The audience for most sports simulations tends to be limited to die-hard fans of the sport in question. But boxing is something that seems to have much higher crossover appeal; perhaps boxing games’ similarities to fighting games are what draw in non-boxing fans. Then again, maybe people just love to beat the ever-loving crap out of each other and see the blood fly.
Fight Night Round 4 (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Counter punching works very well -- perhaps too well, actually. The balance of the fighting in this game seems to be tilted a bit too far in favor of counter punching. You could be chipping away at your opponent through a round or two, but then he might make you miss a few times and all of a sudden, you’re stunned or knocked down. When your opponent has a counter punch opportunity, you’ll be incapacitated for a split second, but if he takes too long to fire off a punch, you’ll be able to block or dodge. It just feels as if the game is focused too closely on counter punching; they factor heavily into fights, so if you suck at blocking and dodging, you’re going to have a tougher time winning.
While I’m discussing minigames, I might as well mention how absolutely stupid it is that you’re also guaranteed to lose an attribute point in two categories every time you train. Yes, you read that correctly. I’ve never seen a sports videogame do this before, and I simply don’t understand it. Why does training with the maize bag -- which works on hand speed, head movement, and block strength -- take a point off of both your left and right hand power?
Interface-wise, the game is kind of a mess. The menus could very nearly be called “labyrinthine”; at the very least, they’re confusing and illogical. For the longest time, I was irritated by the apparent lack of an options menu for the ESPN ticker that rolls across the bottom of the screen. But for reasons unbeknownst to me, the ticker options do exist -- they’re just in the settings for the online modes. (?) And the Legacy interface could do with some streamlining, too. As for the game’s rap/hip-hop soundtrack, I’m personally not a big fan, which is why I was infuriated to discover that FNR4 doesn’t support custom soundtracks on the PS3. As far as I’m concerned, that’s inexcusable this far into 2009.
In all honesty, though, I have to agree with most of the points made by Samit. Though he’d never played Round 3, I’ve spent the better part of a year dicking around with it -- and I have to say that Round 4 is, without question, a fantastic improvement on the formula. Though it may not be terribly realistic that the boxers can now throw punches at lightning speed without slowing down for the first few rounds (leading to some visually hilarious online matches where I and my inexperienced opponent literally punched each other in the face for dozens of seconds without pausing to block, like Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots), the pace feels much faster and much more brutal without losing any of the previous title’s strategic gameplay. I was literally about to follow up the previous sentence with the statement “the punches come faster and feel harder than ever before” -- until I realized how that would have looked out of context. Suffice it to say that the boxers no longer look and sound like they’re lightly tapping one another on the face with oven mitts.
It also doesn’t help that said system is open to a really, really obvious exploit that works in both single-player and multiplayer modes. As “perfectly” timing a block opens your enemy up to a counter punch, and as you can block as fast as you want so long as you hold down the block button and repeatedly press the right analog stick in the direction you want to block (making your boxer appear to play a high-speed version of peekaboo with his opponent), it’s possible to just keep blocking and spam the right stick as fast as possible until your opponent decides to throw a punch. When their blow lands on one of the eighteen thousand mini-blocks you’ve made, the game will stupidly count at least one of those blocks as perfectly timed, putting you in the perfect position to land a devastating counter punch without ever requiring a lick of strategy or skill on your part.
I need to reserve special ire for the multiplayer mode, however. I don’t know if this is entirely the fault of the PSN version, but it was literally impossible for Samit and me to instantly play together despite being on one another’s friends lists. In order to get into a game with Browntown, he needed to set up a game with weirdly specific restrictions (Heavyweight class only, New York Arena, Final Destination, no items) and I needed to search for a custom game with those basic parameters. Perhaps the PS3 is to blame for not having a fucking “invite friend to game” option in the XMB, but that doesn’t excuse FNR4 not allowing me to instantly jump into a game with Samit.
But again -- and I really can’t overstate this enough -- Fight Night Round 4 allowed me to kick the living shit out of an uncanny valley rapist version of Samit Sarkar and then have my own uncanny valley rapist version dance around his comatose body, the word “DICKBUT” emblazoned in bright, capital letters on the back of my boxing trunks.
I think I think my love affair with Fight Night Round 4 died after going online.
Whenever I play another EA Sports title, Madden NFL 09, I always randomly draw the match with the kid that knows how to exploit the game. He plays with a gunslinger quarterback. Every offensive snap, he takes a twenty-step drop, runs to the right and to the left, and then bombs the perfect pass straight into the end zone. This is where I want to turn off my console in frustration: the game teaches you to play and make decisions as if it were real. Twenty-step drops aren’t real. The same rule applies to Fight Night Round 4. You’re supposed to monitor your punch count, lean on the jab and go into matches not like a wild man, but as a collected dude with a plan. The game constantly reinforces accuracy over ridiculousness. Yet, that 70-yard pass -- or, in Fight Night Round 4’s case, an onslaught of punches and haymakers -- is still a viable competitive option. It’s not only frustrating to have to break the game to win, it’s also quite boring.
I refuse to say Fight Night Round 4 is a bad game. The single-player is good. Legacy Mode -- despite the constant menu interruption and ridiculous load times -- is a robust, fun experience. So are the Quick Matches. In addition to that, turning up the difficulty provided me with wonderfully strategic matches that tested my pugilism mettle. Hell, even playing with my girlfriend was a blast -- she tries her best to play the game as it taught me how to play, with some reserve. It’s just that the Fight Night Round 4 experience can break down spectacularly in open competition. People know how to throw the 70-yard touchdown, and it sucks that the game allows it. For me, Fight Night Round 4 is best played against the razor-sharp AI. While I find the idea of “World Championship” -- a perpetual online mode that awards three players with belts that can be won by anyone worthy -- creative and novel, it simply isn’t for me. It’s just too easy to break the game.
Overall Score: 8.0 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)
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