mode’; and
  • an improved Legacy Mode.

There are still apparently over 50 licensed boxers (I didn’t count, but most of the ones from FNR4 are there, including add-on boxers from puchased updates, plus a couple more, including Tim Bradley and David Haye). Still no Floyd Mayweather Jr, no Juan Manuel Marquez, no Sergio Martinez. Heck, not even Naseem Hamed or Kostya Tszyu. At least you can still create your own or upload ones others have made.

The graphics and sound are, I suppose, also improved. So is the presentation. But they are, by and large, so similar to FNR4 that you won’t really notice them unless you care about minor aesthetic changes or study the game closely.

Let’s take a look at the supposed changes and improvements.

(to read on, click on ‘more…’)

(more…)

Fight Night Round 5 Wishlist August 15, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Boxing, Game Reviews.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
7 comments
44628_orig

The physics engine was one of the things FNR4 had going for it

[See my review of Fight Night Round 4 here: Part 1 – Features, Part 2 – Gameplay, Part 3Legacy Mode]

I know Fight Night Round 4 (FNR4) 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 fruition in the future.  Anyway, here is my wishlist for FNR5 – so EA, if you’re reading, please take note.

1. Controls – I like the whole Total Punch Control system with the right analog stick, but please make the face buttons usable as well (and not only through DLC when people complained).  The fighters also need to be able to dash forward to add more force to the blows or step backwards or sideways quickly to avoid blows (for example the Victorious Boxers series).   Ducking to avoid blows also seems to have been almost completely forgotten.

VictoriousBoxers-Screenshot

Whatever happened to the good old fashioned duck?

2. Camera angles – have different choices for camera angles available during gameplay.  Some people like the see the whole ring, some people like to see things up close, some like the POV camera.  Give them a choice.

3. Referees – have more than 2 (or at least not have the same one for amateur and World Title fights) and have them more involved in the fight – be more vocal, be more physical – maybe have them visible when using certain camera angles (see above).  I want to see a referee separating a clinch or indicating that a fighter has just lost a point for an illegal blow.

4. Health bars – I don’t mind the system with the health, stamina, block and damage bars, but it often becomes the focal point of a fight to the detriment of the gameplay.  I would prefer the option to turn those things off so you can just focus on the fight at hand and not on trying to expend your opponent’s bars.  It would make the fight more unpredictable.

5. Knockdowns – lots of problems with FNR4.  I want to see more variety in animations when a fighter has been knocked down and is trying to get up.  I want to see fighters struggling and wobbly after getting up from a knockdown.  I want to see fighters knocked out cold and fights ending without a count.  I want to see the Zab Judah dance.  EA needs to watch a lot of actual KO footage and emulate that realism.

6. Ending a fight – more realism is needed here too.  As above, I would like to see referees stopping a fight without administering a count.  I would like to see referees stepping in when a fighter is being battered defensively or is seriously hurt but still on his feet.  I would like to see fighters quitting on their stools.  I would like to see corners throwing in the towel.  I would like to see doctors being called to the ring to check a cut and then declaring a fighter unable to continue.  None of this crap in FNR4 where the fight is stopped out of the blue because the damage meter is full.  I want to see the cut or the swelling or the bruising grow round by round.  Stuff the age rating – I wanna see realism!  Most of all I want to see fighters being carried out on stretchers!  Oh, and what about cuts from accidental head butts and technical draws and technical decisions?  There are so many possible endings for a fight but FNR4 only covers a few.  And while they’re at it, they should vary up the animations as well – it gets boring looking at the same reactions after every single fight.  Don’t need a lot, but is three or four too much to ask?

7. Clinching – I want to see opponents utilise more clinching.  Right now the opponent only clinches when they are on the verge of being knocked down.  Right now you can clinch by just pressing a button.  It’s a fine line between realism and boredom, but I think EA can find the right balance.  Perhaps have more ‘natural’ clinches as a result of fighters being in close proximity to each other.  Furthermore, allow boxers to throw punches and illegal blows in clinches like in real life – something I think they used to have in EA boxing games but for some reason no more.

