Fight Night Round 4 is one of the most anticipated games of the year. Some of the hype has to do with the fact that the graphics looks great. Some of it has to do with the fact that FNR3 was a great game in its own right. But I think that cover really put it over the top. The hype machine was running on all cylinders with the release of this game. Does this game live up to the hype and become a legend like some of the fighters in the game? Find out after the jump.
Gameplay: Select “Fight Now” and you have your choice of over 40 current stars and boxing legends. You can choose to fight in a dozen different venues from Madison Square Garden (called New York Arena in the game) to a training gym. Everything is available right from the start so you could pop the disc in and (after a short tutorial to teach you the controls) play the marquis match-up of Ali-Tyson.
The fighting itself is a new experience for old-school button mashers (like me) and slightly updated for folks who played FNR3. All your punches are tied to the right stick while signature punches (think Apollo Creed), illegal blows (think Andrew Golota), and haymakers (think Todd Bertuzzi… too soon?) are each tied to their own buttons. You can block high and low but your main defensive weapon will be leaning out of the way. Time your block or dodge right and you can unleash a devastating counter bunch. The control scheme is a bit overwhelming at first but as you get some fights under your belt, you get used to it. And you need to figure things out quickly because the AI will eat you alive if you throw random punches. It learns your tendancies and will try to counter your technique. That means you have to switch things up to keep the heat on your opponent.
One of the main gripes that you’ll read about fighting in FNR4 is counter punching. The CPU has an uncanny ability to pick you apart with counter punches. I find this a bit annoying because counter punching is a key skill required to beatdown your opponent. Counter punches do more damage than a normal punch but can carry enough weight behind them to put you on the floor. It’s a great system because it keeps people from throwing punches ad nauseam. But if the CPU can just stand there to earn a counter punch while you dodge, dive, dip, duck, and dodge to get a counter punch opportunity. I often found that even after only six rounds, the CPU could have more than double the number of counter punch opportunities than you and those punches will do more damage than yours. It’s something that needs tweaking for Round 5 but it’s not going to make or break the playing experience. It just forces you to be very careful when mixing it up.
You’ll spend most of your time in Legacy Mode which is the career mode in FNR4. You can either play as a real fighter or create a new one. I chose to play as a created fighter because I figured that is what most people would try. You start in an amateur tournament (whose purpose I can’t recall) and then you work your way up the ladder. Your overall career objective is to beat the crap out of everyone en route to become the greatest fighter of all time. You pick your opponents and fight dates, play training mini-games to improve your fighters, and then step foot in the ring. Every win brings you one step closer to a title and becoming the greatest of all time. It’s a relatively simple career mode but it’s effective if all you want to do is fight. If you wanted to play a hand in choosing trainers or fight promotion, then you won’t find your in-depth material here.
One other gripe I have is that I can’t stand the training games. Clearly you need to play them to get the maximum skill upgrade for your fighter. However, they are dull, tedious and difficult. With the exception of the two sparring mini-games, I just used auto-train to upgrade my fighter. It’s a shame that you have to do that because the training games are exactly what you would find in an actual boxing gym.
Graphics: I’ve played a few games with great graphics (Bioshock, Prince of Persia) but when it comes to creating a purely realistic looking experience, this takes the cake. The fighters look great except when they’ve been pounded to oblivion. Then they look as ugly as expected (in a “I wish this was in 1080i HD” way). The stadiums and crowds are good. The ring entrances are near perfection. Even the video game elements of the fights (flashes during counter punches, ring corner menu, health bars) blend in nicely and look as if they belong. The ESPN integration looks like it permeated through the whole design. From the ticker bar to fight stats to fighter selection to the Legacy Mode menu, everything looks like it could be on an ESPN broadcast. In short, this could very well be the best looking sports game ever made. Well, at least until Gran Turismo 5 and Madden 10 come out. Even then, I might be surprised (though not as much with GT5).
Audio: Joe Tessatore and Teddy Atlas are competent sounding but not spectacular as commentators. They keep up with the action but there aren’t a lot of phrases that they use. The commentary will be roughly the same fight to fight and even round to round. Poor job by EA on the scripting. The ring announcer isn’t memorable. They should have hired a professional that actually does big pay-per-view fights. However, the rest of the audio was great. The soundtrack is great and I’m not even a fan of hip-hop and rap. The punch sounds are great. The crowd and arena ambiance is excellent and you can hear and feel the difference between a club fight and a pay-per-view main event. And I even love how well your fighter’s name is blended into the action so that Joe’s call sounds natural rather than forced or muffled like in many other sports games. Overall, I absolutely love how this game turned out on the audio end. And that’s high praise coming from a radio guy whose life is in sound.
Final Thoughts: This is the most fun I’ve had playing a boxing game since the NES classic Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. Maybe you need Mike Tyson in the game to make it a success. Either way, this game will go down as an all-time classic. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it pick up a pile of awards at year’s end. I’m shocking myself by saying this but I think it will unseat EA’s NHL series as the best sports game of 2009. Whether or not you’re a boxing fan, this is one game that needs to be in your collection.
Overall: ★★★★½ (of 5 stars)
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