Fight Night Round 4 - Xbox 360 review

While pummeling another human being utilising only your fists might seem completely abhorrent to a healthy number of the common folk, the sport of boxing has never suffered from a lack of popularity. Nor have the brawling titles emanating from those talented developers at EA.

The last in the series did its level best to truly bring us a firm realisation of just what this latest generation of consoles was truly capable of. With superb animation (outside the sometimes comical knock downs) and phenomenal looks, Fight Night Round 3 had all the facets needed to be the absolute success that it was.

For Round 4, EA have tweaked rather than fiddled too deeply with what made the series so highly regarded. Like the Tiger Woods titles, the Fight Night series has introduced a method of control system that does its level best to culminate in a much simpler and responsive feel. The majority of your punches - the only omission being your "signature punch" initiated by a single button prod - are controlled via the right analogue stick alone.

A simple nudge upwards initiates a straight jab, with a left or right inclination reflecting the hand your fighter will use. Push the stick downwards, and hook it back upwards and you'll unleash a brutal uppercut that could fell even the most stone jawed of boxers. It's a quite wonderful system, and combined with various trigger pulls, and bumper pokes, you can block, swerve, and even send a cheeky headbutt your opponent's way.

But as fantastic as this control system is, it's still a way from perfect. When the fighting gets quite hectic, you will undoubtedly throw punches you never intended, and your fighter won't feel quite as responsive as you could have hoped for. And the strange decision to completely the remove the good old button centric control system which served the series so well in years gone by is mystifying.

The counter system, which gives a subtle audible and visual prompt towards that brief snippet of time you can unleash a counter blow to send your opponent rocking, has been vastly improved and feels much more organic over the last version's somewhat mechanical method. Before it became a test of just who could land the most counter punches. Now it feels much closer to a true boxing test.

What can't be criticised are the absolutely superb visuals. While last version's fighters still stand tall as fantastic representations of what the modern consoles can achieve, these are still a major jump upwards. Everything simply appears real, with punches connecting appropriately and fighters moving around the ring with grace.

The only problem comes with the slow motion replays for knockdowns. Last time out the only miss was the jarring physics which sometimes left your fighter flopping on the floor like a dead fish. This time there is no such problem, with brawlers hitting the mat with the satisfying thump we've all craved. But, this time around the punches sometimes don't stand the connection test. At times you'll see a fighter tumble down over what seems to be a missed punch, followed by a brief rub of an arm on an ear. A small flaw, but one that certainly stands out when it makes an appearance.

For fight fans wanting to make a career of things, get ready to miss quite a few nights out over the next few months. After creating a boxer, or choosing a current fighter, you embark on a full scale boxing career. You'll be tasked with booking fights, training to up your skills, and working your way gradually up the rankings until you can finally be called the "Greatest Of All Time". It can seriously devour huge chunks of your life, and will be some of the most fun packed gaming hours you'll have earned in years.

Again, there's still a small problem however. The various training choices level up differing areas of your boxing skill, and the better you score during training, the more improvement you'll witness. But the training is of such a ridiculously high level of difficulty that you'll constantly settle for the auto-training option which only offers a 50% potential improvement. Much better than the 15% you'll attain unless your gaming prowess is truly something special.

It's not all about the career mode of course. You can easily match up a hefty number of some of the most popular and widely known fighters in boxing's history, in both single and multiplayer modes. And for online gamers there are even belts to be won online if you believe you've a shot at the gold. Don't expect any cheap victories online however. The skills of some of the online fighters easily rivals one Muhammad Ali.

Verdict

Fight Night Round 4 is a visual masterpiece. With aesthetics this good, even true boxing critics can't fail but be wowed by the sheer technical brilliance on offer here. It's just a shame that a few minor problems with the controls and training system drag things down a point. Still whole heartedly recommended.