8. Illegal blows – this is another area that has been underdeveloped in my opinion.  Boxing games have forever had illegal blows, but they are always arbitrary and bleeding obvious.  You always get away with it the first time and you only get disqualified if you keep doing it after having points deducted.  Mix it up a little.  And if they want to make things realistic, make the moves look more subtle.  Allow them in clinches.  Don’t have the obvious winding low blow aimed right at the balls.  Don’t have the clear thrusting head butt.  Disguise them a little.  Make them interesting.

9. The ropes – even as far back as the NES days, wrestling games have allowed the utilisation of the ropes surrounding the ring.  However, for some reason or other, they have been the forgotten element in boxing games.  The ropes can be used in so many ways in real life boxing, but in FNR4 they’re basically there to trap you.  EA needs to put in some effort and allow boxers to voluntarily use the ropes on both offense and defense.

fight-night-round-4-xbox-360-thumb-300x227-72512

Use the ropes!

10. Damage and stamina – one of the major criticisms I reserved for FNR4 was the fact that you can easily land over 500 power punches against your opponent and yet they barely wince at the end of the fight.  I know EA would like the fights to last a little while, but they need to tip the balance towards realism.  Make punches count more (especially jabs) on the damage meter.  Make each punch take out more from the stamina meter so they can’t keep throwing 10 punch combinations without tiring out.  It will make the game more realistic and tactical.

11. Weight classes – FNR4 has improved in this regard but it still doesn’t reflect real life.  There are currently 8 weight classes in FNR4, from Flyweight to Heavyweight, half the number of real weight classes in real life.  It’s not a huge problem in Legacy Mode because weight management does not come into play, but if it does, then they need to have the full 16 weight classes.  In ‘Play Now’ mode, boxers cannot fight an opponent more than 2 weight classes above or below, which prohibits some interesting match ups.  The licensed boxers are squeezed into one of the 8 weight classes in the game, which makes things a little restrictive.  A better way to approach this would have been to provide a sliding scale for each boxer to pick their weight for a fight (rather than their weight class), which would automatically scale a boxer’s ratings and their looks.  So for example, if you turn Manny Pacquiao into a Super-Middleweight, he’s going to look a bit fat and his speed rating will reduce dramatically.  Of course, the range of weight classes a fighter can be in will depend on their height (and possibly body type), so you won’t see Muhammad Ali anywhere say below Super-Middleweight.

boxers-road-2-the-real

Games like PSP's Boxer's Road 2 have all 16 weight classes and multiple title belts

12. Create a boxer – on its face, FNR4’s ‘Create a Boxer’ looks pretty good, especially with the ability for users to upload photos to create boxers or download boxers created by others on EA Sportsworld.  However, there are many improvements that can be made.  For starters, the amount of choice is extremely limited.  The number of hairstyles available is atrocious.  There are no tattoos to choose from.  No ears to choose from.  There’s no ability to access the ‘Advanced Sliders’ unless you use a photograph, and even those sliders are rather limited, restricting your ability to create a truly realistic counterpart.  FNR5 needs to take a page out of some other games out there with the ‘Create’ function and make some drastic improvements.  Perhaps future DLCs for FNR4 can do something to address this.

