Fight Night Round 4

Float like a floatbot...

If you're feeling a slight queasiness at the inclusion of Mike Tyson in the line-up for Fight Night Round 4 - and that would be entirely reasonable - perhaps you should just focus on the fact that at least now you can beat him up. Actually, it's better than that: now you can beat him up in what looks to be one of the most detailed and convincing boxing titles ever made.

Building on the success of a game pretty much everyone enjoyed can be difficult, and most people agreed Fight Night Round 3 was a bit of a winner, with astonishing - and only slightly creepy - character models, solid controls, and the subsequent release of turkeys like Facebreaker merely sweetening the memory. At first, then, it's hard to see exactly what EA can do to make Round 4 anything more than a prettier retread.

Luckily, however, it seems that the only people who had any real problems with the previous instalment also happen to be the same people who made it, and they've got fairly strong opinions on exactly what needs fixing. So while the forthcoming Fight Night has the enlarged rosters, gentle presentational tweaks and incremental control refinements you might expect from any sports sequel (headline improvements include the fact that the game now runs at a steady 60fps, and punching is controlled with the sticks alone this time, body jabs now activated via a simple flick system) the main changes are surprisingly fundamental in their nature.

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It doesn't look like the Burger King will be making a return. But there's always Ricky Hatton.

And, in a roundabout way, Tyson's at the centre of them, his inclusion opening a can of worms for the developers as well as, I'm guessing, a can of whup-ass. In the words of Dean Richards, Round 4's producer, "Including Mike meant we had to face something we couldn't with the previous game, and that's that there are two crucial things everybody always says about boxing: height and reach matter, and styles make fights." (The third and fourth things everybody always says are, "Ha, my mum could've seen that punch coming," and "Isn't Midsomer Murders on the other channel right now?")

The reason Iron Mike's so problematic, it transpires, is that he's fairly short for a boxer: Muhammad Ali, for example, is four inches taller than him, and that creates endless headaches for developers trying to match up canned animations and make sure punches land in the right place whenever the two face off against each other. In order to ensure that the illusion of contact never broke down in Round 3, the team had to scale the proportions of all the game's fighters until the entire roster was more or less the same height. In other words, if Tyson and Ali had stepped into the ring together, there'd be no real differences between them: height and reach wouldn't matter, and styles wouldn't really be an issue.

Luckily, EA's latest take on the sweet science has a handy ally: physics. By focusing on realistic modelling, Round 4 solves tricky collision detection problems by creating animations on the fly, and allowing punches to connect - or miss - exactly as they're thrown. In the process, that also opens up the roster for fighters of all shapes and sizes, and ushers in the different ring techniques they bring with them.

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