Review by Archvelius

"A Contender, but not the Greatest of All Time"

Anyone familiar with boxing games is familiar with the Fight Night franchise, and with good reason – Fight Night is the bar by which other boxing games are judged. The latest installment, however, leaves something to be desired, feeling somewhat rushed despite several years of development. Don't get me wrong -- the game is fun -- but it's hindered by the exclusion of features that made previous entries great, as well as some fairly serious (though supposedly “rare”) bugs.

GRAPHICS
Realistic Eye-Candy

Graphically, the game is stunning. The boxers look very realistic, particularly when their faces jiggle in slow motion after a devastating knockout punch. Faces swell realistically, cuts bleed convincingly (though splatter from particularly nasty gashes is notably absent), and the boxers move and react like their real-life counterparts. Collision detection is great, too; some punches will collide in mid-swing and holes in the various varieties of guards can be exploited realistically. A phenomenal physics system weighs the damage dealt by punches based on how solid the hit is and precisely where it connects, rewarding precise punches and allowing agile boxers to avoid the brunt of even the heaviest of hits by leaning or sliding away. On the downside, boxers also fall much more realistically – fans of the series may be slightly disappointed to discover that knocking someone down into the ropes no longer allows for free (and wildly entertaining) punches on the spastic marionettes their opponents were once reduced to upon KO. It's a fair price to pay for the added realism, though – I can't really complain.
(9/10)

AUDIO
Sound Track or Sounds Wack?


The sound effects in-game are good, but nothing struck me as amazing. It's subtle, but very accurate to real-life in every way, in every hit, until someone gets knocked down. Actually, I like the sound of a knock-down punch as well; although it's much too crunchy and reverberating to sound realistic, it goes well with the slow motion close-ups and often hilarious expressions on fallen boxers' faces. Every once in awhile, a knockdown shot to the body will produce a sound as if the guy you've been beating on just pooped a little bit. They're special moments. Let's not forget the announcers, either – their random anecdotes get annoying after awhile, but they provide relevant, helpful commentary when you're making mistakes in a fight. Overall, the effects are good, but nothing to write home about.

While it's somewhat a matter of personal taste, I don't like many of the songs that permeate every aspect of the game outside of the actual fights. The soundtrack consists of two dozen songs, most of them very poppy rap and hip hop. Many of the tracks have nothing to do with boxing, and feel ill-suited to the game. Others seem to have been written specifically for the game, and sound like something the ‘artists' crapped out to make a quick buck. There's some big names on the list, too – meaning the soundtrack, despite how bad most of it is, was probably expensive. Most people will agree that there are a few decent tracks, though many would disagree on which ones.

As a service to you readers, I'd like to point out that it's possible to edit the soundtrack to your liking (more or less) via an obscure branch of the main menu. Go to My Corner – My Media – EA TRAX (not a typo) for a complete list, and deselect those you never want to hear again. This menu is the saving grace of the soundtrack. It's also worth mentioning that you can edit the entrance music for any standard fighter here as well, even using music from your hard drive. Unfortunately, I haven't yet discovered a way to do this with my created boxer, who doesn't appear on the list of fighters here. Overall, though the sound effects were good, the soundtrack was pretty disappointing (if well-produced). It's nice that EA took steps to accommodate the haters among its customers, though – they get a point back for the TRAX menu.
(Sound 8/10)
(Music 7/10)


GAMEPLAY
Statistics Galore


Gameplay is really the meat of this game, and it doesn't disappoint. As I mentioned above, the physics system is a marvel. The statistics behind each fighter are fairly accurate, with the stats themselves taking into account everything from punch-power (both right and left) to hand speed, blocking effectiveness, head and body toughness, movement speed, leaning ability, “chin” (resistance to stunning headshots), “heart” (ability to get up from a knockdown), and resistance to cuts and swelling. Furthermore, there are myriad fighting styles, with many possible combinations of offensive and defensive styles, modified by the focus of a boxer (power, speed, balance), his height, and the length of his arms (longer arms make for better straight punches, whereas shorter ones are better for hooks and uppercuts). In addition to moving around and throwing punches, players can duck, lean, block, and (if the timing's right) counter-punch for extra damage. It's very in-depth, going above and beyond the stuff of games and approaching true simulation. More importantly, it's fun. The AI is fantastic, but not unfair in its prowess, and the difficulty can be adjusted for developing players. Players can fight against a friend on a single console, jump online for ranked or unranked matches, or play the “Legacy” mode – taking on the role of either a created or an existing boxer and climbing up through the rankings to become a Champion, or maybe (by jumping up in weight-class) even the Greatest of All Time.