13. Career/Legacy Mode – my biggest problem with FNR4 was with its Legacy Mode.  Strongly hyped before release, Legacy Mode was not only one dimensional, it lacked excitement, realism and player freedom.  It consisted essentially of training mini-games and fights, with a number of gimmicks such as emails and a new ranking system to prevent you from boring to death.  FNR5 needs to fully revamp Legacy Mode to make it a real boxer ‘career’ simulation.  After all, it’s what will keep gamers returning to play the game.

legacy mode training

Forget about the training mini-games

First, bring money back to the game.  Start off with the low paying fights then work your way up to the big PPV paydays.  Second, allow players to actually use the money – to buy equipment, to switch gyms, to hire trainers, managers, cutmen, promoters, sparring partners, etc.  Third, make the training not rely exclusively on mini-games, which should be at most an opportunity for boxers to earn ‘bonus’ rating points.  Have a more dynamic rating system that corresponds with the training.  Take a page out of boxing games such as Boxer’s Road and Victorious Boxers 2, where training affects different muscle groups, and are actually reflected in the boxer’s physical appearance.  If they do weights, expect bigger muscles.  If they do sit ups, expect more defined abs.  These are little things that add to the realism.  Fourth, consider adding weight management to the game.  Some people might not like managing what a boxer eats for every meal, so perhaps make this an optional inclusion that gamers can choose.  Fifth, have the trainer actually teach you things, constructive things that you can use in a fight.  Allow players to watch videos of their upcoming opponents and discuss their strengths and weaknesses with your trainer.  Sixth, allow for injuries during a fight (or even during training if you overtrain) which affect the boxer’s ratings and/or ability to train.  Seventh, consider putting in contract negotiations.  Discuss your share of the purse.

Well, these are just some suggestions.  Don’t get me wrong, I really like playing FNR4, but I think it could have been so much more, especially the Legacy Mode.  Hopefully EA can make another leap with FNR5, whenever they get around to developing it.

Review: Fight Night Round 4 (Part III – Legacy Mode) August 6, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Boxing, Game Reviews.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
4 comments

Previous: Part I – Game Features; Part II – Gameplay

Legacy Mode

One of the most-hyped features of FNR4 is its revamped ‘Legacy Mode’, advertised as a huge upgrade on the Career Mode in FNR3.  While this may be the case, Legacy Mode is ultimately a huge disappointment loaded with gimmicks but lacks realism, playability and freedom.  It really makes me wonder whether after 3 years this was the best they could have come up with, especially considering there are already superior career modes out there in other boxing games.

Overview

FRN4’s Legacy Mode begins with an exciting video intro with a voiceover by your old man trainer.  You can choose to be a newly created boxer (using the Create Boxer feature) or one of the licensed boxers in the game.  Either way, you commence your career with a very poor set of ratings (including power, hand speed, head movement, block strength, heart, chin, etc) and you go straight into an amateur tournament to get a few fights under your belt.

After the tournament, you automatically turn pro, and that’s where the game really starts.  Legacy Mode only has two essential features: training mini-games and fighting.  You schedule a fight with an opponent in your weight class on the calendar, and before each fight you’ll have training sessions, the number of which will depend on the amount of time until the fight.  For instance, 1 month might get you 1 session and 3 months might get you 2.

You then train for the fight through the 6 mini-games available, each one targeting a set of ratings.  The increase in ratings depends on the level of success you achieve in the mini-game chosen.  If you get a ‘Champion’ ranking then you could get a 5 or 6 point increase in some of the ratings, but if you get a ‘Bum’ rating, then you might only get 1 point increases.   However, regardless of how well you do, some ratings will always go down, so unless you do well in training, you may find your ratings stuck in the mud.  The games range from simple sparring to putting together assigned punch combinations to pushing to heavy bag as far as you can.

legacy mode 2

The training games can get a bit tedious in FNR4

Then comes the actual bout.  Each boxing match you fight will affect your ranking in your division, your pound-for-pound (P4P) ranking, popularity (percentage out of 100) and your ‘Legacy Status’.  You start off as a ‘Bum’ then work your way up the ladder to ‘Prospect’, ‘Contender’, ‘Champion’ etc, then eventually the ‘Greatest of All Time’.  As you improve, you may notice your boxer working out in a more up-market gym.

Legacy Mode also has an email system whereby you can receive messages from your trainer.  Usually they discuss your progress, whether you’ve been nominated for an end-of-year award (eg Fighter of the Year, Knockout of the Year, Prospect of the Year etc), and if you’ve become champion, the option to go up to another weight class.

