Effective blocks and dodging not only spare you from losing precious health and stamina, they give you a small window of opportunity to launch back with a much more powerful punch. Subtle visual cues alert you to such moments and once you connect, you'll really feel the impact. With the Haymaker modifier applied the effect is even greater. It generally stuns opponents for a few seconds, allowing you to weigh in with a deadly assault.
Opponents will try desperately to clinch or push you away while they regain their faculties, so the best thing to do is pick off your opponent at the right moment, from the right distance. Get too close and they'll drag you in, but stray too far and they'll stagger out of reach and get time to recover. You could always headbutt them if you're feeling especially mean, but do it more than once and the ref will dock a point from the scorecard.
Another element of key importance is your fighter's stamina. Status bars at the bottom of the screen keep you alerted to how exhausted you are, and it's crucial because low stamina means you'll lose more health when you get hit. You'll also perform weaker punches. It's a real balancing act. If you prefer, you can crank up the challenge even higher and (as was the case in FNR3) turn off the HUD entirely to try judging how you and your opponent are faring just by looking. This is Fight Night at its absolute rawest; it makes an already fascinating game of cat and mouse even more strategic and tactical.
Between rounds, a new points system allows you to cash-in on a good performance and spend them on restoring your health, stamina or on patching up damage. It's nowhere near as much fun as the more tactile system employed in FNR3, but does lend a shallow degree of strategy as you figure out where best to throw your resources.
Once back in the ring, you're always aware that a declining health and stamina bar is going to catch up with you. When you inevitably take one punch too many the game gives you an agonising opportunity to get back up on your feet. A horizontal meter instructs you which way to push the left stick, and as it nears the centre you're supposed to push up to stand. But as the momentum builds, it has a propensity to overshoot, meaning you have to try and do the whole thing again before the referee counts you out. It's brutally unforgiving once you've taken too much punishment, and the inevitable jelly legs get you in the end. As a system it's not dissimilar to the one used before, but every bit as effective at making you feel completely out of control.
Whether battling it out with a friend or the AI, Fight Night Round 4 is one of the purest gaming experiences out there. Had it included the simple option to punch with with buttons rather than sticks, it would have been a near flawless experience. Maybe EA Sports will listen to the community feedback currently raging on this issue and issue a simple patch, but until that time the game doesn't quite live up to its astounding potential.
Whichever way you play Fight Night Round 4, it's an intense, heart-rattling experience that gets more rewarding the more time you invest in learning the nuances. With incredible attention to detail, technical achievements are more than mere eye candy and a deeper, more rewarding fighting system than ever before, it's an essential purchase for boxing fans and fighting game aficionados.
8 / 10