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Fight Night: Round 4

Score: 83%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2 (Local and Online)
Genre: Sports (Boxing)/ Fighting/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Sports games rarely pique my interest, but I must admit to being a fan of EA's Fight Night series ever since Round 2. The franchise, known for its realistic visuals and silky-smooth controls, has deftly captured the essence of the brutal ballet known as boxing. Fight Night Round 4 is the latest contender to step into the ring, and it's a strong one, despite a few weaknesses.

If you thought Fight Night: Round 3 was a good-looking game, prepare to be floored. Round 4 positively shimmers with visual brilliance when you're inside the ring. The boxers have been painstakingly recreated in their prime condition. Counter-punches are punctuated with blinding flashes and followed by strings of spittle and blood. When a boxer is about to drop, his eyes assume a deadened expression that conveys the perfect mix of agonizing pain and crushing fatigue. Menu screens carry the same Fight Night "poster" theme, which fits the subject matter well.

Round 4's audio design is great on some levels and merely adequate on others. It sounds like the developers spent some time making audio recordings of a person punching a giant beef brisket; when these sounds are matched up with blows to a boxer's head and body, it's disgusting and awesome at the same time. The soundtrack is a bit more accessible than both Round 2 and Round 3's, but it is still very rap heavy. Of course, as with most EA Trax, you can choose what you want to hear.


Gameplay:

We've all heard the sport of boxing referred to as "the sweet science." However, the "sweet" part is debatable -- after all, the main point of boxing, and by extension Fight Night: Round 4, is to prove to your opponent that you are more than capable of turning his face into something that looks like a mix between a cauliflower and a grapefruit.

Round 4 marks the franchise's return to lightning-fast action, a definite and welcome departure from the oddly sluggish Round 3. Punches fly at an exponentially higher rate in this game, which makes the game more exciting and challenging.

I don't like Menu navigation in games like this. There was a lot of it in UFC 2009: Undisputed, and unfortunately, Round 4 shares that problem. This is most obvious when you're progressing through Legacy Mode. For those who don't know, Legacy Mode allows you to choose from a stable of fighters and simulate their careers, training and all. You can rebuild the career of the Louisville Lip (Muhammad Ali) or the original Kid Dynamite (Mike Tyson). Of course, you can also create your own boxer -- with either the game's remarkably robust character creation tools or an Xbox Live Vision Camera. Due to the amount of calendar surfing and training mini-games, Legacy Mode's big payoff doesn't really make itself known until near the end, when all your stats click into place and your personal skills become unstoppable.

I'm happy to report that Round 4 has an excellent online component. My household suffers from an unusually bad connection and not once did I lag out of a match. Servers can make or break the quality of any game's multiplayer, but in games like Round 4 (where sharp reflexes are a must), the servers absolutely "make" it.


Difficulty:

I found Fight Night: Round 4 to be a more difficult game than its predecessors, if only because of the faster pace and the new controls. If you're playing through Legacy Mode, you'll find many of your early rivals can be overpowered with an unstoppable flurry of jabs and hooks (which, oddly enough, is rarely reciprocated by your opponent). However, once you make enough progress from the initial "Bum" ranking, you'll soon learn that a purely offensive strategy won't fly you all the way to "Greatest of All Time." Counter-punches are far tougher to earn in this game than they are in any of the previous installments in the series. When you land one, you'll feel like you've earned it. However, your opponent is usually very good at opening a window in your defense (and then sending a fist flying through that window). It's sometimes frustrating, but you could consider the punishment a case of tough love.

If you've played any of the previous Fight Night games, forget nearly everything you know. Round 4 brings its own slate of new mechanics. You'd better re-educate yourself if you want to have your glove held up at the end of the match. Regardless of what you know or if you know anything at all, Round 4 will take a while to get into.

Round 4 shares in the series' replay value -- that's a good thing, because 2004, Round 2, and Round 3 were very addictive. Regardless of what else you're playing, you'll always feel tempted to step back into the ring and punch someone's face into a bloody, swollen mess.


Game Mechanics:

Those of you who stubbornly clung to your face buttons in previous Fight Night games will be forced to try something new, as button presses have been almost completely eliminated from the core of Fight Night: Round 4's control scheme. The developers have worked hard on the trademarked Total Punch Control, and you'll use it whether you want to or not. Stop whining, button-mashers -- it's for your own good.

Most of the functions that are not assigned to the Right Analog Stick have not changed in Round 4. You'll clinch with (Y), block with the Right Trigger, lean with the Left Trigger, and attempt to land an illegal blow with (B). I'll go on record here -- you cannot bite ears in this game. However, you can butt heads and punch crotches. Everything else that is punch-related is assigned to the Right Analog Stick; different kinds of flicks and half-circles will allow your boxer to jab, hook, uppercut, and haymaker his way to victory.

Veterans can also use the Classic Punch Control, although I found it very lacking. In earlier games, I remember inputting quick Z-motions on the Right Analog Stick to throw haymaker after haymaker. It doesn't seem to translate well in Round 4. Even though it's not too easy to pick up, the New Total Punch Control rewards those who practice with it.

One welcome addition to the Fight Night formula is the new Corner Game. In previous installments, you could play as the cutman between rounds. The cutman's job was to heal your boxer's wounds, and you helped him carry out his job by participating in analog stick-based mini-games. This has been replaced by a much more interesting (albeit less immersive) recovery system. In each round, the game judges how well you fight. It awards you points that you can use between rounds. How you use these points is up to you, but you'll always have an easy time deciding whether you need some damage repair or more stamina.

I didn't enjoy Fight Night: Round 4 as much as Round 2, but I liked it more than Round 3. The New Total Punch Control isn't as smooth as it could be and the Legacy Mode has a few kinks, but the great online play and killer presentation should have pugilism enthusiasts cheering.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

Windows Delta Force Xtreme 2 Sony PlayStation 3 Inferno Pool

 
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