So essentially, the game revolves around doing well in the training mini-games to boost your ratings and then winning your fights to improve your rankings.  Occasionally you will check your email.  That’s about it.

Over-reliance on mini-games

The biggest problem with FNR4’s Legacy Mode is its over-reliance on mini-games.  Your boxer’s ratings all depend on your performance in the mini-games, and they are not easy.

The main reason is due to the precision of the right analogue stick.  Sometimes one tiny wrong flick will mean a less than perfect training session and less than optimal results.  You can choose to auto-train the session, but you’ll only achieve 50% of the maximum improvement obtainable.  However, even then, it might be preferable to auto-train because you only need to make a few mistakes to end up being worse off.

As a result, it became necessary to turn off the auto-save function so I could repeat the training sessions multiple times in order to get better ratings for my boxer (otherwise I would just get murdered in the ring).  Even then, it has culminated in a lot of frustration, and I still haven’t gotten the hang of a couple of the training sessions.  This can be a turnoff for the first-time player who may find his boxer’s stats stuck on mediocre.

The concept of the mini-game as training is not bad, but FNR4 relies too much on it.  It makes the game more difficult but not necessarily more enjoyable.  They could have easily incorporated other elements of a fighter’s regimen into the game.  Furthermore, from the perspective of realism, the ratings improved by the mini-games don’t necessarily correspond with the type of training involved.

Interestingly, the August DLC will allow users to allocate face buttons for punches instead of relying on the right analog stick.  This might actually make the mini-games too easy.

One dimensional gameplay

Consequently, Legacy Mode’s gameplay can get awfully one dimensional.  You train and fight, train and fight, check the occasional email and awards list, until you retire.  The divisional and P4P rankings and popularity percentage are arbitrary – you win and they go up, you lose and they go down – you don ‘t understand how it is calculated or the science behind it.  Is it based on the person you fight or the quality of the fight or both?

Fight and train, fight and train

Fight and train, fight and train

Moreover, the people you can fight are limited.  You only get to choose a number of people around your ranking, and in some instances you are prohibited from challenging a person ranked above you.  You get the occasional challenge from an opponent, but unless your stats are sufficiently upgraded, accepting the challenge can be suicide.  Consequently, I found myself picking on an opponent I know I can beat and fought him 5 or 6 times in a row in order to pad my ratings.  It’s not exactly realistic or fun.

The emails and awards are also very repetitive and get boring quickly.  After a while you’ll find yourself allowing the emails to stack up and deleting them in bulk when the number gets annoyingly high, and skipping the awards list each year.

Gimmicks rather than realism

FNR4’s Legacy Mode is touted as the most realistic and comprehensive career mode of all time, but it focuses more on gimmicks than realism.

Take for example the new addition of the P4P rankings, emails, awards and Legacy Status – none of them really mean much in terms of gameplay.  They are good concepts to have, but in the game they are no more than numbers.  You become the no. 1 P4P fighter in the world – but so what?  There’s no concept of money in the game, so you it’s not like you can demand more money or fight opponents that would otherwise decline your challenge.  As mentioned before, the emails are repetitive and lose their impact after a little whole.

Further, the awards are kind of pointless.  You win an award, you see your name and photo on a list, but that’s all.  There’s no press conference, no video highlights, no magazine or newspaper clipping, no trophy cabinet – and most importantly, nothing to show for it in terms of new items or improved ratings or flexibility in who you can fight.  The awards are also handed out quite randomly too.  You might see a Prospect of the Year with a losing record or a Fighter of the Year with an average record.  The thing is, apart from yourself, you don’t really know anything about the other fighters or other divisions, so they are virtually pointless.

