Fight Night Round 3 for Xbox 360

Fight Night Round 3 is, you guessed it, the third implementation of EA’s popular boxing series. (Unless of course you’re counting the release titled “Fight Night,” which was released for Atari 7800…which wasn’t even released by EA…and I’m not counting it, so neither should you.) Being the first game of the series on a next-gen system, the first of any boxing games on next-gen, and the first marketplace demo I downloaded, this game has a lot of firsts. However with those firsts come expectations.

Upon playing your first round of FNR3 you’ll likely notice two things. Initially, how amazing the graphics are. Character models, especially faces, are beyond amazing. They look so much like their real life counterparts that you might want to scoff at the idea that, besides pre-rendered video, anything besides the real thing could get any closer. This is without a doubt the first game I picked up that made me say “Now THIS is next-gen.” Once you’ve commenced, and subsequently stopped your drooling you’ll notice that second thing I mentioned.

Fight Night plays quite a bit slower than what you’d think real life boxing would. Although the speediest characters like Roy Jones Jr. and Muhammad Ali seem to throw their punches at a reasonable pace I almost always get this same reaction from whomever it is I show this game. The characters for some reason just don’t seem to move on par with real people. While haymakers and other power punches are slow in the name of fairness, you can’t help but wonder why oh why Evander didn’t eat his Wheaties this morning. At times the slowest, and often strongest, characters seem throw punches so slow that they don’t even look like they’d hurt. F=ma? Nope. Today F=your character’s strength rating.

Fight Night brings a new gameplay method to the series. One that works well alongside the increased graphic power of the Xbox 360. The game plays without health or stamina bars. (Although you can opt out and turn them back on manually.) This was presumably created allow for a more realistic fight in that you can’t see how tired or battered your opponent is until he’s about to go down. The new system requires you to read your opponents physical signs. For example, are his hands and head hanging? Has his movement slowed down?

All these are signs that your opponents is tiring from your relentless beating. And while it does make for a very interesting game in that manner it begs the question, “How much stamina do I have left?” Oh Dreamcast controller screen how I long thee! Playing in this mode with a friend is a blast but on Xbox Live the life bars become a necessary evil. Not knowing how much stamina and health you have relative to your opponent is a large disadvantage. Both players could agree to turn them off, but let’s be honest, I’d cheat and so would you.

The health and stamina bars are mostly self-explanatory. Health goes down as you take hits and gradually returns as you avoid them. (More or less so, of course, depending on character.) Stamina works the same, except for throwing punches. The more, harder punches you throw, the more it drops. As your stamina and health go down however, a small bar darker but similar color bar will drop as well. This bar represents your current max for that stat. A boxer who is completely exhausted will not recover all his stamina without extended rest. Once your secondary bar drops, it represents your new, lowered, maximum for health or stamina.

The stamina bar refills very rapidly, and the secondary stamina drops slowly but never refills. Once a boxers health reaches the bottom he enters a “near KO” state. The screen wobbles, and the crowd fades away as you hear your characters heart pumping. In this state one good blow can send a player to the canvas. The escape? Keep yourself on both feet for long enough, or land a clinch. Because of this system quick knockdowns are few and far between, but they do happen. In however matches I’ve played, and its been more than a few, I’ve seen only one. It was a specialty uppercut, delivered by my create-a-player Mike Tyson, to a badly, badly battered Joe Frasier.

With this aside, the game mechanics, although mostly the same as previous versions, are still an ingenious little setup. In terms of offense every boxer can has a jab, cross(essentially a jab with the dominant hand), left/right hook, and left/right uppercut as their basic arsenal. All of these punches can be thrown high or low to change things up, and if strung together properly they can be chained together to form combos. On top of these, each boxer has 3 power punches; a haymaker, Flash KO, and Stun Punch. Haymakers are your standard wind up big blow, connect with one of these and it hurts, but that’s about it. Flash KO punches take about a third of the round to wind up (well not really) but if they connect, send your opponent into an immediate dizzied “near KO” state.

Last of the standard punches, and the most entertaining is the Stun Punch. This doozy of a blow sends the receiver into a first person view where all he or she can do is block. There’s no fancy foot action here, no dancing around or clinching. It’s sink or swim as you attempt to block or parry your opponents punches to stay upright. Finally, each character has two specialty punches, one high and one low. Some of these are useful and some are useless. Certain punches, for example Ali’s, are quick and both high and low versions look very similar creating the opportunity for varying blows. Others however, like Jermain Taylor’s, are useful for the first few times your opponents sees them because they can be confusing. Specialty punches that fall under this category can be excellent fakes…the first 3 times you use them. The thing about a fake is its not a fake after you’ve used it 15 times. It might work if you’re playing your dog, “where’d the ball go, wheeeeeeeeeeere’d it go,” but not anybody else.

On the defensive end each character can block high/low at any time, reducing the damage taken from punches in the protected area to an inconsequential amount. They can also lean back, left, right, and duck. The leans are an excellent way to dodge punches and land clean counter-hits, but if you lean into a big juicy haymaker, there’s no “near KO” state for you, its straight to the mat. On top of this characters can parry four spots. High left, high right, low left, and low right. A successful parry renders your opponent paralyzed for a brief second allowing you to land a clean counter punch or two, more if you’re creative. Parry’s are often unrealistic in that they render a character motionless for much longer than could ever actually happen but it all works out in the name of fair gameplay. Parry a jab and your opponent recovers quickly, parry a haymaker or specialty punch and you get due time to wind up one of your own. The parry system allows for a balanced risk/reward system and prevents players from abusing power punches.

