What We Liked
Face to Face: You begin "Legacy Mode" by designing your boxer. There are enough options here to make a gaunt lightweight with a glass jaw to a husky heavyweight with no muscle definition. EA's Photo Game Face finally makes its way into the series, which gives you the option of seeing a digitized representation of your own face -- both before and after being on the wrong end of a couple Muhammad Ali bee stings. Tiger Woods is the only game we've seen with more customizable character options.
Style Points: "Upright," "Balanced," "Wild," "Hyper" -- you can choose from 12 different styles of fighting. Boost your stat bonuses by fighting by the book, literally -- the instruction booklet tells you how you're supposed to attack depending on which style you choose. These are all a part of designing your fighter. Physical attributes also dictate strategy. If you've got long arms and quick feet, stay away from your opponent and keep peppering him jabs. If you're a little smaller, you'll want to stay in close and work the body.
Stick and Move: Once you hop into the ring, all of your fighter's movements are a result of the two toggle sticks. The left toggle stick moves your boxer around the ring and can also be used to bob and weave by holding down the trigger button. Your right stick controls the punching. It's all very organic and the action flows seamlessly from your sticks onto the screen.
It's In The Game ... Plan: A realistic emphasis on strategy forces you to build your attacks around quick jabs and counters. It's rarely wise to throw random punches, as you only make real contact by waiting for openings in your opponent's defense. (A quick color flash indicates a solid blow.) Yes, detailed strategy forces you to hold off on haymakers and uppercuts until the later rounds when your opponent is tired, but the wait makes each defining knockout blow that much sweeter once it finally connects.
Speed Kills: 2006's Fight Night Round 3 was hailed by many as the original breakthrough next-gen sports title. Round 4 continues the evolution. For a game with this much constant movement in every direction, the game's 60 frames per second speed renders the fluid action in the ring without fail. Even online. Your boxer moves like a real athlete whether he's putting together a flurry of punches or he's bouncing around the ring waiting to unleash a vicious hook.
Mike'd Up: Iron Mike is in the house and it's a reminder of just how much we've missed the crazy boxer from Brooklyn. Sure, it's great to see him in the cartoon-y Punch-Out!!, but to really get in the ring as Mike Tyson in his prime is spectacular. (Or terrifying, if you choose to take him on.)
Save the Date: When you're trying to work your way up the ranks, Legacy Mode forces you to plan out your schedule like a real fighter. Instead of just playing random mini-games before taking on opponents, you're asked to plan fights according to your opponent's schedule. Choose from a series of dates from your next opponent based on how many training sessions you think you'll need before the bout.
Check out Fight Night 4 in action:
What We'd Change
Artificial Intelligence: Sometimes the AI is a little quick to plug in a counterpunch. Then there are other times when your opponent has trouble blocking a series of unimaginative combos. There's nothing more frustrating than a walkover AI opponent; except maybe an impossible to beat AI. An AI that alternates between those two worlds is not the solution, either.
Training Zoned: We hope Allen Iverson isn't reading this right now because we're about to talk about practice. With the exception of the traditional sparring, the training games you play during career mode can be incredibly demanding, difficult and occasionally just downright boring. Sure, you can simulate the training activities, but then why have the mini-games at all?
Backed Into A Corner: Fixing up your fighter depends on how you're performing in the ring. It's a cool concept but it doesn't play out realistically. Earn points based on stats like connected punches and knockouts, then assign them between rounds to health, damage, or stamina. Navigating a menu and clicking buttons is a far cry from the cut-cleaning mini-game in Round 3 - and certainly not an improvement.
Fight Night Round 4 is visually amazing, both because of its crisp graphics and effortless speed. Most of the complaints are either surmountable (the strategy can test your patience when you start out) or based on minutiae (training and corner mini-games). Boxing lovers will eat this title up, while gamers can learn a lot about the Sweet Science during a run through Legacy Mode.
-- Reviewd by Paul Ulane