Instead of focusing on gimmicks, Legacy Mode ought to have focused more on realism.  Perhaps the biggest problem is that ‘money’ has been taken out of Legacy Mode.  Like it or not, the majority of boxers out there fight for money and the big payday.  Without money, a large chunk of excitement has been taken out of the game.  It would have been good to work to have been able to work your way up to bigger paydays, have contract negotiations, been able to spend on equipment, promoters, trainers, cut men, things like that.  And what about weight control, one of the most important aspects of any fighter’s fight camp?

legacy 1

Youcan customize the rankings before the start of Legacy Mode

A second issue I had was with the rankings and opponents.  There are 3 belts in each division, but only one set of rankings.  Realistically, there should be three sets of rankings, one for each belt.  And realistically, there should be more than just 3 belts.  Your opponents, on the other hand, don’t give you much to get excited about.  They may have high ratings, but not many have decent records.  Most have at least 4 or 5 losses at the very least and a bunch of draws without many knockouts.  In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen a fighter with an undefeated record.  As a result, don’t expect to be a part of any superfights between undefeated boxers.

A third complaint is in the boxer’s looks.  From start to finish, your boxer looks the way you created him (or the way he was created).  He doesn’t age, and his body shape, muscle tone etc, do not change.  From amateur to world champion, your boxer will look exactly the same.  It’s disappointing because if they wanted the game to be realistic they should have focused on these aspects, and the truth is, other boxing games have focused on all of these things.

No freedom

Legacy Mode offers little in terms of realistic freedom for players.  Other boxing simulations have incorporated important aspects of a boxer’s life such as diet (eg Boxer’s Road, a PS1 game (!) allowed users to choose exactly what their boxer ate for each meal and when they ate it).  There’s no choice of promoter or trainer, no choice of cut man.  No choice of training equipment or sparring partners.  Boxers aren’t allowed to relocate to other gyms or other countries (or start from a country other than America).

There’s just too much that is arbitrary about the game.  You automatically change to a more up-market gym; you only get an opportunity to change weight divisions after you become champion and you can only move up a maximum of two weight classes at most.  There’s just not enough flexibility and too many limitations for Legacy Mode to feel like a realistic boxing simulation.

Final Word on Legacy Mode

FNR4’s biggest selling point is supposed to be its Legacy Mode.  On its face, it looks like it has a lot to offer, but when you really think about it and break down the elements, Legacy Mode fails to live up to expectations.  From the repetitive gameplay to the lack of realism and freedom, Legacy Mode doesn’t compare favourably to what is already out there on the market.  It may be a few more years before FNR5 is released, but when it does, let’s hope they can do a much better job.

Verdict

Graphics: 10/10

Sound: 9/10

Gameplay: 8/10

Online: 8/10

Legacy Mode: 5/10

Overall: 7/10

Next: Fight Night Round 5 Wishlist!

Review: Fight Night Round 4 (Part II – Gameplay) August 3, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Boxing, Game Reviews.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

Previous: Part I – Game Features

Gameplay

So, what’s the actual fighting gameplay like in FNR4?  After all, that is the most important part of any game.  In my opinion, it is very good for a boxing game, but there’s plenty of room for improvement.

fightnight4

The gameplay in FNR4 is good but could be a lot better

The best parts

The best part is the new physics system, which allows a variety of punches from different angles creating different impacts.  Some of the punches can still appear a teeny bit mechanical at times, but it’s hard to complain.  Gone is the stupid parry system from FNR3.  The computer AI is also quite good, especially on the higher difficulty levels.  You can’t just keep throwing wild punches recklessly or else you’ll get countered all day.  You really have to take your time, figure out your opponent’s weaknesses and then exploit them.  It makes the game tactical – you can keep your distance and jab your way to an easy victory, or you can take risks and go for the KO – it really is a risk-reward system.

