Clearly we're all spoilt for choice when it comes to PS3 fighting games. While there's something satisfying about connecting a Hadouken or locking in one of Tekken's outrageous grapples, sometimes you just want to pummel your foe's face until it looks like a piece of used chewing gum.
Fight Night Round 3 satisfied that urge by providing a glitzy arena and two meticulously modelled boxers attempting to flatten each other's faces. Fortunately, the series has managed to bob and weave past the EA tradition of pumping out a seasonal update every year, and Fight Night Round 4 is a thoughtful and, as a result, massively impressive sequel.
While the intuitive and tactile Total Punch Control system, which maps all the punches to sweeps and taps on the Right stick, makes a triumphant return, it's fused to a completely overhauled fighting engine. It's impossible to understate how much this changes the game for the better. Each boxer is now a totally physically modelled object. There's no chance of clipping issues and cheap impacts or dodges, and the fighters interlock realistically allows for true up-close fighting. In Round 4 every blow that's landed connects with a meticulously calculated impact.
Fluff your swing slightly and you'll only score a glancing blow, with realistically minimal damage inflicted. Land a haymaker square in the other guy's mush and you'll rock his skull.
The system applies as much when it comes to dodging punishment as it does to dishing it out. Now it's not just a case of a punch being avoided or eaten, you can dodge a moment too late, but still minimise the damage. There's still a reward for perfect timing of a block or a dodge, though, and it's a huge one.
Every time you manage to slip a punch, the camera dips slightly to indicate that your opponent has left himself wide open and vulnerable to a counter-attack. Manage to get a punch in the window of opportunity and it'll land with crushing force - even jabs get a healthy boost. If you react quickly enough to throw a haymaker they'll be stunned and prime fodder for a knockout.
Adapting to the importance of counters can be tough to begin with, but once you get the hang of it, there'll be a wry smile on your face as the camera drops and you deliver your face-rippling revenge. The other upshot is it minimises the chances of you being beaten by your mate whose primary tactic is flailing about on the stick until they or the other guy giddily hits the canvas.
Variety and longevity
Round 4 also boasts far more variety and longevity than the previous game thanks to this physics model. For a start, just by virtue of the fact it's not canned animation, no fight is ever quite the same, and you never feel like you're seeing the same punches and dodges each time.
Random flukes and quirks such as interlocked arms (which also leave you wide open) keep things spicy, but never feel unrealistic. Because the height and reach of the boxer is now taken into account, no boxer or opponent fights in quite the same way.
Choose Muhammad Ali and you're able to keep smaller fighters such as Tyson at a distance with your greater reach, but you have to watch out for them ducking into the inside and delivering damaging uppercuts and body blows.
Every boxer in Round 3 was a variation on the same slugger - in Round 4 they're noticeably different fighters. While the Career mode is still a very traditionalist combination of bouts and training, with the odd challenge from a cocky boxer, the opponents are now different enough that it's far less repetitive than the last game.