And of course, how could we talk about Fight Night without talking about the controls. This game, like the previous in the series, uses EA’s “Total Punch Control.” TPC, love it or hate it, is a very unique method of control. Picturing the right analog stick as a clock, a jab is thrown by tapping toward 11 o’clock. A cross by tapping toward 1 o’clock. (Reverse for southpaws.) Right and left hooks are thrown by pushing toward 3 o’clock (or 9 o’clock) and rotating toward 12. The idea here is to simulate, in a way, the manner in which the arm would move while throwing these punches. The system, while innovative, takes a while to learn. I have found that many players, myself included, will choose to turn the controls to the more standard “x throws jab, y throws cross etc” system. Combos are much easier with the face button method and the only real change is that the options that normally go on the face buttons are moved to the directional pad.

Fight Night is without a doubt, a “partner required” game. The computer AI is simultaneously routinely predictable yet unrealistically effective. This may seem counter-intuitive at first. In order to understand you must think back to the days of Nintendo. Nothing your computer opponent does is complex or tricky, but at times it becomes ridiculously obvious that you are playing a machine. For example: if you are blocking when the computer AI throws a punch, it will be to the spot you are not blocking 99% of the time. The only way to block computer opponents punches effectively is to block high then switch low at the last second or vice versa. This technique, as you my have guessed, works 99% of the time. That said, once you learn how to play against the AI it is rather difficult to lose even on the highest settings. Although it is still frustrating for more than one reason to play the computers dimwitted but lightning reflexes.

As previously mentioned the games graphics are pretty amazing. Characters are excellent, face captures are excellent, lighting is excellent, and motion is fluid and lifelike. The only area of complaint would be the crowds. They make a good space filler, but when you take a closer look its almost laughable. In order to be a spectator at a Fight Night match you must keep the following in mind; Dress is mandated for these fights, because you’ll find about four different crowd outfits total. Cheering is mandated as well. You’re allowed to a)stand and clap b)cheer and flail your arms wildly, but repetitively c)try and look around the guy in front of you to the left, then the right, then the left, then the right….all other movement of any kind is prohibited And last of the mandations is diet. Eating anything that will prevent you from looking like a cardboard cutout is strictly prohibited…as is eating anything that will increase your resolution and prevent you from being square around the edges. I’m sure you get the idea, but you’d think, given the rest of the game, that the crowd could look a little better than this.

In terms of features, Fight Night draws the pixilated crowd. In single player, players can choose a career mode with a new boxer or choose to recreate the career of a great. On top of this there are standard matches, historic fight matches a la Frazier/Ali or Ray Robinson/Jake Lamotta, and slugfest matches with rounds that go until a contestant is knocked down. Xbox Live mode adds a tremendous amount of replay. Although you may find the controls lagging a bit at times, finding a good room can allow for some intense online games. Live mode allows you to choose your weight class, a few other options, and dive into the action. Although on Live in this game, as with others, everybody likes to be a “telephone tough guy.”

The create-a-player feature in this game is truly outstanding. While making your character you can choose between a variety of skin tones, hair styles and builds. Making your boxer a Vin Diesel or making him a Butterbean is your choice. After you’ve picked the basics you’re taken to a screen where you can pick between about 8 different facial features. Anything from forehead, cheek, jaw, nose, eyes, mouth, and more can be adjusted. With a little time and some creativity you can make a character who looks like anybody you choose. Making various characters and trying to create your favorite excluded boxer can make for a considerable amount of fun. Unless of course you’re as artistically untalented as I am. In which case, give up now.

The effects in this game merge very well. The announcing, although repetitive after a while, is amazing at first and really adds to the reality. Hard punches sound painful and boxers let out cries of battle at every big swing. The crowd roars when a big hit is landed and when in a big arena you can always hear the ambient background noise of the crowd. The soundtrack is filled with hip-hop beats and even as someone who is not the largest fan of the genre I found the music to be fitting of the game and well implemented. The music blends so well with the mood of the game that you just can’t hate it, no matter how much the songs may not appeal to you. The designers did an excellent job of picking out quality tunes and emphasizing good beats. Although, we’ve come to expect this from EA sports games, have we not?

After a while you’ll probably find that boxing is just boxing. It never changes. But there should be no doubt in your mind that this is the boxing game to own. If you own a 360 and nothing else, it is the only boxing game to own. Which is not a bad thing. Not much else could be asked for from this game. There could potentially be a few more historic boxers or some extra variance in the specialty punches but there are rarely times when you are wishing that you could make your boxer do things that he doesn’t. Everything you need is there. Even the cheap shots. And yes, Holyfield has a headbutt.

TITLE: Fight Night Round 3
HDTV Support: 480p, 720p, 1080i
5.1 Surround Sound: yes
PLATFORM: Xbox 360
Retail Price: $59.99

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