What has two thumbs and loves smashing virtual faces in?
Without a doubt, the first human to discover he had thumbs immediately made a fist and punched the nearest wise-ass square in the kisser. Not to be outdone, the wise-ass realized that he—like his more perspicacious compatriot—also had thumbs and swiftly returned the blow. And so boxing was born.
[image1]EA’s Fight Night series taps into this venerable, thumb-centric history of boxing. Beginning with Fight Night 2004, EA has been perfecting its thumb-warrior approach to the sweet science with its unique Total Punch Control system. In Round 2 and Round 3, the series showed off its strengths but was still prone to an awkward step or two. But in Fight Night Round 4, the series has finally found its rhythm.
At first glance, Round 4 doesn’t seem all that different from its predecessor. Most of the basic movements, attacks, and modifiers still work exactly the same. One stick controls movement. The other controls punches. One shoulder button is your lean modifier. Another is your block modifier.
However, important changes have been introduced. The most common body blows can now be executed without the lean modifier. Haymakers have been turned into yet another modifier. Flash KOs are no longer a specific move, but instead rely on the game’s deep physics engine. The fight mechanics have been greatly simplified, the corner game has been expedited, and more importantly, punches are much less arcade-like in execution. There’s no button mashing option this time around, so it’s sticks or nothing. (Button mashing controls may be available through future DLC. ~Ed. Nick)
Gone, too, is the prior game’s parry system. In its place is a much less overpowered counterpunch system. Time an evasion or a block correctly and you’ll gain a momentary opportunity to execute a counter of your choice. Instead of your opponent sitting there stupidly after a parry, you’ll briefly interrupt his rhythm and gain the quick opportunity to deliver a more powerful blow.
[image2]Most impressively, Fight Night Round 4 incorporates a nuanced, complex, and intensely believable physics engine. This isn’t simply about making the game look pretty. Physics plays a role in everything you do in the game. From the velocity and direction of your punches, to the interaction of a boxer’s arms and gloves with another boxer’s, to the relative distances and positions of each boxer, to each boxer’s relative height and reach, to the deflection angle of a blow off of the other boxer’s face or hands. Physics affects everything.
Because of these changes, fights no longer come down to a senseless back-and-forth of haymakers and parries. Instead, Fight Night Round 4 encourages a wide array of approaches determined by each player’s personal preferences and strategies. Even more, each boxer’s traits demand a different approach depending on his opponent’s traits. This is what every previous Fight Night aimed for, but never accomplished.
If this game were just about what happens in the ring, it would be damn near perfect. Unfortunately, there’s more to boxing and more to Fight Night Round 4 than just fighting. Round 4 improves on the bare-bones career mode of Round 3, but not by much. There’s a calendar, an email menu, rankings of AI-controlled fighters, and a whole bunch of other window dressing that doesn’t disguise the fact that the career mode—here called “Legacy Mode”—is still disappointingly skimpy.
You do earn belts and occasionally run into a surprise fight or two in Legacy, but mostly it’s the same core career mode as that in Round 3, just prettier and more elegant-looking. The training games have changed slightly, focusing on a broader skill set. A few training games are unnecessarily difficult, but if you can master them, those skills translate directly into strong ring skills.
[image3]The meat of the game is still in the non-career offerings. There’s a one-off “Fight Now” mode that lets you fight locally against another player or against a CPU opponent. There are enough tweaks and adjustments to tailor any CPU fighter to your exact specifications to keep things interesting for a long time.
In one-on-one online Quick Match, you can build an online fight record in single bouts using any fighter you like against online opponents. It’s nothing you wouldn’t expect—or hope for—but it’s made infinitely better simply by virtue of the tightened controls, varied fighters, and robust physics engine. It’s also quick and easy to find a match thanks to the streamlined menu system and faster load times.
In addition, there is a new World Championship Mode. The best description of this mode is an online career mode. You create a fighter and take him through the world rankings for one of three weight divisions, earning career points and—if you’re good enough—belts along the way. This is where the real game happens, but it’s not for the faint of heart. You’ll definitely want to learn the ropes in the other modes first, but World Championship feels far more like a real boxing career than the offline Legacy Mode.
While the game’s starting roster is disappointingly light on current top fighters (with some notable exceptions like Manny Pacquiao), it makes up for that in its impressive list of past greats like Tyson, Ali, and Sugar Ray Robinson. Even better, it’s easy to fill in the holes with user-created boxers. The creation tool includes a photo import option that allows you to make eerily accurate recreations of yourself as well as famous boxers (and, yes, probably even your favorite penis monster). A plethora of customizable stats and fighting style tweaks make for nearly endless possibilities.
[image4]While the physics system is itself a marvel of gameplay finesse, Fight Night Round 4 also utilizes consistently awe-inspiring animation and stunning musculature on the boxer models. As boxers move, throw punches, lean, get hit, or fall to the floor, you’ll see bones move and muscles contract realistically beneath their skin. As fights wear on, you’ll see discoloration and swelling build slowly on a boxer’s face. These additional graphical details don’t affect gameplay, but they’ll certainly catch your eye. The only substantial graphical misstep is that in replays, faces can occasionally look like a waterbed squished between two mating elephants, but at least it’s still entertaining to watch.
Round 4 is all about revolution through detail. Its incredibly accurate physics system doesn’t just set a new bar for boxing games, but for all games across all genres. Newton’s laws of motion haven’t mattered this much in a game since Pong, and bare-chested men haven’t looked this good in a game since Cho Aniki. Boxing may be overshadowed these days by flashier MMA competitions, but Fight Night Round 4 proves that boxing is anything but obsolete.