IGN Review of Fight Night: Round 3
When looking at the generation gap between versions of Fight Night Round 3, it's clear EA Chicago put most of its effort into the Xbox 360 version of the game, which is the way it should be. The visuals in Fight Night Round 3 are so excellent that they actually enhance the gameplay. The gameplay has been revamped from what was already an excellent experience in Round 2 to a more balanced, complete boxing game, thanks mostly to the new impact punch system. EA also attempts to improve the career mode with the addition of rivals but, while a fine idea, it ultimately fails to enhance a mediocre single-player game. Still, with an outstanding multiplayer mode, good online mode and absolutely blistering impact punches, Fight Night Round 3 jumps up the list as one of most impressive sports titles on the Xbox 360.
Visually, Fight Night Round 3 is one of the most impressive Xbox 360 titles released yet, thanks mostly to the gorgeous, high-resolution boxers. While the 360 version seems to run just a tad slower than the current-gen version of the game, the animations are smooth and fluid, with nary a graphical hiccup. There are only a few minor details worth mentioning. When you knock your opponent down, occasionally part of his foot will disappear into the mat. There is also some occasional pop-in with the ropes, and when you knock someone in the mouth the blood looks a bit fake, but none of this significantly detracts from the awesome visual experience.
The knock-down replays return from Round 2, only this time around a stiff blow will send slow-motion ripples running through an unlucky boxer's face, and that never gets old. You can hit the X button over and over again to watch different angles of a knockout punch, and each time you're likely to induce screams, moans and groans from your friends in the room.
The biggest visual improvement -- an improvement so important that it plays into the actual gameplay -- is the level of detail included on a boxer's face. When a boxer is hurt, you can see the pain in his face. When he's low on stamina, you can see the fatigue in his body language. When he's just been clocked by an impact punch, you can see the tears in his eyes and the fear in his very soul. With all of this visible in the game, EA went ahead and removed the HUD, eliminating the health and stamina meters. Keep in mind that the stamina and health system is exactly the same as last year; the meters are just hidden. This creates a much more instinctive fight, and you'll move in for the kill when you see your opponent slouching or cringing, not when you see a red energy meter nearly depleted. It's just as exciting to see that you've hurt your opponent and move in for the knockout as the actual knockout blow itself. All of this adds to a much more visceral boxing experience that more closely resembles real-life drama in the ring.
Of course, it's important to realize that things like adrenaline boosts still play a factor on the 360. With the HUD on, you can see that after you land a counter-haymaker, you receive an adrenaline boost and can land about 10 seconds worth of punches without tiring. Other than a brief increase in the speed of your fighter's movements, there's no indication that you have scored this boost, which, when used, is a huge advantage. Experienced fighters will know to move in and push the advantage, but newbs may continue to fight in the same style. As such, if you're new to the Fight Night franchise, it may be a good idea to turn on the HUD at first to learn the nuances of the game, but HUD-less it really the way to go to get the most out of the experience.
We get a ton of questions from readers asking if an HDTV is necessary to enjoy the visual upgrades of Xbox 360 games. Keep in mind, the 360 is a next-generation console designed for high-definition gameplay on a next-generation television, so plugging it in to a 19-inch flat-tube is like hooking up your kick-ass digital sound system to a record player. Obviously, you'll reap the rewards of a 1080i setup with a picture so sharp you can see the fear in your opponent's eyes when you land an impact punch. Sometimes it looks like these fighters are about to cry. On a standard-def set, Fight Night still looks gorgeous, but the picture is not as sharp and, on a smaller screen, it's more difficult to see when you've hurt your opponent and should move in for the kill, which is the whole point of EA's idea of HUD-less gameplay.
A big complaint about last year's game was the unbalanced haymaker system. Basically, you could throw nothing but haymakers, avoiding jabs, hooks and uppercuts, with little risk and too much reward. While enjoyable, the haymaker system was hardly a realistic experience. EA Chicago listened to the feedback and created the new impact punch system this year. By winding back even further on the right analog stick as part of Total Punch Control, you can unleash a traditional haymaker, a flash KO or a stun punch. The animations are increasingly slower for each respective punch, so it's relatively easy to parry and come back with an impact punch of your own. If you do manage to land one of these blows, you can shift the momentum of the fight in your favor. In Round 3, as EA is so fond of saying, one punch can change a fight.
