Fight Night Round 3 was one of the first next generation console games which highlighted the potential power of the Xbox 360 and when it was shown at E3 in 2005 it stunned many people … this was finally the boxing game to capture the intensity of the fight, with beaded sweat on bruised skin and blood erupting from mouths with dramatic slow motion punches.
Almost four years since the original was released and EA Chicago is no more, Kudo Tsunoda (Executive Producer on FNR3 and GM of EA Chicago) moved to Microsoft. EA Vancouver have taken over the franchise and this is surely one of the most hotly awaited games to be released in 2009.
Fight Night Round 4, when we were first shown it obviously did not have that same jaw dropping appearance, time has progressed and the Xbox 360 hardware hasn’t. To be fair however the game now runs at twice the framerate (60fps) which means you have graphical quality on a par with V3 but with a much smoother motion, the differences are noticeable and it looks almost liquid in action.
We were also shown the new body physics which also deserve a little detail. Up until now, boxing games have yet to have in place a system which details the actual motion of muscles that make up a body. If you throw a punch you will now see arms and chest flex and move accordingly. Even basic motions such as side stepping and dancing on the spot feature this new engine dynamic. Even sweat runs down the skin and will travel into the air as the boxer exerts force.
The graphics this time around are great but there are other elements which are just as impressive. The physics deserves special mention, because there are no longer just four regions in which you can punch and cause damage. There are glancing blows depending on positions, arms can get intertwined and almost every physical interaction is possible within the very impressive engine. I also did not notice a single clipping issue which quite often ruins any sense of realism. Everything looks and reacts just like you would see in real life, and it is this aspect of the game which steals the show for me.
EA Vancouver has introduced some new controls as well. There is no longer an emphasis on the haymakers which many stated ruined the game. For example, you no longer throw a haymaker with a simple right stick motion. You have to fire a hook into motion while holding the right trigger. Hooks to the body are executed by flicking the right stick to the left or right and jabs to the body area are initiated by holding the left trigger (which is identical to Round 3).
Blocking is also a game facet to get an overhaul. Since punches are no longer merely isolated to four main regions block is simplified to either high or low. The AI takes over the specific place you want the boxer to protect. Parrying has also been removed and there is no more parrying a drained opponent which would then leave them open for attack. You are only able to stop a specific amount of blows until the punches start to get through. If the force of the punch is greater than the amount of power blocking the punch then it will cause damage.
With the removal of the parry system fighters are going to need to watch out for open areas and then strike when they find a weakness. There are instances that do happen when you avoid a punch which could leave you exposed. For example if you are subject to a left hook if you duck out of the way then obviously the lower left side will be exposed. If a low body punch is timed to correspond then the damage will be dealt accordingly.
Weakening an opponent and causing a damaging blow means that your opponent will enter into a stunned state. This can happen at any time in a bout regardless of their overall health. This is meant to be more realistic as it is possible that this scenario would occur in real life. While it doesn’t necessarily mean that a fighter will get knocked down, they will move slower and punches will cause more damage and their health could take longer to regenerate.
The blood element of the game is also very realistic, as it will appear on all body parts, even on the gloves and the mat or ropes. When a boxer is knocked down then he needs to get up and try to continue – in FNR4 this means that the player who is on the ground has to play a mini game to prove his worth. You have to align an avatar in the middle of the screen and essentially relates to the fact that you need to pick your head up from the ground. Once your fighter is upright then you use the right stick to steady him.
Wounds are still treated between rounds and is a complete change from FNR3. You no longer rub the boxers face but you assign points to one of three tiers and to three varying sections. How well you did in the previous rounds means you get more points to spend when you end up in the corner. It is a little less immersive but I know this annoyed a lot of people who just wanted to get back to the fighting so I am guessing it will be a popular move.
Another integral part of Fight Night Round 4 is the simulation of the sport compared to the previous outings. Fighting style and strategy are key elements and although we weren’t given that long with the code what I experienced was a very good indication of what to expect.
Arm reach is very important, a fighter with a long arm span will be able to land more damaging punches from range than someone with say 4 inches less range. 4 inches may not sound like much, but in the world of boxing it can mean the difference between a successful and damaging head shot and a complete miss. That said, if you find yourself in a situation which means you have a much smaller arm reach then you have some moves at your command to ensure you keep your forward momentum to get inside for your own attacks.
One of the major disappointments with FGR3 was the career mode which came under huge criticism when it was released. EA Vancouver were keen to make the point that were aware of this shortcoming and have subsequently given the game a large overhaul. There is a new Legacy mode which allows you to start a boxer from the early days and build him from the ground up. Starting with an amateur tournament you try to progress him as far as possible throughout all the tournaments. You can also now select the boxers you wish to fight so if you have created more than one boxer then you can put them into the mix. I think the fact you can challenge your own creations is a great facet to the mechanic.
As you progress through the boxers career you get more popular and move up the ranks from contender to champ, to hall of famer then to superstar and the ultimate title of greatest ever. Interestingly your popularity doesn’t just come from winning fights, but more as to how you win them. If you win quickly, proficiently and with a knock out for example it will earn you more notoriety than slogging your guts out for 12 rounds then barely scraping a victory. Just like real life, the audience and public in FNR4 love a bigger than life personality. After every fight you get a detailed statistical breakdown of your performance and it is worth mentioning that the detail covers almost every aspect you could wish for.
As you play the game you will notice that just like real life, various boxers move classes throughout their career and there are also individual weight class rankings and award candidates for each week and the year as a whole. Rivalries are also handled very well and are dealt with in a more dynamic nature. If the computer feels your fight was exceptional then it will offer an instant rematch and if you continue to win then you will earn a rivalry with that specific boxer. It is a much more impressive configuration than FNR3.
So which boxers make the grade? So far details are limited, but I do know that Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, George Foreman, Roy Jones, Lennox Lewis, Ricky Hatton and Winky Wright grace the personality list with the promise of many more in the final release.
Unfortunately my time with Fight Night Round 4 came to an abrupt end, but be sure to check back later in a few months when we will have more information and a full review of the final game for its intended summer release.