fightnightround42A few weeks ago a very lucky select few were given the opportunity to attend EA’s Fight Night Round 4 Community Event.

It’s finally time to talk about our hands-on experiences with the game.

Controls

Let’s get this out of the way. There will be no button mashing this year because the buttons will not be used for standard punches. I know that half of you are rejoicing while the other half are seething in anger.

Trust me when I say that a good number of Community Members voiced their displeasure for the removal of buttons.

EA is going in a very analog-centric direction and Fight Night Round 4 is no exception.
The game isn’t completely independent of buttons as they are still employed for haymakers, clinching, pushing, head-butts and of course to pull off an Andrew Golota ‘speed bag’ routine (if you know what I mean).

For those disappointed with this news, have no fear. The control scheme has been changed to make the fighting more fluid and responsive.

For instance, if you want to throw a left hook to the body simply flick the analog stick to 9:00. Want to throw a right-hook to the liver, flick it to 3:00.

Using the arcs are still needed when firing shots to the head as a left-hook to the cranium is still an arc of 9:00 to 12:00 and right-uppercut remains 5:00 to 12:00.

But for anyone that wanted to go to the body and then upstairs in quick one-two fashion, this simple change is a godsend.

Having Tyson in the game means that you’ll need to learn to bob-and-weave. This is also covered with the stick as bobbing to the left is a 12:00 to 3:00 arc movement with a right-bob going the opposite way of 6:00 to 3:00.
When done properly, you’ll be able to move forward while bobbing and weaving to avoid incoming jabs.

I’m not going to lie when I say that it takes some time to get used to. But by the end of the night I was getting the hang of it.

The only real complaint I have with the new controls has to do with getting up from a knockdown.
After being floored you go into a 3rd-person view where you’ll see the referee begin his count.

You’ll need to use both the left and right analog controls. One controls your balance from left-to-right, while the other enables you to stand up.

Both movements are shown with vertical and horizontal bars with a cursor in each to help you control your equilibrium.

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In the process of getting up, you first need to straighten yourself out. As you push left, the cursor will move left within the horizontal bar. But if you push too far west, your fighter will flop over from the momentum forcing you to start over again. The goal is to get the cursor in the middle, or pretty close to it, so you can push up on the left stick to get to your feet. Believe me; it’s harder than it sounds.

In the build I played, it was incredibly sensitive. So much so, only one person present had the skills to get up consistently. This resulted in several community fighters pausing their game and yelling “Mandy!” for assistance. Nobody seemed to complain when using the “Mandy crutch” because for most of the night, the first knockdown usually won. I got better with this mechanic as the night wore on – mostly because I had a habit of blocking every punch with my face resulting in one knockdown after another giving me lots of practice.

I’m not sure if the EAC team will make this easier when the final build is published, but I want to warn you now that you might want to practice this skill before going head to head with a friend.

Gameplay

I’m not exactly sure where to start other than to say that this is easily the best boxing game I’ve ever played. And I’ve played a few.

From “Mike Tyson’s Punch-out!” to “Ring King” to “Victorious Boxers 2″ to last years “Prize Fighter”, I’ve pretty much played them all. Again, I have to reiterate that Fight Night Round 4 is better than all of them. Hands (or gloves?) down.

The real time physics are the reason for such a hefty claim. Most boxing games have felt one-dimensional in the past. It’s due to the simple nature of the gameplay engine. In most games, strategy wasn’t as varied. Usually the more powerful fighter won and you had to simply land ‘x’ amount of punches before you had your hand raised in victory. That’s not the case with FNRd4.

One of my biggest complaints in regards to past boxing games is that in nearly every one I’ve played the power attribute pertained to both hands. Not any longer. Your fighter’s power is now divided into two categories, one for each fist.

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In fact, Fight Night Round 4 features 14 attributes for each boxer as opposed to 8 in Fight Night Round 3:

Left hand power, right hand power, hand speed, punch accuracy, foot speed, head movement, block strength, stamina, head toughness, body toughness, chin, heart, cuts and swelling.

Because of the above you’ll see a wide variety in how fights play out.