Counterpunching

One aspect of the game that has been emphasized is the counterpunching.  When you dodge or block an opponent’s punch with perfect timing, you’ll get the opportunity to connect with a counterpunch, which not only does more damage but has a chance of generating a critical punch or instant knockdown.  I must say it is done very well in FNR4, where time feels like it slows down, and there is a flash of light and enhanced sound effects upon impact.  It adds to the technical side of the game, requiring players to think before they throw.   Head movement, accurate punches and well-timed blocks have all become highly important.  This goes a long way towards making a realistic boxing simulation.

Fight-Night-Round-4-New-Features-Analysis

In FNR4, if you miss, you will pay

Too many punches

However, this is where FNR4’s biggest problem in terms of gameplay comes in – it still plays too much like an arcade game rather than a simulation.  Due to the speed with which stamina and health replenishes, coupled with the lack of damage caused by ordinary (ie non-critical) punches, you’ll find a tendency to throw punches all round, every round.  They are not reckless punches, but because you can throw a lot of punches without getting tired or hurting your opponent, you generally will.  As a result, there is rarely a round where I end up throwing less than 100 punches.  In a 12 round bout, even when using a boxer with punching power over 90 in both hands, I can easily end up throwing over 1,000 punches, connecting over 50%, and yet still not knock the opponent out.  Even when you stun an opponent, they recover with amazing quickness.  In real life the effect of a single punch can linger for an entire fight, but in FNR4, they only last for about 10 seconds, no matter how devastatingly hurt a fighter is.  The lack of realism can be frustrating.

On the other hand, throwing a lot of punches almost always guarantees a unanimous decision victory.  The only times when I have lost rounds were when my boxer got knocked down.  Even against aggressive opponents, the AI doesn’t throw nearly as many punches as you would expect.   It would have been better if the AI adjusts the opponent’s punch output according to your own.

Therefore, if you want a bit of excitement, you’ll have to take risks and throw haymakers (which cause more damage but are slow as hell).  However, the chance of a haymaker causing a knockdown or critical punch seems to be rather random.  And when they connect, they don’t necessarily do much damage, even though it looks powerful enough to knock anyone out cold (especially since the opponent staggers backwards).  Yes, you can wear your opponent down and finish them off in the later rounds, but if you want a quick KO, you essentially have to keep throwing haymakers and hope for the best.   Even then you might not succeed.  I could land 4 or 5 of Iron Mike’s trademark crouching left hooks in quick succession on an opponent 2 weight classes below and still not do much damage.  It can look like a Rocky movie sometimes.

knockout

You have to throw a lot of punches or be lucky to KO someone

Knockdowns

The probability of the opponent getting up from a knockdown is also quite arbitrary.  They usually will get up after an initial knockdown, and depending on their ‘Heart’ rating, may get up from a second.  Few get up after a third.  When a KO is coming, boxers will usually try to get up and then fall, prompting the referee to call an immediate halt, or they just get counted out after a little struggling.  No one ever gets knocked out cold.

Again, this is disappointing.  A bit more variety would not have hurt.  It gets to a point where you can immediately tell after the first few seconds following a knockdown whether your opponent will get back up or not, and the way in which it will happen.  The game-makers could have, for example, allowed referees to end a fight immediately after a brutal knockdown without administering a count, or call a fight when a boxer is seriously hurt but not knocked down, or when they are being battered defenselessly without fighting back.  That’s the type of realism I was expecting.

Pushing and clinching

Pushing and clinching are integral to the sweet science, and FNR4 has implemented both adequately, but not exceptionally.  Pushing is a button and clinching is another on the control pad, which makes it easy to execute.

Pushing can be valuable to free up some distance or pin your opponent against the ropes or in a corner, but it’s not as effective as you think it could be.   It is best utilized offensively when your opponent is hurt but they are blocking all your punches; a push can mess up the accurate guard or cut off their escape route.  Defensively, a push is effective when you are up against an inside fighter who has got you trapped.  While these sound good on paper, you’ll find that they don’t appear much in actual gameplay.

