Fight Night Round 4: Hands-On

In my version of Pacquiao vs. Hatton, things were different.Yes, we all know what Manny Pacquiao did to Ricky Hatton last weekend in the real world. We all saw Manny--displaying his typical ferocity and speed--absolutely dismantle the British fighter in less than two full rounds, again making the...

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In my version of Pacquiao vs. Hatton, things were different.

Yes, we all know what Manny Pacquiao did to Ricky Hatton last weekend in the real world. We all saw Manny--displaying his typical ferocity and speed--absolutely dismantle the British fighter in less than two full rounds, again making the claim as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the business.

My fight was different. You see, I had a chance to try out Hatton vs. Pacquiao two weeks prior in New York City, thanks to some hands-on time with EA Sports' upcoming Fight Night Round 4. And though my fight didn't have the flash of Manny's KO of Hatton, it served as an excellent reminder of the sheer amount of variety that FN4 is going to pack into its gameplay when it is released late next month.

I played as Pacquiao and Fight Night producer Brian Hayes strapped on the gloves as Hatton. Hayes went easy on me for the first couple of rounds, letting me get a feel for the control scheme, which is slightly modified from Fight Night Round 3. The controls aren't that different, but for someone who spent a good deal of time with FN3, it was the little differences that took some getting used to. For instance, body shots used to be controlled by holding down the left trigger as a modifier, but now they're simply tied to the lower half of the right stick. So if you want to throw a shot down low, you simply flick the stick downward and to the right or left.

Splitting up the right stick into upper and lower punches affects haymaker punches, which in FN3 were executed with big spins on the right stick. In Fight Night 4, you throw your biggest punches by modifying your regular hooks and uppercuts with the right bumper (R1 on the PlayStation 3). Every punch, be it a probing jab or a kill-shot uppercut, feels unique in Fight Night 4, with blows landing on different spots on a fighter's head or body. Even exploratory punches have a weight to them that didn't seem to be present last time around, which makes inside fighting a risk worth taking. Fight Night 3's invisible wall between fighters is also a thing of the past. In FN4, guys can get right up against one another to look for that knockout uppercut. If things get too close for comfort, the X button (square on the PS3) will be your best friend, letting you push your opponent back to free up some room.

Playing as Pacquiao, I was able to make the most of Manny's speedy hands to land some impressive blows on Hatton's grill, though it wasn't long before Hatton was returning the favor in kind, with flurries of uppercuts and probing jabs that dazed Pacquiao and kept me backing up. Playing as Hatton, Brian Hayes showed off all of the things that you can do defensively in the ring with enough practice. First up is simply staying away from your opponent's fists. The left trigger is used to move your fighter's torso around while standing. By holding the LT down and moving the left analog stick, you can duck in and out of punches.

There's also the block button (right trigger). Your boxer's ability to block a punch is measured by an onscreen block meter, and once it's depleted, blocking won't do you much good. That meter, along with a stamina and an overall health meter, will be replenished between rounds, thanks to a corner minigame that will let you put points earned during the previous round into attributes such as health and stamina. You can even bank those points, as I did in the early rounds, knowing that sooner or later Hayes, as Hatton, would stop going easy on me while talking about the game and begin to fight.

By the third round, Hayes had essentially finished explaining the controls to me, and the fight had moved from game demo to actual contest. It was on. As Pacquiao, I decided to make the most of my punch speed, quickly darting in and out with stinging jabs and body blows when I could manage them, hoping to drain Hatton's stamina in the process. It wasn't a bad idea in theory, and I had several instances where I worked my game plan to perfection, getting in and out with a minimum of damage to show for it. Regardless, greed plays a big role in any fight (or at least, any fight I'm involved in) and, too often, I found myself standing toe to toe with Hatton and trading punches at lighting speed. It's here that you can find one of the starkest differences between this Fight Night and the games that came before it. Punches rattle off like machine-gun blasts in Fight Night 4 and, though not every punch connects perfectly, the frenetic fury of up-close fighting is conveyed to impressive effect in the game.

Much has been made of the physics in Fight Night 4 but, after playing the game for myself, the new engine is full of surprises. The canned animations and slow punching of Fight Night 3 is a thing of the past; this time around everything--punches, defense, character movement, even the physical make-up of the boxers themselves--feels practically brand-new.

An example: At one point in our fight, I managed to throw a couple of hooks at Hatton's head. In the process of defending himself, Hayes brought up Hatton's left arm, which managed to trap Pacquiao's right hook. Manny, realizing that his arm was caught, tried to yank his arm free from the hook while Hatton took a few shots at Manny's body. "Oh, that's a cool animation," I told Hayes, as Pacquiao struggled to free himself. To which Hayes corrected me: That was no animation. Instead, Manny's arm had literally gotten trapped by Hatton's block, and the "yanking" animation that I saw was the character procedurally trying to pull himself free while reaching the limits of how far his shoulder would move. In other words, if Hatton had somehow managed to trap Manny's arm in a block last Saturday night, it might have played out exactly like it did in our fight.

In the end, Hayes' defense proved to be too much for me and Manny. Not only adept at dodging and blocking, Hayes was also skilled at counterpunching, essentially creating huge openings in my defense with his footwork and dodge abilities, exposing Pacquiao to the kind of punishment that the real-life Hatton can only dream of. Hatton knocked my Manny out in the middle rounds with ease. As humiliating as the loss was (something I'm sadly used to, alas), I suppose there's no shame in losing to the guy who's making the game. Perhaps Hatton could have used Hayes in his corner last weekend…

Fight Night Round 4 is scheduled for release on June 30. Check out new screens of the game.

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