It’s a classic boxing story. The respected but aging champion defends his title against the hungry, energetic new challenger. Fight Night Round 3 has held the video game boxing belt for over three years, albeit in a division lacking talent, and now finds itself up against a new contender, from a new development team and there’s bad news. Round 4 hits like Mike Tyson in a filthy mood.There’s no doubting that Round 3 did a lot of good for the Xbox 360 in its early days. Its visuals alone demonstrated the power of the new console and, when people witnessed the rippling flesh and bone-crunching audio in the knockout sequences, it was clear that the next generation had arrived. However, those who followed the series from the start could see that it wasn’t necessarily the pinnacle of the franchise. I, for one, have always been a big fan of Round 2. Not only did have the best roster of any Fight Night game, it featured gameplay much quicker, responsive and balanced than the first game (and indeed the third).  So if you share my affection for Round 2, you’ll be glad to know that Round 4 constitutes a similar step up in class. It’s faster, stronger and smarter than its predecessor and yet still leaves itself open to the odd counter.EA’s Canada team centred its efforts on improving four key areas in Round 4: speed, style, strength and strategy.  From just a couple of fights in Round 4, it’s clear that EA has delivered on its promises. Let’s talk speed first – three years down the line and it’s now possible to make a game that not only looks better than Round 3, it also moves quicker. Round 4 runs at a buttery 60 frames per second and this has a huge impact on the fight experience. Firstly, it makes the Total Punch Control much more responsive – just flicking diagonally up a few times on the right stick will send a series of speedy jabs at your opponent’s face. The right stick control method is now compulsory (although not for long, I imagine, given the amount of grief EA is receiving from button-mashing fans) and remains pretty similar to Round 3 with a couple of new changes. Hooks and uppercuts to the body no longer require you to hold the left trigger and hooks are now handled by simple left and right movements on the right stick, with diagonal movements for uppercuts. The “wind it up and let it go” haymaker system has also been altered, with the right bumper now acting as a haymaker modifier, removing the need for the awkward back and forth motion. The combination of the new controls and slick framerate makes for much more fluid, fast-paced fights featuring realistic combos.See, now that the game no longer has to wait for a scripted punch sequence to end before throwing the next one, you can actually put together punches in bunches (just one of many boxing clichés you can look forward to in this review) which, for once, bear some relation to the speed you move the analogue stick.  Pick a fighter with good handspeed like Joe Calzaghe or Shane Mosley, keep on the outside and throw some hurtful combinations and you’ll wear your opponent down in no time. Not only does speed have a big gameplay impact, so do styles. Even though Round 3 did some good work with fighter animations, there was no real style system at work as you could essentially only fight from one distance. Get too close to your opponent and you’d experience the invisible wall, presumably in place to prevent clipping. The good news is that in Round 4, there is a robust new physics engine which, for the first time, allows you to fight on the inside.  The power of punches now depends, to a certain extent, on where the glove lands on your opponent’s body. For example, a glancing blow to the top of his head is unlikely to cause much damage whereas a crushing uppercut right on the button (look, I warned you about the clichés) or a right hand straight down the pipe (I know, I can’t help myself) might just put him on the floor.{PAGE TITLE=Fight Night Round 4 Review Page 2}In Round 3, knockdowns (bar the very occasional exception) came as a result of depleting your opponent’s energy bar to the point where you triggered the Knockout Moment and then put him down. This isn’t the case in Round 4 and a big punch comes from a combination of your fighter’s natural power, the placement of the shot and the timing. This means that, at any time in the fight you can stun or even knock your opponent down with a single shot. That’s not to say you’ll see a one punch knockout anywhere near as often as in UFC 2009 Undisputed, but it adds a welcome degree of realism – and excitement – to Round 4. One of the most appealing aspects of boxing is the constantly-shifting momentum, where a single punch can change the pattern of a fight and, for the first time in the series, Round 4 has gone some way to capturing that.However, while in some areas Round 4 has made big leaps forwards, in others it’s baby steps. The single player career mode, now renamed the Legacy Mode, is one such example. The main criticism of Round 3’s career mode was that it didn’t feel realistic, or indeed fun. Advancement seemed arbitrary and unrewarding – Round 3’s idea of a boxing career meant simply filling up a popularity meter until you could fight for a title. Although it featured rivalries and real-world fighters, it all felt underdeveloped and inauthentic.  Round 4’s Legacy Mode does improve on its predecessor’s, but it’s still a bit lacking in certain areas. Sure, there’s more in the way of fighter customisation from selecting your style and power punch to choosing your entrance music, but it still fails to draw you in like you feel it should. Although the game features a better progression system with proper rankings, you don’t really get a sense that there’s a boxing world outside of your career. You’ll be called out occasionally by an up and coming fighter or build up an essentially cosmetic rivalry with someone but it just doesn’t feel authentic enough.The way that you rise to the top of one division in order to move up in weight is also not particularly realistic (changing divisions is more about getting the big fights, the best fighters don’t all end up as heavyweights) and as hard as the game tries to keep you interested with challenges (e.g. win x fights in a row, maintain a win percentage of x per cent) it’s hard to get invested in the Legacy Mode. Although bringing up Don King’s Prizefighter in a Fight Night review is a bit like mentioning The Clash and Blink 182 in the same sentence (yes, I believe that’s the sound of Joe Strummer ricocheting off his coffin lid), there’s really something to be said about the career mode in 2K’s game. The documentary-style presentation and narrative focus was undoubtedly compelling, even if the gameplay wasn’t and EA could certainly learn a thing or two – well, actually just the one – from Prizefighter.  There needs to be some sense that you’re participating in a sporting world, one which does not just revolve around you. I want to see highlights of the best fights, see who’s building momentum and I want the big fights to feel like big fights. Given how much stock EA puts into realism with its other sport titles (just look at FIFA’s Adidas Live Season for example) you would expect something similar in Fight Night.However, although the Legacy Mode could be more authentic, you have to pay EA Canada its dues for Round 4’s gameplay. The improvement in speed, the new physics engine and the incorporation of fighting styles all make for a much more authentic experience. If, like me, you have an interest in boxing, you will definitely enjoy Round 4 as it is undoubtedly the best boxing game ever made. The first time I played as Calzaghe and pulled off a double jab, right hook, straight left hand and a head bob, I couldn’t help but smile and think of the Jeff Lacy fight. There’s even enough excitement to get non-Queensbury fans playing the game as the way that fights shift one way and then the other is undeniably fun. Just make sure you turn off the energy bars in the options. You don’t see Manny Pacquiao checking his stamina bar between punches do you? Oh and before I go, I have a few boxing clichés left: granite chin, glass jaw, puncher’s chance, wounded tiger, out for the count. Adriaaaaaaaaaan.

Paul Younger
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Founder of the world's first gaming cafe and Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.

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