Release your inner maniac
EA’s latest offering of boxing goodness is of course Fight Night Round 4. The track record of said publisher seems sketchy at best, for previous sporting games, pumping out annual editions of the same tired titles seemed to be a norm, but recently, EA seems to be getting their act together.
Alright, lets not go overboard here, EA aren’t reinventing the wheel exactly with their titles but they are putting a lot more effort into their games and you know, acting like the consumer isn’t just buying it because its shiny and ‘the man from the telly is on it’.
So EA Canada have taken their sweet time developing this game, three years to be exact and I can confidently say it was three years well spent. The game looks amazing, admittedly it is a game only focusing on two greased up guys punching each other, but I have never seen such graphics before, played on HD you would be forgiven for screaming ‘boner’. Sweat and blood dribble down your fighters body, cuts and bruises look agonisingly real, punches make you wince, you really get a sense of immersion when playing.
So with a game this pretty you would hope that the gameplay packs the same punch (no pun intended) and well, yes and no. The best way I can describe Fight Round 4 to previous players and new players alike is imagine watching Rocky 3, then watching a real boxing match. In Round 3 you got a real theatrical version of boxing, the big punches are mixed with big sound effects, it is a much grander vision of what boxing actually is. Put another way if Round 3 is the big guy who works out, then Round 4 is the scrawny kid that goes for the balls and wins.
The realism is the most striking feature of Round 4, your boxer will be a distinct style of boxer, on past titles there seemed to be only the fast guy or the powerful guy. Anything in between wasn’t worth bothering with. What Round 4 has managed to do is introduce a variety of player types, you have speed guys, power guys, counter attackers, inside fighters, outside fighters and I could go on. The great thing is that these styles seem to mix well with each other, it is possible to focus primarily on a power fighter and then down the line start bringing up your punch speed to create a boxer fitted more to your play style. EA have really focused on character progression and it really pays of it terms of gameplay.
The boxing is a really accurate simulation, It is a joy to play, the game feels dirtier and grittier than Round 3 and not in a northern prostitute way but more like you are really slogging out a match with your opponent, a well timed punch connects, blood and spit flies away, your opponent recoils back and suddenly returns with a hate inspired haymaker. It is painful to behold but gleeful at the same time, blood lust sets in, nothing appears better than taking sledgehammer fists to your enemies face and tearing them up. I find myself worried that I have become Patrick Batemen, I want to slash, cut, tear my opponents face, I want to see blood dribble down from anywhere possible. Then I realise that I probably need to calm down and not become a headline. I have never before in a game taken such delight in deforming my opponent just to see what would happen, I found myself carrying my opponent Ali style, just inflict torture on them.
There is a real satisfaction to the game, when you score a knockout it is through skill rather than brute strength, the total punch control famously puts an end to button bashes but now it also puts an end to ‘stick fiddlers’, you cannot in Round 4 come out punching every which way and expect to last more than two rounds. You have to manage your health, stamina and block. So when you are going for an opponent, epically during the early stages of the legacy mode, you have to make sure you are going to put him down or your stamina will become your worst enemy. This makes for good strategic gameplay. It is also worth mentioning at this point that the commentary is a real delight to listen to, rarely hearing the same line twice and actually offering real insight to your approach to boxing.
I will find myself coming back until the next installment is released…
The game seems to have taken a leap akin to FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer five years ago. Where FIFA was an arcade style game which had little behind it in terms of strategy, Pro Evo took that next step into realism, edging further towards that Sim experience. This is something that Round 4 has attempted to do, but has failed slightly. It seems torn between trying to appeal to casual and hardcore. It never seems to strike a balance. Certain elements seem to be leaning more towards the hardcore player, for instance the core boxing gameplay. There is a lot of strategy involved, a more sophisticated approach is required of the gamer.
Firstly, the career mode, now known as Legacy Mode. The original Career Mode is something that needed a revamp, Round 3 gave us something utterly simple in its approach, keep fighting until your at the top and then retire. It was fun in a stupid sort of way and it did keep me playing for 3 years. Round 4’s Legacy Mode shows a new more mature approach to the career, starting with an amateur tournament which is a very good tutorial and way to get to grips with the gameplay changes. Once you are passed this stage you are into the ranking system, starting at 50 and working your way to number one and the title holder. This is where Round 4’s new approach fails, the Legacy Mode is simply too much of the same, It just seems like the Career Mode re branded with a calender and the choice to train more than once. The Legacy ranks too are utterly pointless, they never seem to impact on your way up and down the ranking system and they just serve to reflect whether or not you are doing good or bad. My main complaint with this mode is that there just isn’t enough variation and evolution from what Round 3 offered.
This isn’t to say that the game is bad, because it isn’t, I will find myself coming back until the next installment is released but I cant help but feel a little short changed with the three years and forty pounds I gave up. The training mode again isn’t anything short of passable. Round 3 gave us three mini games that required nothing more than thumbs and one brain cell, but this wasn’t a big deal. Round 4 boasts around seven training modes, some of which are just the same mini game with different buttons attached. The problem with these training modes is that they are poorly explained and very difficult, consequentially I found myself just auto training and completely skipping this element of gameplay. Also the stats are a little more confusing, you will find yourself completely ignoring certain things to find out later game that with no Heart, you wont get up and with no Chin you will not take any hits. Its very difficult, especially for a new comer, to know exactly what these stats govern.
I was also a little d
isappointed with the customization, the ability to create a character seems to have been shunned in favor of allowing a player to map there own face onto their character. Not having the tools to do so I found it very hard to create a boxer that looked anything more than generic. The amount of hair styles etc were surprisingly slim compared to the previous games and also the Fight Store seems to be reduced to nothing more than a series of unlockables with Warcraft inspired stat boosts.
It easy to focus on the negatives on this game as they do stick out but the game is very good, the boxing is excellent, a fifteen round fight is grueling, never before in a game after a fight have I felt so physically drained, at times I am in the fight going the distance, waiting for that counter opportunity, for this Round 4 is worth every single penny, but I cannot help but wish for EA to put their all into this game rather than just ninety five percent, these misjudgments in gameplay are a real shame because taken as a pure Boxing Sim, Round 4 offers above and beyond any one’s expectations, maybe in a few years time, with a Round 5 we will see a game that steps forward not just in the boxing experience but in the overall experience.
The Bad: * Bad Career Mode; * Totally unremarkable training; * Steep learning curve for a new comer