Jul 3

Written by: Thryon
7/3/2009 12:20 AM  RssIcon

Box Art
52 Weeks of Canadian Gaming - Week 26
Fight Night Round 4
Release Date: June 25, 2009
Developer: EA Canada
ESRB Rating: Teen
Reviewed by: Brian Wray
This is it folks, this is the half way mark for my "52 Weeks of Canadian Gaming" challenge. The first half of my challenge was filled with games that were previously released, but this trend will change in the second half as plenty of new Canadian developed titles are just now starting to hit store shelves. The title for this week is such a new release; Fight Night Round 4.

For those that have been following my weekly escapades, you may remember that back in Week 11, I had chosen to play Fight Night Round 3 by EA Canada for my weekly game. My conclusion for the boxing title was that the game was great, but started to show its age as there were problems with clipping, limited career mode, limited boxer selection and fighters not fighting their style of game. I am glad to say that in Fight Night Round 4, I cannot complain about any of those pesky issues anymore.

Fight Night Round 3 set the standard for visual in a video game, one that still stood the test of time years after it was originally released. So it is understandable how expectations were high for this new title. Fight Night Round 4 does not just meet those expectations, it roundhouses them to the next release. The game looks unbelievable. Character models are super detailed. Skin, hair, eyes and muscles (or lack of muscles) all look and move very realistically. It is not only the boxers who received some graphical upgrades, so did the venues and now there are twice as many famous boxing landmarks than in Round 3 and all devoid of any Burger King advertising. That is not to say there are no ads in Round 4, just that the ads are what you would expect in a real boxing arena. Another visual difference between the two titles is the inclusion of an on screen display showing the stamina, health and damage of each boxer. This option was available in Round 3 but disabled by default, while in Round 4 it is enabled by default. I never enabled this on screen display in Round 3, but I have to say that having this information visually on screen was indeed a welcomed addition.

The controls have changed little from Round 3. In fact the only big change is that the option to fight using the buttons has been removed forcing would be boxers to use the dual analog sticks control scheme. The left analog stick is used to move your boxer, while the right analog stick is used to delivers jabs, straight punches, uppercuts,haymakers and all the other colourful punches that make boxing such an entertaining sport. Holding the left trigger will allow the boxer to lean in or out of punches while the right trigger will bring up his block. Once again the buttons are used to perform actions such as to cling to the other boxer or to perform illegal moves. The controls do work quite well. I did not find myself missing the button controls until I started playing the training mini games. But more on the mini games later.
The game still offers the same game modes options of a quick fight, an improved career mode (called Legacy), ESPN Classics and online gameplay over Xbox Live. The quick fight allows the gamer to setup a quick match between any two boxers with the only limitation that the two boxers must be within two weight categories of each other. Finally thanks to Fight Night Round 4 we can determine if Tyson could stand up to legendary boxers such as Muhammad Ali or modern day legends such as James Toney.

To assist in the task of determining the Greatest of All Time, Fight Night Round 4 introduces a whole new physics based boxing engine. In Round 3, the success of a punch and the resulting damage produced by the punch was pre-determined depending on the specific circumstances. If a punch was successful, the full damage for that punch was then applied against the opponents health. In Round 4 this is no longer the case. Now every single punch and the result of that punch is evaluated using real world physics. If a boxer delivers a devastating haymaker, and the opponent only partially blocks it, he will still take damage. This new engine also create a whole new type of danger in glancing blows. I jab destined for the side of the boxer’s head in which he partially blocks could result in the punch being redirected towards his jaw causing even more damage that it would have had it not been blocked. The new engine also allows for virtual boxers to box using their real worldcounterparts boxing style. Tyson for example likes to box close to his opponents, draining their stamina with blows to the body followed by uppercuts to the chin. This style of boxing was not possible in Round 3 as the game favoured outside fighting.
Screenshot
(Click for larger image)
Besides improved graphics and physics based gameplay, the developers also applied a few other tweaks to the game. The first is the removal of the parry system. In Round 3 is was very possible to stop a rampaging George Foreman ravaging uppercut by simply blocking at the correct time. Not only would this move render one of boxing's most vicious punches completely ineffective, but the shock of this move would cause poor old George to become temporarily paralyzed (or maybe is was simple confusion) leaving him open to a barrage of punches in return. To see how realistic this was, have a friend or family member throw a 20lbs bag of potatoes at your head and attempt to stop this rushing bag of spuds with nothing more than a well timed block. Still with me? The parry system has been replaced with a new and more realistic countering system. Just as in real boxing, when a boxer attempts a power punch and misses, the momentum of that punch will carry the boxer forward leaving him open to a counterpunch. Another slight changed made was with the overused haymakers. A haymaker is a very devastating punch that can change the course of a fight. Haymakers require a lot of energy to deliver so they are used conservatively, but in Round 3 they were as common as Timmies in any Canadian city. Haymakers are now slower to deliver making them easier to avoid which can leave the fighter open to a counter, again just as in real boxing.

