Three and a half years ago gamers were given the best boxing title ever in Fight Night Round 3. The team at EA Chicago developed a title that looked great, with the potential to turn anyone into a diehard boxing fan. The addictive nature of the gameplay, amazing visuals and high difficulty made for a fantastic overall experience. With Fight Night Round 4, the team at EA Canada have not only matched all of the great accomplishments of the previous title, but also exceeded the greatness of the overall experience with a far more deeper career mode (called Legacy) and an improved punch stick that makes the gameplay as realistic as we’ve ever seen it in a boxing title.
There’s no doubting that FNR3 was a good game, but it wasn’t without its problems. While it looked fantastic, the boxer animations were extremely awkward. On the gameplay front, the analog control was inconsistent and at times frustrating and the career mode was anything but a deep and enjoyable rags-to-riches experience. Thankfully, FNR4 improves on all of these aspects. The visuals have been improved, with less clipping and better boxer animations, with the game running at a very impressive 60 frames per second throughout.
The fighting engine is completely physics based, with the physical contact between the boxers far more consistent and realistic than in FNR3. In the previous title, some blows to the body caused ugly clipping issues between the boxers when their gloves crossed paths and suddenly became “tangled”. This doesn’t happen at all in FNR4, which is great as it allows for a more fluid and free-flowing boxing experience.
The career mode has been given the biggest upgrade in FNR4, with the Legacy mode providing a challenging and deep career experience. As opposed to the career mode in FNR3 where you simply went up against fighters to climb the ranks, Legacy has you acting as your own manager as you book fights against foes within your ranking and weight bracket, as well as your training sessions before each fight. Being able to manage your fighters time well is integral to his ability to climb the ranks, as being able to get plenty of time in the practice gym is extremely important to build up skills. You can skip over a training session and have the CPU simulate it for you, but your boxer will only see a maximum increase of 50% this way. If you choose to do the training yourself, you have the potential to get the full skill increase, but you also risk having no gain at all if you fail to meet the training requirements of the session.
There’s really only one downfall with this method of scheduling and that is that you can only train a certain number of times. For example, if you have seven days until your next fight, you’d think you’d be able to train for seven of those days. However, you’re only able to train on one of those days and each of the remaining six days is automatically simulated until you reach the day of the fight. There’s a feeling that the developer wanted to create a sense of rest and recovery, but considering how much time is set aside for recovery after each match (sometimes upwards of a full month of inactivity), there is really no reason why a boxer can’t train more than one day in a row.
The ultimate goal of the Legacy mode is to build up popularity and meet certain goal requirements, such as consecutive wins, KO’s and wins on nationally televised matches. Once you reach these requirements you’ll notice that your boxer will get more offers to fight and his rankings will increase a lot faster. You don’t have to accept every fighting challenge, but it is important to accept one every now and then to keep you on the good side of the fans. Unless you want fans booing you as you enter the arena, it’s important to do as much as you can and be as successful as you can when fighting in televised matches.
There are a few other issues with the Legacy mode though. The boxer rankings and award system both seem a little off, with neither rewarding a player based on their actual record. Your fighter could have been fighting for a year with a 11-0 record, yet a boxer with a horrendous record of 15-7-5 will be rewarded with the “Prospect of the Year” award. It seems as though the game rewards boxers based on how many fights they participate in or how many matches they’ve won without considering their full record. Furthermore, you could be ranked 45 overall and complete a knockout against someone ranked 38, only to see your ranking climb one to 44, even though boxers above you have all lost recently and have worse records than you. It’s a bit inconsistent and kind of removes some of the incentive to fight as often as possible and try to be as popular as possible.
The analog punch control has been improved immensely from FNR3, with a far more responsive implementation the second time round. All of your jabs, uppercuts, haymakers and hooks are made with the analog stick. EA have really mastered the use of the analog in sports titles, first implementing a near-perfect gameplay experience in Skate, before doing it again with FNR4. It’s not as responsive as button mashing, but because you have to time your punches more accordingly based on how quickly you can move the analog stick, it adds a sense of realism to the gameplay. It’s easy to simply hit A, B, A for a quick 1-2-3 punch rhythm, but if you want to be effective in the ring you really have to train up your boxer and master the use of the analog stick. It’s an effective implementation that increases the difficult tenfold on button configuration, but actually makes it feel like more of a genuine sporting sim.
Success in the ring really comes down to your own technique and strategies, both in single-player and multiplayer gameplay. When you’re going up against the CPU, you can block and counter punch without much thought, as the CPU plays far more defensively, blocking nearly all of your oncoming punches, yet rarely throwing any of its own your way. However, when you play against a friend, be it online or offline, throwing punch after punch won’t get you far. The gameplay really shines when playing with a mate, as a human opponent offers a far more realistic experience with more frequent counter punchers and a far more offensive attack. It’s undeniable that humans play with far more aggression than the CPU, throwing as many punches as possible before laying the final blow after a great block. When you have two people with the same technique going up against each other, the action can get pretty heated up.
FNR3 will always be remembered for its jaw-dropping visuals, which, at the time, were amazing. They still hold up today, but there were far too many issues with the animations for it to hold anything to FNR4. This title has a far more smoother presentation, with better crowd and boxer animations, as well as better character design. The physics engine looks superb, having taken a step up from FNR3 with better looking bruising and sweat on boxers as they get deep in a match.
The sound is a mixed-bag. While the commentators in Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas give an energetic performance, most of their comments are far to generic and misinforming than entertaining. They’ll often refer to boxers as “he” instead of their actual name, so you’ll hear things like “he’s tiring out” or “he’s taken a lot of hits to the face”, so you never really know how your fighter is going in a round until you return to your corner. The only time they do say the name is when they have something positive to say about the boxer, which doesn’t really help in planning tactics for the round. Granted, you shouldn’t rely on the commentary to get you through a match, but it would have felt slightly more realistic if they made more personal references throughout a match. However, the great hip-hop centric soundtrack counters the inconsistent commentary, coupled with great punching sound effects.
Fight Night Round 4 is a great boxing game, improving on many aspects that FNR3 tried to do but didn’t do all that well. The analog control has been near perfected, although it takes a lot of time to master. The career mode has been improved dramatically, but it’s not without it’s problems. You’ll still get plenty of enjoyment out of it though as you lead your boxer to be the Greatest of all Time. Multiplayer is all about counter-punching and being as aggressive as possible and can be a lot of fun against mates. Visually, FNR4 improves on the gorgeous FNR3, with no animation and graphical glitches that plagued that title.
This is how a fighting game should be. This is as good as a boxing sim gets, with gameplay mechanics that take a while to master. Once you get past that difficulty barrier, the game is yours to conquer. Legacy mode is good, but has a few minor problems.
The whole game just looks fantastic, from the menus to the crowd. The boxers are the stand-out (obviously), with amazing muscle movement, sweat and real-time bruising during fights. Gorgeous.
A great soundtrack coupled with great sound effects. The commentary team is good although a little inconsistent.
Legacy mode will last you a long time, and the World Championship Mode is worth checking out and playing over and over again. You can create a whole hoard of boxers and share them with mates, and then you have the super challenging multiplayer.