Electronic Arts' Fight Night Round 4 pulls no punches

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      For boxing fans, it’s a dream come true.

      Mike Tyson ducks Muhammad Ali’s jab and responds with a massive uppercut, causing Ali to stumble back. Ali recovers and begins throwing lightning-fast punches in quick succession, keeping Tyson from getting close to him. Tyson’s frustration is evident as he begins to swing wildly, hoping to land something. But Ali’s reach is too long, and it keeps Tyson at bay. Finally, after sidestepping one of Tyson’s swings, Ali drops Tyson with a well-timed shot to the chin.

      Ali versus Tyson is one of the greatest matchups boxing fans can imagine, as each was arguably the best boxer of his era. Now, a video game brings the two together.

      Fight Night Round 4 (rated teen), released today (June 25) for the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, is the latest installment in the critically acclaimed boxing series from Electronic Arts. Developed at the EA Canada studio in Burnaby, the game allows you to stage Ali versus Tyson as well as many other dream matches, thanks to a roster of over 40 boxers from the sport’s past and present.

      Of course, the above example is just one way the Ali versus Tyson fight can play out—that’s what happened when I played as Tyson against the game’s senior producer, Dean Richards.

      “Ali has a nine-inch reach and a four-inch height difference on Tyson,” Richards said in his office at EA Canada, “so if they would have fought, by the reality of that height and reach, it’s a huge strategic element that we wanted to make sure was in Fight Night Round 4.”

      Fight Night Round 3, the previous installment of the series, was lauded for its realism and the true-to-the-sport feel of the game. According to Richards, Fight Night Round 4 is even more realistic.

      “We built this game to be the most authentic boxing experience ever,” he said.

      Video-game blogger Paul Hunter likes what he sees. The managing editor of NextGen Player has played numerous boxing games on several platforms.

      “This is the first game, to my knowledge, that the height, weight, and the reach of the characters dramatically affects the game,” Hunter told the Straight by phone from Toronto. “Once you get that realistic, and you’re this smaller guy facing off against people that have a bigger reach and height advantage on you, the fact that it plays into the physics of the game is truly a huge step forward.”

      The improvement in the game’s mechanics is due in large part to the completely new physics-based game engine created by the Fight Night development team, according to Richards. As a result, Hunter said, players can now appreciate some of the more subtle things in the ring.

      “In [Fight Night Round] 3, some of the fighting felt artificial,” Hunter said. “You’ll do a hook or a jab, and if the guy blocked, it was the same animation every time. But with [Round] 4, I found the animation so much more realistic, and if you punch at a certain angle, you graze the boxer’s face. I think it just adds another layer of authenticity, which is what the series is known for.”

      On top of increasing the game’s level of realism, Round 4 allows players to import a picture of themselves or someone else and place that face on a custom-made boxer.

      “You’ll be able to actually put your face in the game,” Richards said. “So, imagine that you and your friends all create yourselves. You can bring all those people into your legacy mode and fight them in your career.”

      Just as there’s competition in sports, there’s competition in the combat-sport games market. Fight Night Round 4’s top rival, UFC 2009 Undisputed, was released back in May. It’s already become one of the biggest-selling games of the year, leading to much on-line debate about which game will ultimately triumph.

      Richards doesn’t appear to be worried about the success of the new mixed-martial-arts game.

      “I think competitive sports, in terms of us versus UFC, is a very healthy thing,” he said. “I think it pushes people to do things that they traditionally wouldn’t do if there weren’t that pressure across the block.”

      Richards suggested that part of the appeal of both sports—and games based on them—could be that they’re easy to relate to.

      “I think why UFC is such a big hit and why boxing is so cool is that everyone knows how to make a fist and throw a punch, and so you have that instant affinity to that kind of thing,” Richards said. “People might say that those are two different sports. But at the end of the day, it’s still about making a fist and punching somebody in the face.”