August 12, 2007
Boxing is in something of a decline lately. With the absence of a true world class heavyweight, the probable retirements of Floyd Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya (for now at least) and the increase of popularity of UFC, boxing is at it’s lowest ebb for some time. Gone are the glory days when the best fighters in the world had no problems getting it on with each other. Now with so many belts, promoters, and divisions, it’s harder to get the true world class fighters in the ring together for a “super fight”. With De La Hoya, the sports’ most recognizable face, probably retiring, the chances of any more super fights happening are pretty slim. But while boxing fans around the world weep at the sad state the sport is in, gamers everywhere can delight in the fact that for them, a super fight is only a few button presses away. Want to see Muhammed Ali take on Lennox Lewis? How about Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera going at it one more time? Step this way then, Fight Night Round 3 is just the game you need.
As the name suggests, Fight Night Round 3 is the third iteration of the EA Sports Fight Night series, which started out as Knockout Kings way back when, but the first version to appear on the next-gen consoles. As you’d expect from EA, the game is much the same as previous versions, with several improvements here, a few disappointments there, and an obvious graphical overhaul to go with it.
Gameplay-wise, things have improved since the previous two versions. The punches are still controlled by the right analogue stick using the Total Punch Control system (though you can still use the face buttons if you wish), meaning a quick upward flick of the right stick will result in a quick jab or straight. The emphasis in Fight Night: Round 2 was on the “Haymaker” punches (more powerful punches which took a little longer to throw), and it reduced the amount of proper jabs, crosses and straights that were thrown. In Round 3, the Haymaker punches are now slower still, easier to block, and the animation can be interrupted with a quick jab to the face. It stops people just pounding forward constantly abusing the Haymakers, and forces people to use proper boxing technique and as well as requiring more skill.
The Haymaker is still a useful punch however but an even more powerful, higher-risk punch is the new impact punch. Produced by winding the analogue stick back even further than the Haymaker, if the impact punch lands it has the ability to completely drain your opponents health and turn the tide of the fight in one hit. Of course, should it miss, or even worse, be countered, you're left open to a potentially huge counter-attack, so it's best to use it sparingly or as a last resort.
The meat of the game comes in the form of career mode. In the career mode you can play either as an established boxing star, or create your own boxer from the ground up and take him on a pugilistic journey, boxing in underground gyms to become the champion of the world. However, the career is actually one of the let downs in this game. While it does have the nice bonus of introducing an amateur career to introduce you to the game, as you progress through the career you get no real feeling of connection between yourself and the boxing world. There’s no ranking system, so you can’t see where you currently rank in the world (a very strange omission), nor can you see who the current champions are. Before each fight, you are offered a choice of opponents, some of which offer a bonus if you meet certain victory conditions, but it never quite feels like you are rising through the boxing world as a real boxer would. It’s a great shame really, because as a boxing fan I’d take great pleasure in creating a new boxer, watching him rise through the regional and national rankings, until one day he was good enough to burst onto the world scene. Hopefully this is something that they’ll sort out in the inevitable sequel.
Alongside the career mode, you are also offered several other gameplay options. There is the standard Xbox Live multiplayer games, where you can fight in ranked or unranked matches, or create a custom game to kick some butt. There is also the new ESPN Classics mode, where you can take control of a fighter in any one of a number of classic rivalries. It’s good fun, but I’d rather they spent the time padding out the career mode a bit more. Still, boxing action is why you’d buy this game, and in that sense FN:R3 certainly delivers.
Graphically the game is beautiful. The boxers are all distinct, so much so that a boxing fan can tell them all apart without any need for the names on screen. They're animated really well, though a little slowly at times it seems (there are no incredibly fast jabs like you'd see from Floyd Mayweather), and they move around the ring very realistically. The graphics are shown off even more when you score a knock down, as during the replays the camera zooms in, and you get a close up view of the face being smashed around, often accompanied by blood shooting out of the mouth. It all looks very painful and makes you glad it's just a game and you're not on the receiving end of that punch. The damage done to each boxer during the fight is also nicely done, with swelling and cuts making it obvious where the damage is, so you can focus your attack there even further to try and force a stoppage.
The game's sound is also quite stellar. The commentator will make telling remarks about the style each fighter may be employing, the benefits of each, and perhaps how to work around it. He'll also make comments about how tired a boxer may be, or how close he may be to being stopped, all of which will help you decide whether to press home an advantage, or to cover up if you're unfortunate enough to be the one he's talking about. Alas, the same quality does not extend to the actual music in game. It's all R’n’B and the track selection is very limited. While the songs themselves aren't actually that bad, there's simply not enough variety in there to stop you getting very fed up of them after a fairly short amount of time. I hope that for future versions of the game (which there will surely be), they increase the amount of songs, and add some variety to of music styles in there as well.
Moving onto the achievements, it's all very straightforward here. All the achievements are based around the single player career mode, and each achievement (all 8 of them) are awarded for winning particular fights during your career. This is good in that the achievements don't require anything special in order to get them, and for the achievement junkies out there it's a great game to get. However, there are 2 downsides to this as well. First of all, you are not warned that a particular fight is for an achievement, so you need to be aware of what the achievements are so you can recognize them beforehand. Secondly, if you lose the fight, you'll have to replay the career to try it again, as you only get one shot at it, and the game autosaves. My advice would be to quickly reset the console if you lose (and don't fancy starting another career), so you can simply load the game up and try again.
Despite some of it's shortcomings in terms of the career mode, the gameplay itself is more than gone enough to compensate for it. The multiplayer side of the game, both at home and over Live just make an already great boxing game even better. Highly recommended.
The commentary is excellent but the music is average. The track selection is strictly R’n’B, and while the songs aren’t really offensive, there’s not enough variety there to stop them from getting dull after a pretty short space of time. The ingame fight noises are all pretty good, with solid sounding punches landing to body and face.
Quite easily one of the best looking sports games around. The character models all look excellent and are very well animated, so much so that you don’t need the HUD (which is hidden at standard) to tell how a boxer is doing. The damage on his face and his movement are all you need to see to know whether he’s ripe for the killing. Excellent close up replays of knock-downs show facial ripples which just scream out how much that punch would have hurt. Truly top-notch.
The AI is good but shows no real improvement over previous years. For newcomers they’ll offer a decent challenge, but for those with experience of the series they’ll find it lacking somewhat. Find yourself a skilled friend to play against, either locally or across Live, and you’ve got yourself a fantastic sports game.
The career mode lacks several features that I would have thought would be standard by now, and really hamper it at times. The presentation is excellent though, as you’d expect from EA Sports. A more involved career mode is a must for the next release through.
All very easy, and all achieved through the career mode. The only problem is that as you progress through your career, you come to certain prize fights, which you need to win to get the achievement. If you lose, you’ll have to re-do the career again, so be prepared to quickly shut your Xbox off if you lose the fight, to make sure the autosave doesn’t force you to go back through it again.
The lack of a involving career mode, as well as fairly simple AI, means that when you’ve gone through the game and got all the achievements, there’s no real incentive to go back through the single player game. However, add in another human opponent and the game really starts to shine. It’s not perfect, not by any means, but it’s certainly one of the best boxing games of all time, which is enough reason for any sports fan to give it a try.