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Fight Night Round 4 on 360 and PS3 aims to provide realistic boxing action on the big consoles. The sequel to the popular Fight Night Round 3, it offers plenty of options and moments of boxing history for fans. But for me, it completely lacked the juxtaposition of beauty and brutality that so transfixes me when watching the real sport. It's quite an enjoyable game against friends, but played alone it lacks heart and stymies progress.
Despite offering an array of gameplay options such as a multiplayer mode and being able to play as your favourite boxer from the history books, I decided to focus much of my efforts on the Legacy Mode. The idea of starting out on the bottom rung and working my way up to be the greatest boxer ever, sounded very appealing to my RPG loving nature.
Starting out in the character customisation screen, there are certainly plenty of options to ensure that your chosen boxer is entirely your creation. I went for Ben 'Bulldog' Gardner, a stocky fighter from the Bronx. I set his statistics and abilities to be a powerhouse of a heavyweight boxer. I imagined Bulldog Gardner to be a hard, mean brawler of a man. The kind of boxer who would throw an illegal move mid way through a bout just to get an inch ahead of the opposition.
After creating my persona I realised just how much patience was actually needed to reach the top in Fight Night Round 4. First of all, like any budding sportsperson, I had to prepare before each fight. A rigorous training scheme is vital to truly succeed at Fight Night Round 4, and it's not easy. With plenty of training options at first it was tricky to decide what to focus on. Initially going with improving my power through beating the punch bag, I realised quickly that it was going to be a slow process. Unlike previous boxing titles I've played, it took a long while to actually notice any significant improvement in my stats. Much like a lot of this game, it's better to take it slow and work things up gradually rather than expect great success quickly.
Boxing is a true juxtaposition of a sport, as beautiful and graceful as it is brutal and violent. However this really didn't come across in Fight Night Round 4.
I was first entered in the amateur tournament, which took a surprising amount of time to traverse. Each round took three minutes and with four rounds per match, it certainly all added up. As another example of taking things slowly and precisely, the action was much more how one would expect a boxing match to take place. I made the simple mistake of burning out too fast in my first match.
Flicking the right stick frequently to attempt to rain great damage on my opponent really wasn't wise. I only had a relatively small amount of stamina, meaning that I quickly burned out and could only inflict very minor blows. This may have been useful for point scoring but really left me feeling distinctly vulnerable. Taking the time out to duck and weave around my opponent's attacks was much more rewarding and ensured that my stamina restored quickly.
It turns out boxing in Fight Night Round 4 was a lot more intelligent than I initially anticipated with it being much more of a balancing act than simply knocking out the opponent. I was worried that Bulldog Gardner and I weren't cut out for such strategic play, with both of us suffering badly from a lack of patience.
The real problem though was that excluding the back-story for my boxer.
The real problem though was that excluding the back-story for my boxer, I felt no real connection to Fight Night Round 4. Even when throwing punches I felt disconnected and every victory felt hollow. I didn't feel as if I was actually being rewarded for my success. At the end of each tournament I won, there was no real celebration, simply moving onto the next stage with no memorable fanfare. At times I found some punches simply not connecting even though I was certain that the exact same move had worked perfectly only a few seconds previously. It all just felt too clinical and robotic, even despite the visual realism; there was no harshness or feeling of consequence to the violence.
Boxing is a true juxtaposition of a sport, as beautiful and graceful as it is brutal and violent. However this really didn't come across in Fight Night Round 4, it lacked any real feeling. Even after spending many, many hours training up Bulldog Gardner and eventually winning various tournaments, I felt no real sense of satisfaction, just a lingering feeling of apathy. There may be a sense of victory and accomplishment when playing against a real player, but when it comes to sparring with the CPU, Fight Night Round 4 just doesn't hit the spot.
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