The flash KO immediately drains the health of your opponent and puts him in the "dazed" state, one stiff blow away from the canvas. The stun punch opens up a first-person mini-game in which the victim can only move his gloves to try and parry the attacker's punches. Because the animations are so slow, it's best to wait on the stun punch until you really need it, and that's where the tension lies in Round 3. You know the old expression about wounded animals being more dangerous. It's the same here, especially against a dazed opponent about to be knocked out. Usually, he'll go for the clinch, but every now and then he'll throw out an impact punch and hit you with a flash KO, completely shifting the momentum of the fight. It doesn't happen that often, but when it does, you're likely to jump out of your shoes in either agony or ecstasy, depending on whose chin it hit.
Additionally, jabs cause more damage, so power-punchers don't have the advantage they had last year over finesse fighters. This creates for a much more balanced game in which you can better use the individual style of your boxer.
Speaking of style, EA added a ton of new punch and block styles for each licensed boxer, so no longer does Sugar Ray Leonard punch like, say, Joe Frazier. When you create a boxer, you can unlock each of these styles and choose from a variety of different options, like orthodox or southpaw stances, Philly shell or cross defenses, and speed punches or power punches.
EA tried to improve last year's career mode by adding a bit of a story element with rivals. Just like Frazier shadowed Ali throughout his career, a computer rival will shadow your boxer in his career. Sadly, the rivalry feature is very shallow. Every now and then, you'll encounter a "rival," which is a rather arbitrary distinction since the rival is no different than any other boxer. When you fight, the commentator will throw out some comments like, "These guys really don't like each other," and that's about the extent of it. As you get to higher-profile fights with your rivals, you can experience a fight at the weigh-in, which is usually your opponent hitting you in the face and putting you in first-person stun-punch mode. This lasts for only a few seconds and then the real fight begins. Perhaps some trash-talk conversation trees or the ability to punch the opponent's trainer in the kidney would have added some real emotion here, but as it stands, there is no added emotion in fighting your rivals.
Also, the presentation of career mode takes several backward steps. There are no rankings and no way to see who the current champ is. Instead, a popularity meter measures your "ranking" and, when filled, you get a title shot. The only stats tracked are your record and money earned. As for money, the only thing to spend it on is apparel like shoes and trunks that give you ratings boosts, but the interface is clunky and it's tough to see what you're wearing and what your ratings boosts are at any given moment. As you earn into the millions of dollars, you quickly realize that it would have been nice to be able to purchase mansions or sports cars or call girls - anything really would have added some depth.
All of that aside, the computer AI is what keeps the single-player experience from being fun. There's always the challenge of beating the game, but the computer is so easy to beat, even on hard, that there's no real motivation to play a second career mode except to try a different weight class. Once, our boxer just stood there and didn't throw one punch the whole round, and the computer opponent landed about seven jabs and a hook and missed about 30 punches and caused no significant damage. That's just silly. Speaking of silly, it was no great challenge to knockout heavyweight Muhammad Ali in the fifth round, on hard, with featherweight Manny Pacquiao, even though the Filipino stallion is less than half the size of Ali. Next year we really hope to see the AI and difficulty settings improved.
As part of its deal with ESPN, EA added an ESPN Classics feature in which you can relive some of the great rivalries from boxing history. As an added bonus, your rivalries from career mode will be added as "Instant Classics" in the ESPN Classics mode, so you can beat down that CPU schmuck over and over.
On Xbox Live, Round 3 performed adequately. The only noticeable issue was several instances of slow-down that occurred sporadically. The options are standard EA Sports Nation fare: ranked quick matches, standard quick matches, custom matches, the lobby and player rankings. EA Chicago could take a look at what Burnout Revenge is doing on the 360 with online rivals. After several races against a gamer, an online rivalry is created and you can earn achievements whenever you take that fool out, whether it is twice in one day or a month down the line. Again, though, Fight Night Round 3 shines as a fantastic multiplayer experience.
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