Fight Night Round 4 Preview (Xbox360)

We love the Fight Night games. It started as an on-off affair back when Fight Night 2004 released back in...2004. This fleeting flirtation became a lifelong marriage when EA released the superb - and in many ways groundbreaking - Fight Night Round 3 in early 2006.

The graphics were the first true “next-gen” experience that made our jaw drop in awe as the ripples of your right-hook sent shock waves through your opponents’ face. Accompanying this macabre image was the sound of crunching bone that assured that parents and girlfriends alike winced and covered their eyes whilst we sat there naughtily chuckling on the sofa wanting to repeat the experience again and again.

The first thing we noticed in our Hatton v Pacquiau bought - they are the only two boxers you can choose from - is that this iteration of the franchise is much more tactical this time around. There’s no such thing as button mashing and somehow flooring your opponent as every move now needs to be learned by heart due to the game being stick only. This has its advantages and disadvantages and will surely be the sticking point for many - we’ll do the good first, then we’ll do the bad (you’ll be pleased to know there’s no ugly).

What we like best about being stick only is that you really are throwing every punch. The way the thumbsticks are managed really feels like you’re throwing a punch. It also means that everything you do takes thought, and when you win a match it's because you literally out-boxed your opponent, not just happened upon a button combo by chance. In fact, flailing around in the ring will only make you look stupid and the AI will just pick you off at will. You need to learn your stuff. That’s the good stuff.

The bad is in fact the same as the good, believe it or not. The fact that every punch needs to be measured will surely turn off a large part of the casual audience and we’re not sure that’s what EA would want. However, as far as we’re concerned after playing the demo for a good few hours and gaining no knock-down at all we can only see the instant-gratification crowd getting frustrated and moving on to something else. If we’re being honest, we got a little fed up too. However, we’re sure that when you create your own boxer and build through the ranks, the various controls will soon become second nature.

Also, as everything is stick controlled things tend to get a bit confusing in the heat of a battle. Pachquiao likes to move in close - another tactical addition from the dev team - and in order to effectively counter him, block and dodge you’re going to have to be quick.

One slightly annoying thing about the new controls is that you now have to hold down RB/R1 to throw a haymaker. This means that you have to hold down a button with your index finger whilst using your thumb to throw the right kind of punch using a type of circular motion. That can feel a bit awkward, especially as you only have a split second to pull it off when you parry your opponents punch.

Visually it’s stunning, but then again, after playing the seminal FNR3 we didn’t expect anything less. Still, you’ll be pleased to know that TLC wasn’t just poured over the fighting mechanics, but also the presentation.

Although the demo is indeed difficult we did win more games on points than we lost. Still, we distinctly remember the same thing happening in the FNR3 demo. However, when the controls were finally mastered, the first round knock-downs came in abundance, so we’re hopping that with more time on the easier career mode and a little more practice, everything will click into place.

In fact, that’s the key with this game: practice. You certainly won’t get much out of it if you expect a pick-up-and-play boxing experience: moves will have to be learned and there won’t be very many lucky punches landed. Everything has to be timed to near perfection and we think that is a good thing but if this puts you off, we totally get that too.

In short, if you’re unsure whether to dive in, we feel this demo will certainly make your mind up for you one way or the other.