Fight Night Round 4
Fight Night Round 4 is one of those rare titles that taps into and exploits your emotions - the fear when you know you're one punch away from being knocked down; the anger and frustration that sets in when you're not landing your best blows; a buzzing excitement you feel when you rock your opponent on his heels and go in for the kill. Keeping these emotions in check and using them at the right time is how you steel yourself for 10 rounds of punishment and ultimately achieve glory. Only a powerful game can elicit this kind of rollercoaster ride. Like a wise trainer, EA prepared its pupil for this moment, easily crafting its best boxing game yet.
Gameplay improvements are at the heart of what makes Round 4 a great title. Not a lot has been added, per se; it's more about the execution. Boxers' arm lengths add a layer of strategy. Depending on what kind of fighter you are, you will want to maintain or close the distance between you and your opponent. Reach is so important, it's fundamental to every punch you throw, and that just goes to show how the game's focus on getting the basics right resonates throughout the entire experience.
Instead of punches either counting as hits or misses, the game also registers miss-hits, glancing blows, and blocks. This makes a typical exchange between two fighters anything but typical or scripted. Your punch selection must be gauged to play to your strengths. Trying to perform a hook while you're in too tight can leave you vulnerable, and throwing punches that don't land properly depletes your stamina or leaves you open to a counter-punch. In a worst-case scenario, a low stamina bar can lead to your blocking attempts being shredded or you ending up on the mat prematurely. I'm not saying that you have to measure and over-think every punch, but this is an example of how something as simple as the length of your arms can influence a fight's outcome. Think about it before you start going at it hammer and tongs with Mike Tyson.
Fight Night Round 4's tight interplay between punches, blocks, and boxer movement makes counter-punches important. Still, there are odd times when counter-punches aren't rewarded, and I wonder if the game's definition of what earns you a counter punch is too strictly defined. As I moved up the career ladder, most fighters I faced relied heavily on a counter-punch strategy to the point that many of them boxed the same – including leaving their heads wide open to repeated jabs.
Apart from getting the fundamentals correct, Fight Night Round 4 also improves its online and career modes, bringing them up to par with other modern sports games. They aren't groundbreaking – it's hard to get away from the train, fight, and repeat formula – but they cover the obvious bases and offer a much better sense of progression and accomplishment than previous titles in the franchise. I like the requirements before you can jump up to the next career level, as well as the spontaneous events like rematches.
It's hard to reinvent a sport that's – well, already a sport. But, developer EA Canada has done a marvelous job with bringing a focus to the fighting that brings out the sweet science.