IGN Review of Fight Night: Round 3
Following an award-winning year in which it won numerous praises for its mix of arcade and sim-based gameplay elements (including several accolades from us here at IGN), the Fight Night franchise has set our expectations rather high. After all, it had doubled the performance of the previous season's game in almost every category, and other than the unbalanced Haymaker punch, had fine-tuned its mechanics to create one of the most responsive and enjoyable boxing games ever made. But where can you go from there?
In EA's estimation, the first thing to do was to tone down the over-clocked haymaker and bring the game back to basics. This is a very good thing. In real boxing, the most important punch you'll ever throw is the jab -- it sets up your opponent for other punches, is an excellent range-finder, and is just as effective as a defensive tool as it is an offensive one. EA Chicago definitely understood this concept for Fight Night Round 3 because the harm that a jab or a jab-straight combo can do is greatly improved.
More importantly, though, cocking back a haymaker for super damage is no longer possible. If you remember from last year, you could literally chase your opponent around the ring with your shotgun ready to blast, taking shots along the way before eventually unleashing all holy hell with little risk. But if you telegraph that same punch this season (which is more obvious since the move has been slowed down), your opponent can easily knock that animation right out of you. Of course, this means that when haymakers do land they'll rock your enemy more than they did before, but you'll really have to work hard to get it there. It's a much more effective risk / reward system and should eliminate Haymaker abuse almost entirely.
But the Haymakers and Signature punches aren't the only special attacks that players have at their disposal this year. One of the biggest new additions is the ability to intentionally throw "Flash KO" shots and perform "Stun Punches." The first maneuver is pretty self-explanatory, but the stun punch is probably the most dramatic. Land one of these and the viewpoint shifts to a first-person mode shown through the eyes of your opponent. From there, the advantage is certainly in your favor as the altered viewpoint makes it hard for your adversary to defend, and thus, he becomes much easier to knock down.
The good news is, that just like the two previous years, Haymakers and other special punches can only be pulled off by shadowing their motions on the analog sticks (with the exception of signature punches, which are still tied to buttons). This means that if you're a stick user, you'll have a clear advantage over button mashers as long as you know what you're doing. The bad news is that using the buttons is still a much faster and easier way to fight. Though to be fair, most Fight Night fans have come to accept it as a clash of styles rather than a detriment (me included).
Speaking of styles, Fight Night Round 3 has managed to include a couple of other little goodies that adds depth to the gameplay
the most obvious of which, is the inclusion of actual boxer styles to vary fighting techniques. Not only does this mean that you can expect to see different stances and animations such as "Mummy" and " Elusive," but that you'll also see different punching styles (Fast, Slugger, etc) and defensive maneuvers (Cross, Philly Shell, etc). No matter what style they use, though, players can switch from orthodox to the southpaw stance on the fly, as well as lean on the ropes, or even taunt their opponent while moving (finally!).
All these adjustments to the gameplay make Fight Night Round 3 an even better multiplayer experience than it was before. Whether you're playing online via the PlayStation 2 or Xbox setup (which is practically identical to last year's version in terms of features, latency, etc), the amount of fun that two people can have is pretty high. This means that Fight Night no longer boils down to two people engaging in slugfests or counter-parties. Now, the multiple styles and more realistic boxing mechanics make fights with humans play out much better than before. In fact, it's probably one of the best two-player experiences you'll come across all year long.
Unfortunately, the single-player experience isn't all backrubs and candy canes. Even at the hardest difficulty setting, most AI boxers are as dumb as they come and offer little strategy or defensive wisdom. To their credit, the more aggressive opponents will get overzealous with super-fast combos once you've won a title or two, but if you use regular head movement and frequently change defensive positions, it'll scare them into not throwing punches. Out of 70+ fights against the computer on "Hard", I lost only one -- that should give you an idea of how well an advanced player will actually do.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the entire game, though, is how substandard the career feature is. A lot different from last year, the career mode has taken some curious backward steps. To start, players are now forced to complete an entire amateur career before going pro (unlike in Round 2, when you could skip it entirely). This forced direction is because EA has incorporated a new "Rival" feature and the amateurs are used to introduce you to your main foil. It's a great addition in concept, but the execution isn't very strong. I ended up fighting against two or three guys that were my "rivals" in a single career three times each, and destroyed them before the fourth round every time. Anyone who follows boxing can tell you, if one guy knocks out the other one twice one-sidedly, the media hype and competition between the two isn't exactly heated.
Another curious omission is the basic stuff that you'd expect to see in a game about boxing -- specifically ranking lists and current title holders. This time, players move up in opponent class by filling popularity meters that take them to their next sponsored event as they win. These sponsored events include specialty match-ups backed by real-world companies like Burger King, Under Armor, and EA itself. In addition to moving up the unseen ladder by winning these contests, you also unlock a number of new goodies like official attire sets and "The King" to serve as your promoter for a nice ratings boost. It's not a stretch in the least to say that EA Sports Fight Night Round 3 is one of the most commercial games I've ever played.
Fight Night's last big shortcoming is primarily related to its presentation. The EA Sports Cutman, for instance, is only half the size it used to be, moves along faster than before, and no longer rumbles when adjusting the indicator (making it less intuitive to use). Mid-round pauses that allowed you to stop the action and check out various angles or customize replays have been taken out as well, and now you can only replay specific moments following a knockdown or the vignettes at the end of a round. Oh, and the new "press conference" brawls are pretty dull.
I do want to make it clear, though, that Fight Night Round 3 is still an entertaining game, and I don't want to overstate the negatives and underplay the positives. Unchallenging and less engaging that the career mode may be, there are still a good number of other ways to pass the time. The returning and popular Hard Hits "knockdown-only" action mode, for instance, is a fun alternative to the traditional boxing match (and in this context, is worth playing the CPU). The Rivalry mode is another little bonus worth mentioning too, as it recreates some of the greatest contentions in boxing history (Ali-Frazier, Robinson-Lamotta, etc). I will admit that I miss last year's legend Rocky Marciano, but I'll keep my fingers crossed for next year.
The visuals in Fight Night Round 3 are pretty darned impressive too, and retain all the great detail and animation that last year's game had. Of course, because there aren't any drastic visual improvements over last season (or the proper power), the current-gen version of Fight Night doesn't have the cool emotions and facial expressions that the 360 edition has. Still, the stadiums, texture detail, and particle effects are all extremely well done -- and other than occasional slowdown when playing in widescreen mode, is as smooth as you'd hope for. Sadly, the audio doesn't hold up nearly as well. Borrowed almost word-for-word from Round 2, the variety of the commentary is pretty limited and will sound familiar to veterans of the franchise (plus, it's not always accurate). I also think that last year's soundtrack was quite a bit stronger.
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