Fight Night Round 4 Reader Review
Mike Tyson was one hell of a fighter. ‘Was’ being the operative word here - anybody with a passing acquaintance of Queensbury rules, or ‘boxing’, if you will, is aware that Tyson was the ‘baddest man on the planet’ and undisputed heavyweight champion of the world before he got himself banged up by Buster Douglas and thrown in prison (not that these two are linked in any way, as much as I like the thought of a detective resembling Phil Collins throwing Iron Mike behind bars). After gaol, Tyson showed glimpses of his old form, even managing to reclaim two of the three heavyweight titles. One from Frank Bruno, no less, who was of course last seen wandering around a nuthouse in Ilford claiming to be champion jockey Frankie Dettori. Years of blows to the head are bad for the brain, they say.
But back to Mike. Despite his brief resurgence as a fighter, he was never really the same again, unable to put the same fear into his opponents as before. Unless he was biting their ears off, that is. Unsavoury incidents like the one in Tyson v Holyfield pt II sent Iron Mike’s career downhill, all the way to his retirement from boxing in 2005. Despite all this, the majority of people who saw Tyson in his pomp prefer to remember how awesome he once was, and wonder what the outcome of a dream fight between him and Muhammad Ali would have been. Ali, of course, is widely acknowledged as the greatest of all time, and we prefer to remember his classic bouts with Foreman and Frazier, rather than the losses against Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick in the twilight of his career. Two great boxers and two hugely different examples to remind us that not even the most legendary of fighters can throw knockout punches forever. Between the natural effects of time and the damaging effects of the sport itself, we will never see Ali v Tyson.
Fight Night Round 4, however, gives us the next best thing. Tyson and Ali are playable from the start, exactly how we best remember them - the likenesses are spot on, although I can’t say the same for Lennox Lewis, who looks more like Busta Rhymes. But in general, the visuals are excellent, with each bead of sweat rendered in stunning detail. In Round 4’s ‘Fight Now’ mode, you can dive straight into the action. Go on - once you’ve loaded up the game for the first time, see if you can resist pitting Tyson against Ali. But beware - a hammering might be coming your way if this is your first foray into the Fight Night series, or boxing games in general. At first, the combat system, with different types of punch assigned to the right analogue stick, will seem somewhat complex. I certainly wished, in my first hour of play, that there was another configuration option so I could just bash away on the four front-mounted controller buttons. But I would only have been denying myself enjoyment in the long run - once you are familiar with the system, you’ll be ducking and leaning, blocking and jabbing, throwing right-hooks and uppercuts all the way until it’s time to land that final haymaker. It really is a case of persistence and practice paying off - in time, the sense of reward you’ll feel at picking apart your opponent’s style with well-timed evasive manoeuvres and probing punches is satisfying indeed.
There are three status bars that you’ll need to keep an eye on - Health, Stamina, and Damage, and all three of these can be boosted with points earned from previous rounds. Please your trainer, and you’ll be able to restore health drained from taking punches, stamina from throwing them, and repair visual damage like cuts and swollen eyes - particularly important if you have set the ref’s ‘Damage Awareness’ slider to high in the gameplay options. Take too much damage, and the man in the middle will stop the fight for a TKO.
Gamers looking for a more in-depth experience than the pick up and play appeal of Fight Now will be pleased to find that Fight Night has a career mode, or ‘Legacy’ mode, that allows for the creation of an original boxer to build from scratch, through training and fighting your way through the ranks (you can play as a ‘real’ boxer if you wish, but you’ll have to begin with the same rookie stats). As you’d expect, you start your career at the foot of the rankings ladder, fighting against the sport’s cannon fodder. Knockouts are easy to come by at this stage, and at first it all may seem a little too easy as you bludgeon your way through the contenders without really giving much thought to your defensive game. But as you progress and find yourself going up against the better fighters, you will discover that constantly throwing your fists isn’t going to cut it. You’ll be forced to mix up your style, going for different punches and combinations, and learning when to duck and when and where to block, looking for a chance to land a critical counterpunch. Fail to do this, and you’ll end up either on the canvas, or flailing around miserably as a more solid fighter keeps your gloves at bay, beating you via decision. But with a good all-round game, the sky is the limit, and you can become an undisputed champion and the Greatest Of All Time (or G.O.A.T. as EA likes to say) once certain career targets are met.