TPC or PPC?

However, some of the modifications to gameplay since Round 3 are of debatable value. First and foremost, the option of playing with punches mapped to various buttons has been removed. Rumor has it that EA may resolve this issue with a patch, but until then players are forced to use TPC (or Total Punch Control, otherwise known as the right analogue stick) to throw punches. Personally, although some call it gimmicky, I've been a big fan of TPC since it was first introduced – it just feels more realistic and intuitive to me. However, those with certain disabilities and particularly old-school gamers will probably be peeved. For those unfamiliar with the system, it's kind of like Skate; flicking the stick to the left will throw various punches with the left hand, whereas flicking the stick to the right with throw punches with the right hand. There's a bit of a learning curve, but the system is worth it.

Fans of Round 3 will probably be disappointed with some minor tweaks to TPC. In addition to simplified blocking (focusing on high and low with no regard for right or left), body shots are a little different now, with hooks and uppercuts to the body having unique mapping (directly left or right for hooks, diagonally down and left or down and right for uppercuts) instead of sharing their input with headshots with the Left Trigger modifying the target. Although mixing body shots in with headshots is more fluid now than it once was, the flow of punches comes at the expense of accuracy – you won't always swing the way you mean to. I felt like the system in place in Round 3 deserved to be called Total Punch Control, whereas this incarnation of it feels more like Partial Punch Control. It takes a little getting used to, and makes the right body uppercut, in particular, very difficult to throw consistently. This in turn makes some of the training mini-games (which have also been changed a bit) more difficult – especially “Heavy Bag Combo,” which is needed to increase the power of your boxer's left hand. These issues seem like an oversight on EA's part, as I don't think it would have been hard to incorporate either of the older control schemes into the game.

Hold the Diversity

The option to play without TPC isn't the only element of Round 3 that didn't carry over; the Create-a-Fighter system is much more limited as well. Where players could once custom-build a fighter's face, creating an in-game doppelganger of themselves or other real people, instead they will be limited to choosing from a list of 70 or so pre-designed faces, most of them Black, White, or Latino (sorry, Asians, it seems you're not a large enough demographic for EA to care about you). It's a little suspicious that a system EA created years ago couldn't be modified for this game, especially when they conveniently provide the option of using the $40 Xbox LIVE Vision camera to import the player's face. Cross-promotion, or laziness on the part of EA? Either way, we, as consumers, lose. Some of the fun of Round 3 was in pushing its creation system to its limits by making hideously grotesque freaks of nature to add to the spectacle of boxing itself. Now you can't even make a fat guy.

In other news, the system of making money in Legacy mode has been removed. Gone is the freedom to choose and unlock rewards with the money won in fights. Also absent are unlockables in general, at least in contrast to Round 3. Granted, some of the things one could unlock in Round 3 are available by default in Round 4 – it's nice to be able to choose from a variety of fighting styles out of the box – but many others, from a laundry list of gear to various illegal blows, are simply gone. Sorry guys, no more punching your opponent in the balls when he makes you angry. You'll have to settle for a head-butt.

Occasionally, achieving a new rank in Legacy mode will unlock something, but such occasions are few and far between. The roster of real-life boxers is somewhat limited as well, especially when considering the historical scope of the game. There's about 50 or 60 boxers, with some weight classes having only one representative. A laundry list of famous fighters didn't make it into the game. What's Mike Tyson without Evander Holyfield? The variety in character selection and creation leaves much to be desired.
(In-Fight Gameplay 9.5/10)
(All other Gameplay 8/10)


Online's Just Fine

I have to admit, I haven't played many matches on Live. I tried it out specifically for the purpose of writing this review (and also because my Legacy mode is now frozen). In any case, the system works well. Since I use an ancient router, my connection speed ranges from mediocre to downright terrible, but I had no problems with lag when I joined someone's match to box. Actually, I won by KO in the 7th round – latency was not an issue. The system is a little more robust than just one-on-one matches, with the option of downloading other players' created fighters to supplement the skimpy roster of boxers, as well as the opportunity to enter created characters into an online bracket for a championship belt. There's On-Demand content available and Leaderboards that track your success in ranked matches. Your record is recorded to your profile regardless of whether you're playing in a ranked match, and a few achievements and unlocks result from success online. It's not mind-blowing, but it's interesting and supported well enough that Fight Night junkies will be able to get their fix of human opponents. Kudos for what seems like good hosting (I've only played three matches, but I didn't have any problems).
(8/10)

