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Hands On: Fight Night Round 4

EA Sports’ Fight Night series has led a pretty charmed life. Since its beginnings on the PS2 it has enjoyed a warm reception from fans and critics alike, largely due to the wonderfully intuitive Total Punch Control system. It was the first boxing game to abandon button-mashing for more considered, tactical gameplay and as a result it currently sits way ahead of the competition in terms of both realism and fun. Fight Night Round 3, the first current gen instalment, was an early release title for the Xbox 360 and its truly stunning visuals drew a lot of attention to the new breed of consoles. However, from our hands on with the sequel, it’s clear that things have moved on pretty quickly.“Right from the get-go we wanted to make the most authentic boxing experience possible,” says game producer Dean Richards at the EA European showcase event in London. “We really wanted to look at four key areas: speed, strength, strategy and style.” And, as we take control of the game for the first time, it’s speed that is the most obvious improvement. Round 4 moves at an almost frightening pace, adding a whole new level of fluidity that was absent from its predecessor. What is even more impressive is that the visuals have also been considerably enhanced –  it’s clear that, in the time since the release of Round 3, the development team have been able to squeeze a lot more out of the hardware which not only makes the game move faster, it has gameplay implications too.“In Round 3 you pretty much had to finish your animation before you could throw the next punch,” explains Richards.  “But, in reality someone like Mohammed Ali, or Manny Pacquiao or Sugar Ray Leonard had tremendous speed, especially as you go down through the weight classes. These guys can throw five or six punch combos in a flurry, so it was really important for us in Round 4 that you can do that.” As we land two hooks to the body followed by a series of rapid uppercuts, it seems that he’s not exaggerating. Round 4 feels much more responsive in every way and, for the first time in series it’s possible to pull off some lightning combos if your fighter has some decent hand speed. However, while we’re impressed at how the game has captured the importance of speed in boxing, the way Round 4 deals with strength is even more astounding.Despite the inclusion of impact punches and haymakers in Round 3, all too often the game boiled down to depleting your opponent’s energy bar to the point where you were able to knock him down. Round 4’s new physics engine changes everything. “When you look at traditional fighting engines, they are pretty much based on scripted sequences, meaning that if a punch did land on a hook to the face, it landed in the exact same spot,” says Richards. “It didn’t really offer much in the way of depth or variety, it didn’t really represent strength.” He goes on to explain how, in Round 4, where a punch lands on your opponent influences its effect. Land a hook clean on the chin and you could stun your opponent or even score a knockdown. The new physics system also affects blocking and, if the angle is right, a punch can find its way through a blocking opponent’s hands. “I can get up close and there are these amazing “Matrix” moments,” laughs Richards. “As a punch is coming close to your face, you have the ability to move just an inch or two and it might miss. In Round 3, that was very deterministic. If it was gonna land, it was gonna land, there was no way to get around it. That difference might be the difference between winning and losing the fight.” As we get up close and personal with Tyson (as Ali), we see how the physics engine allows true inside fighting for the first time in series.{PAGE TITLE=Fight Night Round 4 Hands On Page 2}If you played the previous Fight Night games at any length, you will probably have encountered the mysterious phenomenon of the invisible wall. No matter how far you moved towards your opponent there was always a considerable gap between you, preventing proper inside fighting. This was presumably due to the punch scripting and clipping issues, neither of which are concerns in Round 4. Whereas in Round 3 fighting styles were almost purely cosmetic, in Round 4 they have a huge impact on the gameplay. The old boxing cliché “styles make fights” has never rung truer and we put the new inside fighting to the test in our Tyson-Ali match up. Playing as Ali we’re able to keep the fearsome Tyson at arm’s length, using Ali’s jab, reach advantage and ring generalship to take the first round. However, at the start of the second, Tyson sneaks his way inside using his trademarked head bob and opens up a multi-pack of whoop-ass on Ali. Richards explains that, when fighting at this range, Ali’s punches become less effective because they frequently overshoot Tyson’s head. Tyson, however, has strong, shortened punches on the inside which carry much more weight. I try to create some distance between Ali and Iron Mike with the new push feature (which is fantastic) but just as I think I’ve broken free, he catches Ali square on the jaw with a clubbing hook, knocking him instantly to the floor. Unlike in Round 3, what follows is not a scripted knockdown sequence, but rather is entirely physics-based. “It matters where you get hit, how hard you get hit, what direction did you get hit from and the power of the punch,” says Richards.The way fighters take – and also recover from – damage has also evolved. Richards explains that the way you fight in a round affects how many points you’ll be able to spend on your recovery between rounds. Gone are the tedious iron and swabbing mini-games, to be replaced by a simple points allocation system. “If I’m stunning a guy, cutting a guy, landing most of my punches and I’m not getting hit, eventually I’ll get more and more points. I can use those points in three areas: health, stamina and damage.” Conversely if you have a relatively inactive round, you won’t be able to recover as quickly if you take a pounding. You can also store up your recovery points to give you an advantage later in the fight, but if you take too much damage, the referee will stop the contest.  “Everything that we’ve done is speaking to the authenticity of the sport,” says Richards as he goes on to explain how this is especially true of the game’s new Legacy career mode.“In the past, it was pretty much just “train, fight, train, fight” and you just keep fighting  until you win the comp,” he says. “Now, you have to schedule your fights, train, there are pound for pound rankings, real rankings, world rankings and you actually see the progression. It’s based solely on the real-life sport.” At every level of the new Legacy mode, the game will let you know what is necessary for advancement. It may be to maintain a healthy win percentage, or you may need to gain popularity by accepting call-outs and becoming a fan favourite. This is no 90 fight affair, however.  Just as you can progress through the rankings, you can also be retired. As a result, fight selection becomes much more important adding a much-needed element of strategy to the single player game. As well as fighting the familiar faces in the Legacy mode, Richards states you can also import your friends’ created fighters too, for an extra level of challenge. The Fight Night fan community’s biggest complaint about Round 3 was the unrealistic and repetitive career mode, so it seems as if the developer has been paying attention. Unfortunately we weren’t able to see the Legacy mode in action, but what we did see of Round 4 has certainly whet our appetite. With stunning visuals and a varied roster of fighters, Round 4 is certainly an appealing prospect for boxing fans. But the new physics engine is undoubtedly the star of the show and Richards believes it may set a new benchmark for fighting games. “What we’ve done with the game engine here is really revolutionise the fighting category,” he says. “Our goal was to get to the point where other games will be judged against it.”Fight Night Round 4 is due for release on PS3 and Xbox 360 on 26 June.


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