The old art form of boxing is brought to home consoles once again with Electronic Arts Fight Night Round 3 which opts to take a more realistic approach to the sport rather than providing an all out arcade experience. As the name suggests this is the 3rd iteration of the series and on the Xbox 360 at least the best looking of the three. However looks aside for one moment, does Fight Night Round 3 offer a playing experience that can match the game’s high quality visuals?
Fight Night Round 3 provides the player with several modes of play which include the regular single fight where players simply pick a fighter from any weight class and an opponent who does not necessarily need to be of the same weight class. This can make for some interesting bouts if you pit a heavyweight against a lightweight for example, then duke it out in the ring. Fight Night Round 3 also features a classic ESPN endorsed mode which lets players relive some classic fights from boxing history such as Ali verses Frazier. Fight Night Round 3 features Xbox Live play and of course a career mode which is probably the main portion of the game’s offline single player.
Career mode begins with the player choosing a boxer from a healthy roster of fighters although sadly there are a few omissions here such as Mike Tyson, Lennox, Lewis George Foreman. Luckily there is an extensive create a boxer mode which allows gamers the chance to faithfully recreate themselves or boxers that aren’t on the official line up. There are a wealth of options to tweak including skull size, eye positioning and colour, lips, eyebrows the list goes on. Players can also tweak their created boxers fighting style as well which is handy for players who perhaps favour speed over power and vice versa. Once a boxer has been tweaked to satisfaction then it is time to head out into the flamboyant world of boxing; although to begin with, players are thrust into an amateur league which sees your boxer fight complete with headgear.
The basic premise for the career mode is to pick a contract of which more often than not there are several to choose from at any given time. Then players must train in one of three areas which are, weight lifting, heavy bag, and training dummy. Each area of training will increase your stats in one area and decrease your stats in another area. Players are able to actually participate in the training mini games or if you are impatient and perhaps confident you can opt to let the computer do it for you in an instant whilst suffering a small penalty. Either way the mini games make a welcome break from the actual boxing and as your stats increase become more difficult to get maximum benefit from.
So, you have signed a contract to fight a specific opponent and you have trained hard all that is left to do is get in the ring and prove you have what it takes to be a contender. There are two ways to fight in Fight Night Round 3 and this is down to how you have configured the controller. Fight Night Round 3 features total punch control which basically means that with the right thumb-stick players can jab, hook, uppercut and haymaker with careful movements. The other method of control and perhaps a little easier for those who simply can’t get to grips with the total punch control is to use the regular buttons to perform punches.
Control issues aside, the fighting in Fight Night Round 3 is fairly realistic in that players cant simply throw punch after punch without getting tired or refuse to use the guard button and expect to win rounds. Fights do tend to become very technical especially as you progress further into the career mode where things like the computer performing near perfect counters on a lot of aggressive moves become apparent. Players are able to bob and weave as well as perform counters of there own which is something players should try to master as soon as possible. There are quite a few differences between the boxers you face who seem to all be American but are from various regions of the world (their gloves sport their home country’s colours). Throughout career mode boxers will come at you with all styles with some fighters being more aggressive or defensive than others. Between rounds players get advice from their trainer on how they can improve their game as well as another mini game where players have to heal the face of their boxer from the cuts and swelling they receive each round (fights can be stopped by the ref if a fighter has taken too much of a beating). What is also neat is being able to view your opponent’s corner to see a close up of the damage you have caused and being able to listen to your opponent’s trainer’s advice to the fighter.
Fight Night Round 3 features a few special moves thrown in for good measure which include a specific signature move for each fighter, haymakers (powerful punches), stun punches and flash KO punches. These are accomplished by performing charge up moves using the right control stick. Some are a little tricky to pull of during the heat of combat let alone connect appropriately; however if one of these punches does connect then it can sway a fight in your favour. The boxers are pretty tough in Fight Night Round 3 and if you have the settings switched so that the heads up display (HUD) is off then you will have to gauge how well your fighter is doing by monitoring his movements, although after a few fights you do get a feel for how much you can push your boxer. In a lot of cases boxers will go down more than 3 times spread out over several rounds (there is an option to have the 3 knockdown rule) although to begin with, skilled players should be able to win fights in 3 rounds or less. Knocking out opponents in Fight Night Round 3 is a very satisfying moment because not only does the commentating reach a crescendo but also prior to a knockdown when you or your opponent is on their last legs, the game enters some kind of focus mode where if one last hook or uppercut lands results in a guaranteed knockdown. For the fighter on the receiving end they can try and move away, block or clinch to get some small health recovery. These moments are tense for both parties and if the attacker gets too confident, can be countered and knocked out themselves.