Clinching, on the other hand, is a double-edged sword.  Anyone who has seen a real-life boxing match knows it happens a lot, particularly in the higher weight classes.  However, in a boxing game, you don’t want to turn your fight into a bore, so clinching becomes a rarity.  In FNR4, your opponent tends to only clinch when you have them hurt, and boy, are they good at it.  You can hurt your opponent 4 or 5 times in a single round and yet be unable to administer a knockdown.  It adds difficulty to a bout but not realism.

The big improvement in clinching is that it’s not always the same animation – the type of clinch you end up in depends on the positions of the boxers.  It’s a little thing but it adds to the overall package.  However, unfortunately you are unable to throw punches in a clinch like they often do in real life.

Special and illegal moves

Of course, no good boxing game would be complete without special and illegal moves.  FNR4 allocates a button on the control pad for each.

You’ll now be able to execute Mike Tyson’s crouching left hook, or Muhammad Ali’s famous shuffle with ease whenever you want.  However, it is a shame that each boxer only has one special move they can execute (to the head or to the body), and the variety is somewhat limited.  Moreover, the damage a special punch can inflict is sometimes not worth the risk of throwing it.  They take a long time to throw and are easy to counter.

Illegal blows, on the other hand, are the same as always.  An obvious head butt or low blow will do some damage, but not enough to warrant continuous use.  Once will earn a warning, twice a point deduction, and if you keep it up a disqualification loss.  It’s all very arbitrary – the first one’s always a freebie, even though it’s probably obvious enough to earn an immediate DQ in real life.  It’s rather pointless really.  If they really wanted to spice it up they could have added illegal blows in clinches, and have signature ones such as the Tyson ear bite!

HOLYFIELD TYSON

This was the type of move I wanted to see!

Cuts and swelling

The cuts and swelling in FNR4 is not as obvious visually.  The commentator will mention it, but you don’t see much more than the odd bruise or trickle of blood on a fighter’s face.  I would have liked it more if the damage on a fighter’s face is corresponds closer to the Damage meter.  You won’t see any closed eyes, grotesque swelling or deep cuts caused by punches (or head butts) in the game like in real life.  Darn.

The worst part about it all is how a fight can end due to cuts or swelling.  If your boxer has a low cuts/swelling rating, it can all end in a hurry.  No warning from the referee, no checks by the doctor – you can be dominating the fight or be in the middle of a heated exchange, and ‘poof’ – suddenly it’s all over and you’ve lost.  On top of that, the fighter’s face doesn’t even look like it’s bad enough for the fight to be stopped at all.  It’s probably the one thing that has been handled worst in the entire game.

Between rounds

The ‘mini-game’ in between rounds where you can distribute the points you earned in the previous round is both good and bad.  It’s good because it rewards the user for being smart with both offense and defense.  On the other hand, it’s bad because it’s unrealistic and it feels like a bit of a waste of time.  In real life, you don’t get to choose whether you replenish your health, stamina or recover from damage.  Besides, the computer generally does a pretty decent job of choosing which meter to use your points on, so I usually just choose ‘auto’ and let it do its thing.

corner

Your corner doesn't do much in FNR4

I would have liked to have seen the trainer getting in your face and giving you some constructive advice, or the cutman working a cut, pressing down the swelling or applying Vaseline, the fighter spitting out blood and rinsing his mouth.  Stuff like that to bring out the brutality of the sport and the pain and damage of the punches landed.

So at the end of the day, while the fighting in FNR4 is fun and can be addictive, there are still a lot of problems that can be fixed.  Most of them are minor, but can really add to the realism of the game if EA just put a little more thought and effort into it.

Next up: Part III: Legacy Mode!

And Lastly: Fight Night Round 5 Wishlist!

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

Posted by pacejmiller in Boxing, Game Reviews.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
5 comments

fight-night-round-4-ss-7

[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.

fight-night-round-4-20090409014431383

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.

22_01_09_fight-night-round-4_06-443x296

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.

fight_night_4_muscles1

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.

fight-night-round-4-title

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!

%d bloggers like this: