|System: X360, PS3||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: EA Canada||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Jun. 23, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
Getting Even Sweeter
by Adam Brown
March 16, 2009 - You are a boxer, anxiously awaiting the start of your next bout. You've spent a good amount of time training since your last match, hopefully ensuring you'll one day have what it takes to become a champion. For now your eyes lock with your opponent's, the bell rings, and it's time for you to prove who the best fighter in the ring is. You quickly swat away a right hook, following it up with a massive uppercut haymaker.
Another of your opponent's shots is quickly parried, leaving more than enough room for a counter haymaker. This parry then super punch routine continues for another round or two until your adversary can no longer see due to the excessive swelling, nor get to his feet once knocked down. Admittedly, this formula can be entertaining for awhile, but it also inevitably feels shallow and repetitive. Thankfully, while this is essentially how every bout in Fight Night Round 3 played out, things are going to be quite different this time around.
At the recent EA Season Opener event held in San Francisco, we were able to see Fight Night Round 4 (FNR4) up and running for the first time as well as given a rundown of what to expect from the series going forward. A few years ago, FNR3 made a huge impact, arguably showcasing what the current generation of consoles was capable of graphically better than any game that had come before it. While it would probably be foolish to expect as large a jump in visuals as witnessed between FNR2 and 3, FNR4 certainly looks better than its predecessors in about every way imaginable.
In the match I was able to watch, which had Muhammad Ali facing off against Iron Mike Tyson, it was hard not to be impressed by the beauty of this game in motion. Whether walking, dodging, or throwing punches, both character models looked incredibly realistic. This was only further accentuated by each character's muscles flexing and moving accurately as they maneuvered about and absorbed blows. Even the fabric of each boxer's shorts fluttered as one would expect.
Most importantly, the game's animation really needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. Running at twice the speed of FNR3 - sixty frames per second as opposed to thirty - every movement in the game is best described as silky smooth. Watching Tyson dodge incoming punches from the lankier Ali, quickly shifting from side to side and ducking under otherwise devastating blows, looked amazing. As he continued to switch between these different evasive maneuvers it remained completely fluid, no canned animation, no jerking or jumping, just one smooth motion that ended with Ali probably wishing he had connected with a few of his punches.
Due to the completely rewritten engine being used this time around, FNR4 will allow for something that FNR3 was never able to produce. Anyone who has played a previous Fight Night has likely noticed the odd invisible barrier surrounding each boxer that makes up-close fighting next to impossible. This is no longer a problem, which finally makes inside fighting a real possibility. Now matches like the one I've just mentioned can play out realistically with Ali using long jabs to take advantage of his extended reach while Tyson can bob and weave his way into a position to annihilate his foe at close range with several quick and destructively punishing shots.
Relying on actual physics and each boxer's stats rather than the four quadrant parrying system that has been a staple in the previous FN's should allow for a much more realistic boxing experience. Instead of just trying to continually swat away an adversary's incoming punches to stun them just long enough to connect with a haymaker, players can actually use a mix of combos, timing, and well-placed punches to achieve victory. Every punch in FNR4 is procedurally animated, meaning that when you throw a punch, the game will use a multitude of factors such as positioning, momentum, and character stats to determine if/how a blow lands and how much damage it ultimately does.
Because of this, blocking has been somewhat simplified, allowing only for two varieties: either high or low blocks. However, this doesn't necessarily spell doom for an offensive-minded player. To avoid the abuse of defensive abilities, players will no longer be able to just endlessly hold the block button. Instead, each player will now have a block meter that drains slowly when held and even quicker when absorbing punches. When the opposition's strength eventually becomes greater than what's left in your block meter, expect some damage to start making its way through.
Of course, if you do happen to catch a beating, you'll still be able to heal yourself between rounds. However, rather than rubbing your boxer's face for a handful of seconds, FNR4 has a much more elegant solution. Players will earn points every round based on their performances. Between rounds these points can then be used in one of three categories: health, stamina, or damage. Not only will this expedite the process of getting back into a fight, it should also allow for an extra layer of strategy. If you've wasted a ton of punches but also have a nasty gash that might end your fight early, it could potentially be difficult to decide how to best spend your points.
Unfortunately, much of the rest of FNR4 still remains a mystery. There will be multiplayer options but no concrete details have yet been given. The same secrecy goes for the full roster of fighters, how the create-a-boxer feature will function, and exactly how the new Legacy Mode will work. However, I did manage to overhear that this new mode will be much deeper than the career mode found in FN3, will contain training mini-games that actually mimic necessary in-ring skills, and should make use of a more realistic calendar setup for finding fights, training, and recuperating. Be sure to check back as more details will likely be given as FNR4's release date approaches.
CCC Staff Contributor