Fight Night Round 3 isn’t always smelling of roses because I was left feeling that a number of features were absent from a game that opts to be realistic. For starters players cannot edit their entrance or the music that accompanies them which is a shame although quite a minor issue. The rivalries in career mode aren’t as in depth as they could be because it would have been nice to be able to choose our own rivals as well. I would have liked to have seen more pre fight, smack talking where players where given a choice of actions which ultimately would have had an effect on the fight. Instead we are given a pre determined scene at weigh in where your opponent lashes out and you have to defend. Not being able to attack or hold on during clinches seems like an oversight as well.
A lot has been spoken about the graphics in Fight Night Round 3 and it has to be said that it does indeed feature some highly detailed character models which by default are viewed from the waist up and from the side. The way the lighting reflects off sweaty skin is captured very well as are the textures used for skin which shows things like freckles on light skinned boxers. There is a damage model employed which shows cuts and swelling to a fighters face although I am unclear when this actually is used because throughout my career I did not see any evidence of swelling at all although online I did notice swelling.
Fight Night certainly looks impressive in motion although there are a few things that don’t look as smooth as the fighter models. One thing that is immediately noticeable is the movement of the fighters when bobbing and weaving. The boxers do take on a rather robotic feel as opposed to being smooth. Then there are things like punch impact which at times doesn’t feel quite as powerful as it should do in terms of visible head or body movement. Depending on the location there are a number of spectators watching the fight and whilst they are quite a vocal bunch there are a lot of clones and the detail is rather lacking; although a blur effect is used to mask this. The actual arenas aren’t that spectacular either and I guess you will focus more on the boxers during play, it does dampen the overall polish of the game. Some of the rag doll knockdown animations are rather awkward looking and in many cases quite comical. I guess it must be a tough call to either make set animations that would become boring after a while or to use rag doll physics so that every knockdown is slightly different. Sometimes the rag doll physics works and at others times it is laughable at best.
Fight Night Round 3 features a limited number of tracks which are all from the Hip- Hop camp. Some of you may argue that there are some good tunes on offer but due to the limited number featured means they get rather repetitive quite quickly, especially the set tune for your fighter in career mode. The commentator does a very good job of filling you in on how well you are doing and is rather handy if you are playing with the HUD switched off. The ambient crowd noises are spot on and it’s really great to hear them get excited when you land a flurry of well connected punches or perform a knockdown. The actual punch sound effects are reasonable as are the moans and grunts from the boxers themselves. The focus mode prior to a knock out is very dramatic sounding although the slow motion knockout punch sound effects are a little over the top as you hear what sounds like a jaw bone snapping in several places.
Fight Night Round 3 has an extensive career mode that lets you have a full career with a player created boxer or one of the presets. There are several weight classes on offer which means to win all of the belts you will have to make several fighters. This will take quite some time and offers some replay value. Getting the regular achievements for the game is quite easy and are basically acquired by winning specific career mode fights. Players are able to duke it out with their friends at home or online with players from across the globe in ranked and un-ranked matches. The online portion of the game is every bit as gripping as the offline play although finding decent opponents who do not continually abuse power punch moves might prove a challenge.
Fight Night Round 3 is a decent foray into the boxing world albeit missing a few features and polish in certain areas. EA could have put in so much more to provide an ultimate boxing experience yet what they have offered is a bare bones fighter that simply looks good and plays well but after extensive play becomes rather underwhelming. That’s not to say the game lacks depth because there are some things that will surprise you such as the commentator keeping a record of your stats in career mode and making remarks about them on occasion.
It would be easy to say that Fight Night Round 3 is a rental at best especially for gamers looking to boost their gamer score; yet there is a lot of fun to be had here especially if you have friends over or get online; so in this respect Fight Night Round 3 is worth a purchase. If you have neither of these then the experience will possibly become muted after a while and with not much to do other than mini-game, fight, mini game etc you might feel this is a game to be traded in not long after purchase. I have enjoyed playing Fight Night Round 3 and I can even say that if you pit two non boxing fans against each other, even they will have a blast as well. Is it a keeper? Yes, if you are a boxing fan, have Live or plenty of friends.