Game Review: The Beauty of Boxing in Fight Night Round 4
“If it ain’t broke…”
I forgot that EA Sports used to know how to make a great sports title. They had a monopoly on the sports gaming industry for a time. Madden, NBA Live, FIFA, NHL, NCAA Football and Basketball, Tiger Woods PGA Tour, NASCAR, among other franchises. One that I never had the pleasure of experiencing until now was Fight Night. (RIP to NCAA, NASCAR, and Tiger Woods who has been dethroned)
EA had a period where their games were top of the line (and pretty much JUST their games), they would innovate year in and year out. When 2010 came around, 2K sunk money into their sports titles and other developers were joining the fray.
The Show became the MLB mainstay as 2K can’t put together a solid baseball game.
2K makes the hands down greatest sports simulation today with NBA 2K.
EA Sports has held its license for Madden, but 2K has been smoking them with their NBA game. Graphics, physics, game modes, online, content, depth, fun. EA Sports wasn’t making FUN sports games anymore, and that’s the ideal that always gets lost in the shuffle.
Fight Night Round 4 is a FUN sports title. It’s not very deep, the features aren’t plentiful, the roster pairs legends with current nobodies outside of Pacquiao.
Yet as I’ve played, I haven’t been majorly bothered (critiques later on) for a moment by it.
I started up the game, I created my boxer, I won an amateur tournament, and then I was fighting my way up the ranks of the Lightweight division (forgive my weight class, I always want to add some of my real life realism).
And my short career (11–4) hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. I challenged some guys with more talent than me and was outboxed and outclassed. One time I got knocked out. So I fought some equally matched opponents, made sure to train more, and wham I was the one outmaneuvering, bobbing and weaving, and landing heavy punches.
I began the game flailing the right stick at opponents, seldom blocking and dodging. While that works initially, it’s a no go against guys who will make you pay for missing a punch. You don’t have to be a technical boxing genius to succeed in FNR4, but you eventually learn to become a tactician. What punches to throw, when to throw them, when to dodge, when to move, where to move.
It’s easy to see how invested you can get in the game. It’s the #1 sign that says hey, you’re having fun with this game. It’s immersion.
What’s truly awesome about FNR4 that is hard to find in games today, is that immersion isn’t achieved by creating an enormous sandbox or a Spike Lee directed miniseries. It comes from intuitive gameplay design.
I recently bought NHL 14 by EA Sports as a sports fan curious to see what I can get out of a newer generation hockey game. It’s a good game no doubt, but the control scheme is so ridiculously complex that I only use about half the buttons in a game because I understand what those buttons do.
I remember getting a taste of EA Sports MMA and UFC titles and having similar issues. And it’s understandable, the sports have such depth to them that the developers are trying to pump in as much as they can.
The Cake. It’s Tasty
In FNR4, the right stick throws all your punches, does all your dodges, and does all your blocks. Holding L1 for dodges, R1 for blocks, move the right stick in the direction to assume that direction. And then you move around the ring with the left stick. Once you understand what direction to move the right stick to throw a punch and get a feeling for the types of punches you throw, you start to see how the game moves seamlessly.
The seamlessness of the game from three base mechanics: punches, dodges, and blocks, set the groundwork for a great game. The rest is icing, and I wouldn’t talk this game so highly if there wasn’t any icing.
The Icing.. on the Cake You’re Now Eating
When you have the base for a good game, it’s important that the little touches included add that extra flair to make the game great. What I always found special about MLB The Show 10 was that the commentary had the most unique sense of style. I’ve never heard someone say “ouchbang” anywhere else before in my life. That is called authenticity.
The physics of FNR4 is the most authentic stroke of genius in the game. What you see on screen provides you with this sensation that you’re actually in a fight and actually boxing.
Some other touches of icing in FNR4 are in the counter punches. A successful dodge leads to a split second small camera movement. If you or your opponent lands a counter punch, there’s a little extra oompf as heard by the sound fx in game. Obviously that’s the cinematic approach to boxing, but that’s the best kind of boxing. The reason there’s been like 8 Rocky movies. Punches that stun you or your opponent have a similar effect except that there’s a high pitched ring that’s basically saying, you just got your bell rung.
The other big key to FNR 4 is the AI. AI in sports titles is the hardest thing to get right. Fight Night has the advantage that boxing is a mano-a-mano sport. So the AI is treated with respect without making you feel helpless in the face of a supercomputer. Fighters fight their respective styles. It’s the least you could ask for, and it’s what you get a T. When you’re beating some ass and the final round rolls around, your opponent will start swinging for the fences trying to knock you out. When AI do the little things that keep you immersed, it’s one of the biggest pluses you’ll get out of a game.
Think about a game like Madden where you only control 1 out of 10 players on the field. Playing defense is a chore because the outcome of a play may be out of your hands.
The truth of the matter is, it’s so easy to pop Fight Night Round 4 in and immediately start having fun. I’m a sucker for the RPG experience of today’s sports titles, but FNR4 is a reminder that sports games and video games don’t need to have a mountain of customization and content to be fun and immersive.
Not Without Improvements
Now Fight Night is not without its flaws of course. Certain aspects of the game aren’t completely sensible, including the training sessions and how it effects player progression. Basically it takes a couple extra blood, sweat, and many a tears to get your fighter to a performance level where he can really compete at a high level whereas how you actually perform in fights doesn’t alter your skills ratings.
The game could also use a little bit more explanation on the different styles of fighting and what strategies to employ. The menu screens are a bit clunky as well. Did I say this was the perfect game?
I also have no idea if I’ll ever successfully land the Ali shuffle, though that may be more a fault on me.