Images of a youthful Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali tell you almost everything you need to know about Fight Night Round 4, the latest edition of EA’s boxing franchise.
Those two fighters set the tone for the whole game, making it a feel like a playful romanticizing of the sweet science that focuses on boxing’s past while relying on players’ creativity to bolster the present — because let’s be honest, unless you’re a huge fan of the lighter-weight divisions, the present isn’t that great.
The game’s roster of nearly 50 fighters features a fleet of legends virtually recreated in their prime. Enjoy the early version of George Foreman, who back in the day was known more for his mother-of-god punching power than his affinity for selling fat-burning grills.
There’s also Mexican boxing deity Julio Cesar Chavez, the late Arturo Gatti and pound-for-pound great Sugar Ray Robinson. Also in the mix are a smattering of current stars like Manny Pacquiao, Kelly Pavlik and Miguel Cotto. While you’re nose-deep in a swarm of cool what-if matchups (Lennox vs. Big George? Tyson vs. Frazier? Pac-Man against Tommy Hearns?), you can’t help but notice some glaring omissions from the roster: No Bernard Hopkins, no Floyd Mayweather, neither of the Klitschkos.
However, such transgressions can be remedied with entertaining applications of the create-a-boxer/share boxer online features. Thanks to the creative juices of the community, I was not only able to download solid renditions of Evander Holyfield, Mayweather and the Klitschkos but also Rocky Balboa, President Obama, Ron Burgundy and even late TV pitchman Billy Mays (who, as the file description pointed out, “fights with the power of oxygen.”)
Through the vision camera or photos, you can also download your face into the game, turn yourself into a pugilistic Adonis and then fight other players online for the Online World Championship. This adds an extra dimension to the competitive life of the game, which could have gotten tedious if you simply used the same fighters over and over again.
In-ring action is where the game makes its mark. I found it easier to blend punches together with the retooled thumbstick punch controls.The game also deftly handles fighting styles, so it feels like you have to “learn” your fighter as opposed to simply picking anyone and throwing blows.
This was pretty evident in the Tyson vs. Ali matchup, a classic picture of contrasting styles. Tyson emulated his Cus D’Amato-crafted “peekaboo” style that led him to so many knockouts. The method enabled the stocky New Yorker to generate tons of power with his punches while eluding the blows of his opponents with masterful head movement. If you try to use Tyson like a tank and bulldoze your way in, you’ll get your eyes shut by Ali, who had one of the best jabs in history and was an expert at carving up the guys across from him with his hand speed and movement.
This stylistic thinking adds a layer of welcome strategy and does a good job of reining in any urges to stupidly fire away for a first-round knockout.
I enjoyed the slight action-figure look of the fighters. It was a slight departure from a lot of the uber-realism one sees in sports games, but the game’s physics engine – complete with fleshy ripple-effects upon landing a knockout punch – will more than satisfy any need for creepy realism. However, no engine is perfect, so I still got to see a fair share of funny looking KOs where a seemingly innocuous blow would be enough to put a man down.
A confusing issue I had with the game was how it handled the concept of stamina. It’s easy to get caught up in the flow of the fight and miss this, and I understand that even the most pristine of sports sims must allow for slight stretches of reality — but I have yet to see a fight where any boxer can throw the overwhelming number of punches these virtual boxers throw per round. Some fights happen where both boxers will throw roughly 1,000 punches each. That’s not a slight stretch — that seems like a physiological impossibility. For a game that does so well in covering other facets of fighting, like corner work, cuts, realistic physics — it’s sort of a design elephant in the room that’s initially easy to miss because the game’s other elements are so captivating.
With that said, Fight Night Round 4 won a lot of points with me because of how it resonates with a lot of boxing history while coming across as the fan-friendliest edition of the series. It’s something that could conceivably have younger fans looking up the legends of the past — even though you probably won’t find guys throwing 1,000 punches apiece.