For instance, because there’s a rating for punch accuracy, even if the same spot is open for three consecutive punches, not all three will land on the same exact spot. Add in the physics engine, and you can see how varied the punches can be. While both fighters are blocking, bobbing or punching, each exchange or encounter will be different.

Not only are attributes important, the physical size or dimensions of a fighter are just as vital. If your boxer has long arms you need to use your jab and cross to keep your opponent at bay and on his heals. If you land with a fully extended right-hand, the results could be devastating if delivered to the chin. A shorter more compact pugilist like Mike Tyson will want to get inside and tear up that midsection and target the ribs and temples.

This brings us to the ‘hotspots’. Fight Night Round 4 features several ‘zones’ such as the chin (or “button”), temple’s, floating ribs or liver shots. Unleash a well-timed blow to any of these areas and chances of stunning your opponent grow.

When a player is hurt or stunned you’ll hear a ‘ringing’ and the fighter will look visibly shaken. The more they’re hurt, the more noticeable this visual cue become’s. So if you get rocked hard, the fighter’s whole body will react as they stagger and stumble.

If the fighters’ bell is only slightly rung, the fighter might take a step back while showing only a subtle stammer or slight shakiness.

No worries for those that experience this temporary discombobulation as you can still fight back while the bells are ringing.

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To help aid in knowing how tired or hurt your fighter is you’ll notice three meters inside the HUD that indicate how much ‘Stamina’, ‘Health’ and ‘Block’ power you have.

Throwing, taking or blocking too many punches will result in a reduction in each.

You also have a temporary level for each meter. So if you get stunned with a heavy shot, while your Health might be at 99%, you’ll see the temporary bar dip to 50% indicating that you’re half-way to visiting the canvas.

For stamina, you’ll see the same if you clinch, or fight to get out of the clinch. Same goes with blocking. If you’re content on standing in one place and keep your hands up while your opponent wails away, prepare to watch your temporary block meter dip drastically until you begin to eat leather through your crumbling turtle defense.

In between rounds you’ll have the chance to replenish these meters. Depending on how successful you were in the previous round, you’ll have either a few, or many points to distribute between the three. So if you have 20 points to work with, you can decide to spend 10 on stamina and another 10 on health. Or you can pump all 20 into one category. There is some strategy involved here as well, so you’ll want to be smart about where you distribute the points depending on which way the fight is going.

For those not interested there’s an option for the CPU to handle all the between round action.

As a tip, you’ll want to keep your eye on the stamina meter. When a fighter becomes gassed, you’ll begin to notice that his punches become much more telegraphed allowing for you, or your opponent, to counter or block the incoming attack.

Since this game uses real life physics, knowing what punch a fighter is about to lob is an extremely important advantage as countering plays a huge role in Fight Night Round 4. Believe me, I know.

In one bout, I waded in over and over again doing my best to ‘stick-mash’ my opponent into the ground. It was a strategy devoid of intelligence. My opponent simply blocked and countered me to death until I was out on my feet by the 3rd round.

This brings me to clinching.

Unlike in past boxing games, clinching will play a vital role and has quite a bit of strategy involved. You can accept a clinch and wait for the referee to break you apart, push him away before he ties you up or if caught in a clinch you can attempt to muscle out of it. However, in instances where both fighters are pulling and mauling on one another, you’ll both be sapped of stamina.

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I found out quickly that clinching is your friend. Especially when you’re being torn up inside by a smaller, more compact pugilist.

But you better make sure you’re within arms reach and time it right or you’ll be wide open for a mouthful of leather. I witnessed one unfortunate individual attempt a clinch from a distance that barely had his gloves hanging on to his opponents shoulders. The other fighter, smelling a golden opportunity, fired off a volley of uppercuts that resulted in a knockdown.

Speaking of knockdowns, from what I saw they are very realistic. Fighters will fall realistically depending on the punch thrown, the angle their body was positioned or even if they’re close to the ropes. In one instance I saw a fighter get knocked out while trapped in a corner. With the post holding him up, he took several shots before his body finally slumped to the canvas.