But it doesn’t all end when you become the G.O.A.T. Retiring your fighter once you’ve reached this level unlocks achievements to boost your Gamerscore, but you can continue your Legacy game - think of yourself as a trainer or promoter in that regard. You can create a new fighter, in a different weight class, and set about making another G.O.A.T. If you’re anything like me, your first playthrough will be as a heavyweight - so subsequent careers with lighter boxers will give you the opportunity to jump weight classes and see just how good you are, damnit. Other bits and pieces included in Legacy allow you to fully customise your experience, from different ring gear (robes, gloves, shorts, boots, etc) to being able to import your own entrance music from your Xbox 360 playlists. Also included in Fight Night is EA’s new ‘Game Face’ feature, allowing you to upload your likeness to EA’s servers, and download it on your console in order to slap it onto your created boxer. Alas, I only have EA’s say so here, as I was apparently incapable of uploading a photo of sufficient resolution to be used in-game. Well, I could have used it, but only if I’d wanted my boxer to look like the bastard lovechild of myself and the bedroom table lamp present in the corner of the original picture. Hopefully those of you with more patience for that sort of thing will have more success than I did, although I do question the level of determination required to digitally reproduce your likeness merely so you can watch it get bashed in by Manny Pacquiao.
Enjoyable as it is, Legacy mode is by no means perfect. Training sessions, in an ideal world, would form an important portion of the game, and therefore should be enjoyable in their own right. This is not the case, however, and after doing each type of training exercise once, you’ll probably end up simulating them for the rest of your career, at the cost of maximum skill improvement. At times, I also felt the mode would have benefitted from being more in-depth, with the presence of weigh-ins, a more tangible promoter presence, and other activities next to the training options to further improve your skills and popularity rating. This is just my own personal view, of course, and I would completely accept that some gamers would prefer to just fight their way through the game and not have to worry about all the extraneous bits and bobs. But hey, I’m a big RPG fan, so go figure. Mind you, even I would draw the line at having to take your fighter from the gym and down the road to Sainsbury’s to buy food...
I mentioned the quality of the visuals at the start, and the sound is bang on as well - the soundtrack and theme songs are the sort of thumping beats you’d expect from a boxing title, and fit perfectly with a game of that nature - which is more than can be said for EA’s otherwise excellent FIFA 10, with its wishy-washy and downright uninspiring tracks. Fight Night’s in-ring sound also adds to the experience, with clean punches connecting with satisfying thuds and smacks, and occasional shouts of advice from your corner. The commentary pairing is solid enough, if a little repetitive, but the two of them have far more importance than merely calling the action - listening to their exchanges during the fight will give you pretty reliable indications on how you are doing, and cause you think about whether you should go for a knockout win, or play it safe and rely on a decision. Of course, if you’re in the ascendency and cruising, you’ll always prefer to try and knock your opponent out, but from time-to-time you will find yourself up against a stubborn, defensive boxer, and having some hint that you’re winning on points can save you from the mistake of going for broke when there’s no need, and falling to a suckerpunch.
Gripe-wise, boxing purists may find that fights are not over quickly enough once you have your opponent in trouble - you can knock the other guy down three or four times, and as long as he makes the ten count, the ref will let the bout continue. This idea of boxing is one that is probably more at home in the Rocky movies than it is in a self-proclaimed ‘boxing simulation game’, but given that fans of those movies (who may or may not follow real world boxing that closely) are likely to be interested in a game like this, it’s perhaps not a bad thing. In any case, EA’s handy game sliders can be tweaked so that the three knockdown rule is in effect, and as mentioned earlier with the cutman system, the referee’s damage awareness can be cranked right up if you want to have plenty of TKOs. Still, in real world boxing, if I watch one boxer knock a guy down and then have him stunned and reeling again as soon as he gets up, I expect the ref to jump in and stop it. Hopefully, EA will work on finding a way to implement this for Round 5. If done with the sliders, you could have a game that pleases practically everybody, depending on their preferences and what settings they choose.
Apart from being able to download your Game Face, Fight Night has some other nice touches - the ESPN news ticker that runs along the bottom (assuming you’re connected to the Live servers) can be configured to deliver the sports news you’re interested in, and you can also choose to hear the ESPN radio reports when they are available. Although, given the link-up with ESPN, it’s a little bit of a shame that there aren’t any classic clips you can unlock. And in that same vein, it’s disappointing that although your own ‘Classic’ fights’ scorecards are stored, you can’t watch the entire fight again later on, or at least not without constantly jumping in and out of the instant replay editor. But that’s perhaps the geek in me coming to the fore.
In terms of replay value, there isn’t much in Fight Now mode once you’ve beaten everybody and messed around pitting fighters of differing weight classes against each other (you can jump as far as two levels, up or down, and have Hatton v Calzaghe if you like). However, Microsoft points will get you new fighters in the form of DLC, like the Klitschko brothers, amongst others. As already mentioned, Legacy mode can be tackled numerous times with the different weight classes, and those interested in online play have the option of jumping straight into a quick fight, ranked or unranked, or going for the gold in Online World Championship mode.
On the whole, Fight Night Round 4 hits home with all the speed and power of a heavyweight in his prime, only looking slightly wobbly as it nears the final bell. Mike Tyson might not be championship material any more, but Fight Night allows you to roll back the years and hit knockout blow after knockout blow with the baddest man on the planet, again and again.
NOTE: I'd give this 8.5 if I could, as it's not quite worth a 9 for me. So, 8/10 it is.
8 / 10