Fight Night Round 4 pushes the bar on all fronts. If you like your games dazzling and shiny with sweat, blood, and bruises galore, Fight Night Round 4 pleases. Or do you want the real side of boxing, with strategy, anticipation, clever ideas, comebacks, and surprises? Round 4 satisfies that desire, too. Simply put, Round 4 pushes and punches the boxing genre forward.
Compared to its predecessor, Fight Night Round 4 is more technical and aims to be more like real boxing, and this shows in every element of the game. This is, for the most part, a good thing. It shows up in computer behavior. Ali fights on the outside, but is highly unpredictable, like his forebear. Tyson is highly aggressive. Jermain Taylor is highly orthodox and by the book, and exceptionally so. George Foreman is highly aggressive yet still has reach. Curiosity alone makes the exhibition matches worth playing, since the most of these boxers haven’t fought each other. It’s not just the time periods: you can mix up the weight classes and see the effect that Foreman would have on a lightweight.
The controls use mainly the analog sticks, with the left stick being used to move and the right stick to punch. Out of the box, Fight Night Round 4 does not come with button-mapped punching, which is a possible dealbreaker. Or rather was, since EA caved to complaints and is releasing a patch in September that will add the button-mapped punching to the game. Until then, it’s analog only for punching. The computer (and other players) are easy to beat at first, but the old strategy of aggression, paired with smart timing and blocking, doesn’t work quite the same anymore, for various reasons.
One is the boxers’ varied abilities. Each boxer’s stats include height and reach, and there are different fighting styles as well. The most noticeable factor is inside and outside fighting. Boxers with longer arms will do better by staying away and tagging their opponents from a distance, while inside fighters have to get in if they want to succeed. The other styles are not quite as noticeable at first except when the computer is using them, but these differences open themselves up to players who play the game for a long time and who play competitively.
The fighting system also highly rewards counter-punching. An uppercut will do moderate damage by itself, but an uppercut used to counter a whiffed attack will almost always make the announcers mutter something about what a great punch that was, and the boxer who takes the hit will take a considerably larger amount of damage. In later fights and against expert players, mastering counterpunching will be a requirement, and it does not come easily. In fact, counterpunching is important to a fault. Some of the damage seems inconsistent; you can get 15 solid hits in on your opponent, and it seems like little is happening, but get in one or two counterpunches and you get a knockdown, or at least a temporary depletion of most of your opponent’s stamina bar.
This is all for the sake of making the player appreciate the strategy and mental game that goes into boxing, though, and Fight Night Round 4 does well at opening players’ minds to those aspects of boxing. As long as players put in the effort, the intricacies of boxing really open up and the abilities can be mastered. Simply put: it takes time, and it’s a hardcore game.
Other features are more realistic, too; the way the punches bounce off the body, the way punches can go around blocks, the audiences and arenas, and the updated career mode. Even the create a boxer option is more realistic, since you can go to EA.com and upload a photo of yourself (or anyone else) and translate it into a digital face for your new boxer.
The Legacy Mode in Round 4 is a moderate improvement on Round 3’s Career Mode. Instead of simply fighting through a series of boxers, you must manage your boxer and pick the right fights at the right time, as well as partake in training. The phone calls and emails are there to make it more realistic, but get to be mundane. The training is difficult and not fun, and there’s an auto-train option most players will elect to take that will give some stat boosts, but not all. Still, Legacy Mode is satisfying in that its challenge is not just to become champion, but to leave a mark and legacy on the sport itself.
Online, you cannot count on an opponents acting like the boxers they play, but the stats make the boxers different enough that they have to, to an extent. Here, the rough sides of the boxing system are made a little clearer. Boxers have a lot of stamina, and fights tend to go a bit longer. Disconnecting is penalized, so people don’t leave as often as in many other games. However, the excessive stamina and the small penalty for having your punches blocked or dodged turn it into a bash fest. Spamming, unfortunately, turns into somewhat of a preferred strategy for all but expert players.
The presentation is superb, especially the graphics. The range for boxer movement is the most impressive we’ve seen in any boxing game, and if a fight goes for long enough there are brief moments where you forget that you’re playing a game, not magically controlling real boxers. Meanwhile, the sound effects are par for the course. One flaw is that the announcers are repetitive, a common sports-game bane that Round 4 doesn’t escape.
Fight Night Round 4 undoubtedly brings boxing games to the next level. The boxers actually feel a bit different, the strategy and mastery is more complex, and the controls and counterpunch system mostly have a satisfying flavor rather than a frustrating one. The fights can be tests of endurance, like real boxing, so those who prefer a more casual or beginner-friendly game should check out the demo first. For those interested in the simulation of boxing and are willing to put in the time to get good at it, Fight Night Round 4 puts up an impressive performance.
Fight Night Round 4 is not perfect, but it’s the best simulation of the technical and strategic elements of boxing in any game to date.