Ghost in the Shell

It's worth mentioning that the game has more than a few irritating (and in some cases, game-breaking) bugs. The least of these is the option of visiting a “Fight Night Store” to get more content online that never seems to work. I'm an Xbox Live Gold member, my account and connection are fine, but somehow these features can almost never “be reached.” It's probably not a bad thing, though, as many of the game-breaking bugs are associated with just this sort of content. Some players report game freezes at certain dates within Legacy mode. Many others report freezes associated with their otherwise harmless network connection or music library, of all things. I've personally experienced a bug that freezes my game when I try to move my (created) boxer to a higher weight class. From the look of things, there isn't an easy fix; I've spent about an hour looking for and trying to implement various solutions, none of which seem to work. With hours of time put into the file and 40 hard-earned wins under my belt, it's incredibly frustrating to be stuck in my starting weight class. EA supposedly plans to address these “rare freezes” within a couple of weeks, but that's cold comfort at the moment, especially since I've already bought the game. Players thinking about starting a new Legacy should consider turning autosave off and keeping a few separate save files. Players considering buying Fight Night Round 4 may want to wait a little while. A few bucks will rent a copy for 10 days, which should be enough time to determine whether you're subject to these “rare” freezes.
(#*$&%! /10)

REPLAYABILITY
Great… Unless Your Game Freezes


I'm on the fence in regard to this one. In a sense, Fight Night Round 4 has fantastic replayability – I'm probably going to replay my entire legacy! Then again, I don't think I would (right now anyway) if a game-breaking freeze hadn't messed it up in the first place. Still, there are so many weight classes and possible styles of fighters to choose from, especially through creation, that it'll probably take most people quite some time to get bored. Furthermore, since the game is driven almost entirely by gameplay – not story – it's something people can pick back up months or years after beating and have a great time with. Also, I have to admit that in most games, had my save file been so horribly corrupted, I probably would have called it quits and returned the game or resold it to a friend. The gameplay really is fantastic. Although there aren't nearly as many unlockable rewards this time around, the inclusion of a fairly robust online mode (and the human competition that facilitates) compensates for the shortcoming. I'd have given it a 9/10 for replayability if it weren't for the freeze issues. Although freezes aren't directly related to the game's longevity, it's hard to imagine how anyone would be willing to put serious time into a game that periodically eats save files. However, EA insists such glitches are rare, so I'll only deduct a point.
(8/10)

OVERALL
A Hair Short of Greatness


The game is a lot of fun, but will probably be a little disappointing to longtime fans of the series. Sadly, much of what it's missing comes in the form of various options that wouldn't have been that hard to include. Particularly disappointing is the lack of the customization in creating fighters Round 3 offered. The rigid control scheme is also a let down. Finally, as the personal recipient of a pretty horrible bug, I'm irritated that there wasn't better, more thorough testing to avoid sudden game freezes.

Graphically gorgeous, and only slightly marred by a lemon of a soundtrack, Fight Night Round 4 remains a very good game, despite its shortcomings in customization and the occasional game-breaking freeze. The core of Fight Night has always been the outstandingly realistic, entertaining combat, and to that end, Round 4 doesn't disappoint. The gameplay really carries the game. I'd like to give Round 4 an 8.5 out of 10, but will have to settle for an eight (GameFAQs only allows whole numbers). Perhaps EA updates and DLC will convince me to round up, instead of down, but until then (particularly with my wasted save file) I can't justify anything higher. In an Irish tribute to the muddled food-related analogies one of the in-game announcers frequently uses, Fight Night Round 4 is a “meat and potatoes” game. But it's prime cut meat and grubby potatoes -- Round 4 has great combat and is visually stunning, but falls short of greatness in the lackluster garnishes that could have made a solid and fun game great. Round 4 just needs better potatoes. Until then, it's just a hair short of greatness.
(8.5/10)

Graphics: (9)
Audio: Music (7) FX (8)
Gameplay: In-Fight (9.5)
Online (8) All Other (8)
Replayability: (8)


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/10/09

Game Release: Fight Night Round 4 (US, 06/23/09)


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