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Fight Night Round 4 Hands On

We didn’t know there were this many ways to improve one of our favorite games. But a new development team based out of EA’s Vancouver studio is, thankfully, not phoning in a save-as sequel to the Xbox 360’s best boxing game, and our first look at Fight Night Round 4 surprised us in all the right ways.

“Fight Night Round 3 was a great game,” begins Brian Hayes, gameplay producer at EA Canada, “but it benefited from being the first game on next-gen [consoles] that seemed next-gen. We know there’s a lot of pressure and a lot of high expectations [for the sequel], but we don’t have that benefit.” To live up to that, he continues, the Round 4 team is focusing on more authentic boxing. For instance, your boxer “isn’t dancing as he enters the ring, and [the] Burger King is not walking him out,” grins Hayes.

But of course, there are much bigger fish to fry, and what captured our attention most is the hardcore use of physics almost everywhere behind the scenes. “We’re really working on great collision detection,” explains Hayes. “We want it to look like two living bodies [in the ring], not ghosts.” Defeating that bane of boxing videogames would be a feat, but Round 4 goes farther than just making sure you don’t stick your arm through your opponent’s chest. The game calculates the force of each blow and precisely where it hits the target, then procedurally generates how your opponent’s head snaps back, which should build more variety and authenticity into bouts.

“And it’s not just a jab does 5 damage, a hook does 10, an uppercut does 15 — there’s much, much more variety than that,” says Hayes. “In Round 3, you fought a two-sided punching bag with face and body targets. In Round 4, there are lots of different zones. It’s not that bad to get hit on your forehead, but [getting clowned on] your chin or temple is really bad.” Punches are also delivered more quickly and smoothly, eliminating the robotic, repetitive feel that a flurry of blows sometimes had in the previous game.

Deeper, more true-to-the-sport strategy should also beef up the realism. The most crucial factors in a boxing match are the size and skill of the boxers. Muhammad Ali, for instance, used his longer reach to stay on the move and fight from the outside, while Mike Tyson got in close and pushed his opponents into the ropes.

The new physics-palooza (particularly that collision detection) means there isn’t a set distance from which you battle your opponent: you can get up-close-and-personal for uppercuts, or stay outside and unleash thundering straights. After all, as Hayes puts it, “ever since people have been boxing, there have been tall guys and short guys, so it’s one of the oldest strategic elements of the sport.”But Hayes was also adamant about changing one of the fundamental elements of gameplay in the Fight Night series: parries. Yup, they’re outta here. “In boxing, it’s hit and don’t get hit — it’s not hit and counter,” he says firmly. “If you ever meet Tyson and he throws a hook at your head, do not try to slap it out of the air! Make your opponent miss and then make him pay — that’s what boxing is about.” Kinda hard to argue with that, really.

Besides, even with those big puffy gloves on, blocking a ferocious punch is hardly a pain-free experience, so Round 4 requires more moving and leaning. Hayes is quick to add, though, that his team has also fixed the leaning exploit of Round 3. You can’t just tip your head to one side and never get tagged: your opponent’s punches will automatically retarget your skull’s new location, just as any real-life boxer who hadn’t been clubbed senseless would do. And if you camp on the Block button, you’ll start seeing punches squeak through the gaps in your gloves and realize it’s time to move your feet.

While all this focus on authenticity should make the core gameplay even richer, this series also needed to modernize its structure, and that’s where Legacy and World Championship modes come in. The first is the new career mode — picking from eight weight-class divisions, you start out a prospect and blaze through a career, trying to become the greatest of all time, rather than a has-been bum. A lot of factors determine your success: winning titles, unity belts, moving up in weight class, how accurate you are, your pound-for-pound status, and more. You can check out division rankings any time and schedule your bouts on an actual calendar — little stuff, but they’re also important details that the series has always lacked.

On Xbox Live, World Championship mode lets you fight for belts at the regional, national, and international levels. You’ll create your own boxer, but they’ll all be leveled as far as skill ratings go, “so you’ll fight based on skill,” as Hayes puts it. We got pretty decent at Round 3, but we have a feeling that Round 4 is going to send us back to school before we can claim to have skill again… and that’s the best news we’ve had in a while.


[via Xbox Official Magazine]