The game offers a rich variety of boxers. In fact, fifty boxers are available to the player out of the box. Once again Canadian boxers appear to be missing in action. Nowhere in the list of 50 was the names of Yvon Durelle, George Chuvalo and Larry Gains. Gamers may be hard pressed to believe that this game was produced by Canadians. the game is not entirely devoid of Canadian boxers as I was pleasantly surprised to see the name of Arturo Gatti. All is not lost though as there is always the option to create him your favourite Canadian boxer using the create a boxer option or better yet (if you are not into sculpting virtual gladiators), go online and see if anyone already create the Fighting Fisherman and just download him to your roster of boxers. The online selection is amazing with hundreds of user created boxers ranging from real life boxers such as Oscar De La Hoya, fictional boxers such as Rocky Balboa to famous personalities like Barak Obama and Borat. Not as forgivable is the fact that the game is still completely devoid of any female boxers. I am starting to get the feeling that EA may be just a bit sexist in this regard. Hopefully by Round 5 they will have corrected this oversight.

The bulk of the game will be played in the new Legacy Mode. This is an enhanced career mode from Round 3. This time gamers will have more control over their boxers including how often they will fight, who they will fight and how much training or rest between fights. The goal of legacy mode is to establish a boxing legacy be it as a champion or as the Greatest Of All Times (GOAT). The game features many of the options that most Canadians will recognize from NHL 09 including a new calendar view for fights and training. The problem is that beyond booking a fight and training for this fight once or twice, there is nothing to do and the calendar is filled withrecuperation time. Another new feature is that boxers may receive messages from their manager advising of recent title changes, award nominations or just to remind him to train before a scheduled fight. Legacy mode also introduces a new improved ranking system. All boxers are ranked based on weight class and a pound 4 pound ranking system. This can give gamers a good indication of their skill level, but just do not read much into it (more on this a bit later).

Once a legacy has been secured, it is then time to bring this champ online in a real test of skills. The online portion does not only allow a gamer to compete in a boxing match for bragging rights, but for an actual virtual title. Always wanted to be the heavyweight world champion? Now thanks to Fight Night Round 4 and Xbox Live, you can be.

Fight Night Round 4 is great, but I think the developers cannot claim victory just yet. There are still a few plaguing issues that must be addressed. The first has to do with phantom punches. Many times a punch that clearly missed its target will still register as a hit. This is boxing, not WWE wrestling. Missed punches should never register as a hit.

The artificial intelligence designed the game can be devilishly hard on GOAT, but overall there appears to still be some serious issues. My strategy is to fight from the outside by delivering plenty of jabs to the head. In fact ninety percent of my punches are jabs to the head, and mostly all right handed jabs. Even after pummeling my opponent for over eight rounds, he would still not anticipate that move and allow me to score punch after punch. Even worse was the fact that this exact same technique still worked after ten fights. It is hard to image that their coach would not scout the opponent for fighting style and weakness.
Screenshot
(Click for larger image)
Legacy Mode is still not up to the standard set by other sports titles. The mode still needs some fleshing out. Besides scheduling a fight and training once or twice for this fight, there is very little to do besides read the occasional email. Even this will get old fast as the messages have very little variety between each one and after reading a dozen or so, I just ignored all of them. It would have been nice that after a fight has been scheduled that gamers then have the option to scout the opponent. Maybe by watching some of his previous fights. Sure some of the scouting information is available if you dig enough for it, but there should be a quick menu option to allow this. Maybe future iterations could integrate manager and trainer options as well.

I could not figure out how the entire award system worked or the purpose of the system to begin with. I lost the prospect of the year award to a fighter with a 4-3-1 record, while I had a 8-0-0 record with six KOs. A similar problem was also present in the ranking system. How could fighters with a loosing record be ranked in the top 10 of their weight class. The ranking and award system needs an overhaul big time. While on the subject of fixing things this brings me to the training mini-games. With the exception of sparring and do get knocked down, the mini-games rely on a boxers stats, the exact same thing that is trying to be improved. This is counter intuitive. In fact the mini-games are soun -enjoyable that I just booked matches that allowed two training sessions and selecting the auto-train option for the same mini-game twice to give me the desired performance boost for my match.

Even tough it has a few quirks, Fight Night Round 4 is an amazing and extremely fun game. Between the expanded Legacy mode and the online championship modes, the game has significantly more replay value than Round 3 which was used for a quick 1000 gamerscore points before being discarded to the pile or traded for store credit. I would recommend this game to anyone that loves boxing, sports titles, fighting titles or any previous version of a Fight Night game.

Ps/ The rings girls have enjoyed a few buffets and now look closer to normal.
--Brian Wray

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