In another cool knockdown I witnessed between Sergio Mora and Kelly Pavlik, Mora rushed in and threw a right-hand that missed to the right. Pavlik countered with a right-uppercut that landed perfectly on Mora’s jaw turning his legs into jello. With his missed punch, Mora’s momentum propelled his unconscious body into Pavlik’s leaving his right-hand draped across his rival’s back. Hooked around Pavlik’s neck, the Latin Snake’s body began to slump to the canvas, rolling off Kelly’s before splashing onto the canvas.

The effect was so fluid and lifelike I had to watch it several times.

A concern of mine before playing any boxing title is worrying that there’ll be too many knockdowns. If you’re into a realistic portrayal of the sweet science you won’t want to play a boxing game that resembles a Nestea commercial.
I don’t think I had enough hands-on exposure to give an absolute opinion on whether or not there were too many knockdowns, but at the time it felt right.

From my own experience with the game, and observing other Community Members bouts, how you box will dictate how many bodies hit the floor.

You can easily recreate a Ron Lyle-George Foreman classic if both combatants let their hands go and abandon any semblance of defense. At the same time, I witnessed many 12 round decisions featuring very little knockdowns when both players used tactical measures as well as strong defenses.

The knockdowns I suffered, or inflicted, felt earned and had a lot to do with the style of both combatants. If you’re going to have an all out war, don’t complain when you’re on your backside a lot. In real boxing, if you leave your chin exposed over and over, eventually you’re going to get caught. It’s no different in Fight Night Round 4 against the CPU or a friend.

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Presentation

The game will be in 60 frames-per-second on both the Xbox 360 and the PS3. The 360 build we played was ultra smooth and looked flat-out gorgeous in High Definition.

As some of you might already know, Teddy Atlas and Joe Tessitore from Friday Night Fights are doing the commentary for this game.

The play-by-play of Joe is excellent and flows very naturally. I didn’t notice any of hiccups or clear pauses between sound bites.

For Teddy’s part, he’ll add opinions to the action and even drop in a few anecdotes about the fighters in the ring.
During a fight that featured Tyson, he brought up a few stories regarding Mike from when he was his trainer during his amateur years.

All in all, it was very smooth and sounded exactly what you’d expect from a typical “Friday Night Fights” broadcast.
Whether or not the commentary becomes repetitive remains to be seen as I didn’t have enough time, or fight countless hours with the same fighters.

The action outside of the ring is also top-notch. Fans will cheer and yell and get off their seats when something dramatic occurs in the ring.

When a fighter is stunned, the fans will leap to their feet and cheer loudly in anticipation of a knockdown.

On the flip-side they’ll also grow restless if there is not enough action to their liking. I heard one fan yell “Somebody throw a punch!” when nothing was happening in the squared circle.

You’ll also see camera flashes going off randomly throughout the crowd. It adds a touch of realism and makes you feel as if you’re sitting in a world famous venue.

I’m happy to report that the over-the-top entrance ring-walks are history. You won’t have to stomach watching an old time great like Muhammad Ali or Joe Frazier do his best Lil’ John impression on the way to the apron. Fighters are surrounded by their trainers and cut-men while they make their way to the centre of the arena. It looks very authentic and something you’d expect to see before a real bout.

Cuts and swelling is something that needs to be mentioned. As a boxer takes more punishment their face will slowly turn into a puffy, bloody mess. The effects look great and it’s very satisfying to see your opponent transform from a pretty boy into a Jason Voorhees victim. Cuts are as distinct as the punches. You won’t see the same cut over and over again. Cuts will sear across a fighters face depending on how and where the punch was landed.

However, on the build that we played, it seemed that the fighters would cut and swell far too quickly for my liking. It was a complaint that was raised by not only me but a few others. Time will tell if this is addressed for the final build.

Final Thoughts

I’m very excited for the full release of Fight Night Round 4. We were told that the build we were playing was the first phase after Alpha, which means the game was far from completion. I can only imagine how the finished product will play. I’m confident fight fans and even casual or non-fans will enjoy this game immensely.

By Henry Dyck