It's been a good week for the fight fans around GameSpot HQ. On Tuesday we had our GameSpot Community Game Night, featuring THQ's UFC 2009 Unleashed and today the demo for EA Sports' upcoming Fight Night Round 4 was released on Xbox Live. I also have preview code in my possession of Fight Night 4 but, due to embargoes, I won't be writing about the larger game until the week after E3.
The FN 4 demo, which comes in north of 700 MB, features a full tutorial (using Ricky Hatton and Manny Pacquiao) that gives you a basic run-through of the controls. From there, you can take play a three-round welterweight fight between Hatton and Pacquiao, which are the only fighters available in the demo. Interestingly, despite his reputation as perhaps the greatest pound-for-pound boxer in the business, Pacquaio is only rated an 85 overall (compared to an 81 overall for Hatton). The demo's sole fight venue is the Boardwalk Hall.
A few of observations after playing several fights in the demo:
No doubt about it, Fight Night Round 4 is running at a crisp 60 frames per second; one toe-to-toe flurry of punches in the center of the ring will tell you that. When compared to UFC and, especially, Fight Night Round 3, FN4 plays like a different beast altogether, with punches flying faster than round 1 of Hearns vs. Hagler.
The development team's decision to move most of the punches to the right stick (including most body blows) makes up-and-down combinations a breeze and you'll be stacking together intricate four- and five-punch combos with relative ease. Still, the amount of toe-to-toe fighting is surprising--even when fighting against the AI, you'll spend a good deal of time standing up and slugging it out against your opponent, as opposed to moving around the ring.
That said, the AI has its moments. If you're fighting as Pacquiao, your CPU opponent will look to make the most of Hatton's inside fighting skills; conversely, playing as Ricky Hatton, you'll be going up against a strong and fast Manny, whose skill can change the face of a fight in a heartbeat. In addition, when it's in trouble, the AI will be more apt to clinch you than I seem to remember from Fight Night Round 3, which can be especially frustrating when you know you've got your foe on the ropes.
Weaving a Masterpiece
The preponderance of toe-to-toe fighting I mentioned earlier is mitigated somewhat by two factors: punch power and the lean modifier. As for general punch power--while jabs and straights seem to be more effective than they were in Fight Night 3, there's a lot of blows that land in the game that don't seem to have much impact at all. Counter punches are the obvious exception--when you manage to duck or lean out of the way of a punch, you're gifted with a small window of time that you can land a heavy shot. Connect, and your opponent will rock backwards, and some subtle and effective camera shaking will add some heft to your counterpunch. Because of the power of counter punching, mastering the bob and weave seems to end up being more important than actually moving around the ring. Of course, bobbing and weaving doesn't do much against body shots and a smart fighter will work the body vigorously in order to mix things up.
The corner game, which replaces the silly cut/swelling management minigame from Fight Night Round 3, is an improvement. Here, you can spend points you've earned in the previous round in order to improve things like your stamina, health, and damage. You've got three levels to choose from for each category (small, medium, and large) and you can choose to skip the game altogether and bank your points for a later round if you wish, though that doesn't really make sense for the three-round demo fights. Still, point management looks to be a major point of strategy in the full game, especially with fights that go into late rounds.
Patience is a Virtue
Forget the knockout blow, especially in the three-round fights found in the demo. I haven't been able to KO either Pacquiao or Hatton yet, though I suspect that's more due to my crappy counterpunching than anything else. You can work in the occasional signature punch (by pressing the A button) or knock out punch (by holding the right bumper and throwing a punch as normal) but they're typically so telegraphed and slow that they're easy for your opponent to avoid.
Having spent so much time with UFC over the past few weeks, it's taken a bit of internal rewiring to get used to the controls of Fight Night 4. While the startling focus on toe-to-toe fighting is surprising at first I'm hoping that, as the skill of your opponents (both AI and otherwise) improves, the game's depth will blossom, just as it did with UFC.
Look for more on Fight Night Round 4, including information on the legacy mode during the week after E3. Be sure to send in any questions you have about the game, which I'll be able to answer once the final embargoes lift. Finally, check out the new screens and videos we posted of the Fight Night 4 demo and let me know what you think in the comments below.