on 19 August 2009
Having had FNR4 since release, I've found it to be brilliantly enjoyable and completely frustrating, more the former, however the frustrations do strike hard. Offline, FNR4 is a treat to play, be it against a friend or the CPU. The new physics engine really is something, you can sense when you've made full contact or a partial hit, the way you can make a punch come out of nowhere depending on how you've ducked or weaved, it really is an immersive experience. The whole presentation is fantastic (though the commentary does get a little repetitive) and it really does look the part. While some of the lesser known boxers move in a rather generic fashion, the top boxers, your Ali's and your Calzaghe's, move in their distinctive styles, making the experience authentic and enjoyable.
Legacy Mode is the area where a lot of people will spend their time and for the most part it's very good, the difficulty gradually steps up and it's takes hard work and dedication to get to being the Greatest of All Time. Creating your own character with Game Face and the ability to import other created boxers adds a bit of spice to proceedings also, fighting a computer-version of one of your friends for a championship belt is rather fun! It does drag a little towards the end of your career, especially when you've fulfilled all the requirements to be the Greatest of All Time expect the number of fights, so you slog through the final fights just to get to the end. Also, having completed this once and gained a gold trophy, there's little scope for replayability.
A lovely touch is the instant replay system, where you can replay the last minute or so of your fight, trim it down, create multiple camera angles, slow/quicken the speed and even upload it to the EA servers, perfect for capturing that 1st round knockdown you scored against your mate.
A few niggles concerning the total punch control (which, personally, I prefer to button pressing as it created a feel that you're actually executing the punch yourself), sometimes response times can be a little delayed (especially online!), notably I find uppercuts are every so often delayed, and in boxing a split second is very important. Overall though, I feel the total punch control works very well and generally the punch I am trying to execute is the one I end up playing.
However, where FNR4 ultimately falls down for me is online - and partially through no fault of it's own. Firstly, it generally doesn't lag and games are relatively smooth, though there are sometimes issues with punch timing - a handful of times I've seen a haymaker coming towards me, tried to block or move and the slight delay in responsiveness has meant I've been hit anyway. As I said though, mainly online bouts are smooth and lag-free. My main issues with online are with other players. Step into the ring in an online match and any strategy goes out of the window - it's a case of whoever can throw the fastest punches wins. I've played online since release day and only once was I treated to a match where my opponent seemed to want to block, sidestep, weave and counter punch, resulting in an enjoyable bout. Every other game has resulted in a series of wild attacks for about 7 rounds, until whoever gets that vital last knockdown goes on to claim a victory. One cause of this is the fact that, no matter how many punches you throw, your stamina won't get as low as your opponent if you spam them with body shots from the off - if a fighter is faster and starts targeting the body quickly, your stamina drains and then they can pick you off with head shots. Having been beaten and used this tactic myself, it can make the game a little laborious and predictable. With the upcoming introduction of button controls I fear this will only get worse, where people figure out the perfect height to weight ratio for a boxer and spam their way to a victory. And who can blame them? Unfortunately if there is an option of getting the win in one fashion over another, a large majority of people will take this route. However, I feel playing online takes most of the enjoyment out of the game - boxing should be strategic and if played as such FNR4 can be immensely rewarding, unfortunatly in the quest for a few gold trophies in World Championship mode, the vast majority of games turn into something more akin to a playground brawl.
FNR4 is a great game, there's no two ways about it, and online can be enjoyable, but for me it's a similar story to many games - you just can't beat playing a mate on 2 player in your own home. Perhaps it's because if the two of you are there, neither of you wants to be 'that guy' who just spams, whereas online it's more anonymous and the win is more important than the enjoyment. Who knows, maybe I'm just rubbish (but as I've completed legacy on GOAT mode, I don't feel this is the case)! All in all, a worthy investment.