Boxing is one of those sports that pretty much everyone has a passing interest in, but most people wouldn’t want to watch more than a highlights package of it on SportsCenter. Everyone can relate to the systematic bludgeoning of an individual using fists as the weapon of choice, but treat them to round after three-minute round of ear muffs, strategic jabs and ducking and weaving, and they start to lose interest.
But that is the reality of boxing. It isn’t all knockouts and chomping on earlobes, but often a tactical and strategic wearing down of the opponent. And if you’re able to embrace this reality, you’re in for quite a ride in Fight Night Round 4. FNR3 was in many ways the first true next-generation console title. Released in 2006, it can still hold its own amongst the best looking games around, and the visuals were backed up by solid, innovative gameplay.
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Gameplay has received a complete overhaul in Fight Night Round 4. FNR3 let you simply uppercut and haymaker your way to an early knockout win, thanks to the block and parry defensive system. This time around, the parry has been done away with, giving you fewer opportunities to have an open shot at your opponent. And now, simply landing a punch isn’t enough; you’ll need to time it right to make sure it lands flush, because while in FNR3 punches would either miss or land as intended, here, punches being deflected, dodged, or mistimed will often lead to glancing blows that only inflict a fraction of the intended damage. The hit detection is pretty spot-on and the physics model really shines, delivering punches of varying strength based on momentum, balance and posture.
With so many punches either missing or being deflected, you’re now forced to rely more on low-risk shots like the jab and hook to soften the opponent up, and use the jaw-crushing haymakers and signature punches only once he’s on the back foot with his guard down. There is also a lot of emphasis on stamina this time around. The more risky shots deplete your stamina more, and punches missing or being blocked will reduce it faster, and once your stamina is low, you’ll move slower and your punches will be weaker. Reducing the opponent’s stamina is also a tactic you will need to adopt, and this is done best by landing body blows. So while headshots will let you earn that crowd-pleasing knockdown, getting your head down and landing those body blows will get you there faster.
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To make up for the removal of the parry, there’s now renewed importance placed on counter-punching. Hitting your opponent immediately after blocking or weaving away from a punch will inflict increased damage, and once again, the key here is timing. So in essence, FNR4 wants you to play a more well-rounded fight, throwing a mix of jabs, hooks, uppercuts and haymakers, while ducking, weaving and blocking every now and then to thwart your opponent’s onslaught. The punches in bunches approach of FNR3 will leave you exposed here.
Those who played FNR3 with the face button layout will also be in for a surprise; this time around you’re forced to play using the total punch control system that lets you dish out all punches using rotations on the right analog stick. While it would have been nice to keep the face button layout as an option (the option will soon be added via a free downloadable update), the total punch control system was easily the more responsive and immersive way to play even in FNR3 and here it’s been further fine-tuned. And once you get the hang of it, you won’t want to play any other way.
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Gameplay speed is visibly increased this time around, aided by 60-frames-per-second visuals. But while the punches fly around thick and fast, the responsiveness seems to have taken a hit. Each punch carries a fixed animation so even if you throw three quick jabs on the right stick, the animations take a lot longer to play out on screen. By the time you’re done with the third jab, the first one is still playing out on screen, and your fighter will only respond to further commands once the third jab animation plays out. So it almost feels like the game is always a step or two behind you. But the animations are a sight to behold, with smooth transitions from one to the next complete with realistic muscle-flexing. So you will soon learn that the most effective way to play is to throw punches one after another, rather than just madly pushing the stick around and hoping for the best.
The corner and knockdown mini-games have both been changed in FNR4, and for the worse. While you had to play the cutman in between rounds and heal your boxer in FNR3, here you’re just given a bunch of points to distribute between three attributes – health, stamina, and damage. It’s not nearly as much fun or as engaging. The get up mini-game during knockdowns too was perfectly implemented in FNR3, while here it feels like a game of chance. But overall, FNR4 plays much better than its predecessor, with improvements in almost every department, although the added emphasis on low-risk punches and tactical boxing means that it has lost a lot of the pick-up-and-play appeal that FNR3 possessed in abundance.
Next page: Round 2