A long ways from punch out. The shortest distance between two points is supposed to be a straight line. But in boxing, as in life, things are rarely so direct. The shortest distance between my fist at Point A and my foe's face at Point B might occasionally be a simple jab. But it might also follow the curved path of a hook, or the elbow bend of an uppercut. And all of these are woven into the ducking and dodging of the fighters, tangling a simple line of attack into a serpentine swarm.
In an attempt to mimic this dance of missed and mixed-up connections, the controls in Fight Night Round 4 avoid the direct simplicity of button-pushing. Every major punch is thrown with the action of the right thumbstick. An angled snap forward throws a straight or a jab. Swinging it out and then up delineates the action of a hook. Likewise, down and around initiates and imitates the arc of an uppercut.
Blocks are controlled in the same way, using the same thumbstick with the addition of a trigger being clutched. As a result, not only does the action of the thumbstick correspond to the actual actions of the boxer's body, but the use of one control for both offense and defense also recreates the same dilemma that a fighter must confront: how to simultaneously attack and defend with the same pair of fists.
The recovery time that the thumbstick requires to return to center is also a realistic analogue of the human body's need to stabilize itself, resulting in a generally lifelike fight. However, while Fight Night Round 4 has excellent animation that never betrays a shift from one sequence of movement to another, it can't always accommodate the fluid transitions of the human body. Fighters occasionally end up looking like Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots-those mechanical boxing toys that can only move in a limited number of ways.
There's also a notable shortage of blood, which really shouldn't be an issue in a Teen-rated game. While sweat bursts from brows in starburst patters with every substantial hit, very little blood spatters out of open cuts or bleeding mouths. It's disappointing, because when I finally manage to connect Point A to Point B, I want to see some bloody results.
THE GOOD: EA Sports has nearly perfected the cultural
ephemera of professional sports. The game's "Legacy Mode" is one of the best
rookie-to-champ career simulators since Top Spin 3. And the
television-style commentary is done better than I've seen in any videogame-not
only is it rarely repetitive, but it actually gives good advice, revealing
players' strengths and weaknesses during the course of a fight.
THE BAD: The thumbstick-driven control scheme is a love-it-or-hate-it prospect, and unfortunately EA Sports is listening to the haters. Later this summer they'll release a downloadable patch that will enable buttons to throw punches. Not only does this mean that Fight Night Round 4 will become virtually identical to Round 3, but it will also unbalance the game, favoring button-mashers and players who rely on buttons to do their swinging for them.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A serious boxing sim that, while not a total knockout, easily goes the distance.
Fight Night Round 4
Rated Teen; Xbox 360, PlayStation 3