“Let’s get ready to Renderrr!”
And render it does… really well. EA Chicago has come out of their corner swinging and delivered another devastating haymaker in the form of Fight Night Round 3 for the PS2, Xbox and, with astonishing visual flair, the Xbox 360. While the majority of what is covered here will focus on the jaw dropping and cringe-inducing sweat fest that is the Xbox 360 version, bear in mind that the gameplay in all three versions is practically identical. If one were to start with the Xbox 360 version and turn an imaginary “models/textures” slider down to about a third and then activate an on-screen health meter, you would have the current-gen console versions before you… same great taste, with only half the calories.
Let’s get this out of the way early: Fight Night Round 3 on the Xbox 360 is a benchmark in terms of next-gen graphics and how gamers are expecting these new titles to look. The general buzz around the industry is that with the release of this title and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter (within two weeks of each other) that the next generation has ‘officially’ begun. The player models in Fight Night Round 3 are stunning and photo-realistic right down to the material on the gloves and shorts. Both the “create a champ” and career modes offer the ability to create a fighter from scratch, using what seems to be a slightly watered down version of the Tiger Woods Game Face tools.
It’s not that difficult or time consuming to create a fighter that looks just like you and sometimes the results can be downright creepy. This “rings” particularly true when a devastating haymaker replay kicks in, and you get to watch your boxer’s own face get pummelled in “Raging Bull” style slow-motion, replete with flying bloody drool and facial features that wrap themselves around the glove like they just spontaneously adhered to it. Impressive, awesome, and really rough to watch when that face looks just like you.
The damage your fighter takes becomes more apparent over the course of the rounds, as the injuries on his face bleed and swell up (This is really exaggerated in the current-gen versions of the game). The entire interface is completely clean by default, without a single on-screen gauge or meter (Xbox 360) and even though there is an option to turn one on, you shouldn’t. The beauty of the game is gauging your opponent’s status by looking at his face, his movement, and his ability to remain standing. The rings and arenas they are contained in sport a remarkable level of detail as well, even though you can see character models in the crowd repeating quite often. There is also the occasional graphics clipping glitch that places a fallen opponent’s foot or arm through a solid object (most often the canvas… when they’re eating it), but that’s really a forgivable issue in most gamer’s eyes.
In career mode you will face many types of opponents over the span of your fighter’s lifetime, but they do seem to be a hodgepodge of about a dozen or so pre-selected features. This results in every fighter you face feeling and looking like the last one. The notable exceptions are, of course, when you go up against some of the famous-name fighters like Jake LaMotta, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard (or Robinson for that matter), Bernard Hopkins and many others. There are several camera styles to select from, but the standard ringside mode serves quite well, and rarely, if ever, will you feel a need to switch. Visually, your fighter will age as his career goes on, and statistically you will see his numbers drop dramatically after age 36 or so. A heavyweight fighter that starts out at 20 being completely ripped and cut in his physique will look like Homer Simpson (or a current day George Foreman) with a pear-shaped physique and little definition in his muscles around the time he reaches forty-ish. This is usually when players will want to hit the “retire” button (and yes, there IS one on the main career mode menu). Nice attention to detail in the whole process.
The ‘continuity’ problems with your up-and-coming fighter who is listed as 20 years old in 2006 fighting LaMotta or Ali is the kind stuff you will either overlook or hate about the game. Many feel that the classic fighters had no business being anywhere near the career mode, but there you have it and there they are. Fight Night also seems to be the most flagrant offender in terms of on-screen shilling yet. Not only will you be inundated with Dodge, ESPN, Under Armour, Everlast, and, worst of all Burger King commercials, but that really creepy Burger King “King” can actually be hired as a trainer and therefore your ringside coach throughout the matches (shudder). Fans of the previous titles will be happy to hear that the brilliantly designed “Total Punch Control” scheme with the right analog stick has made a return and been tweaked to maximum perfection. Those who spend time mastering it will really find out how much it pays off in the long run.
The most unforgivable flaw in the game is the fact that your career mode rise to heavyweight champion (or any other belt-wearing champion for that matter) is handled with no fanfare at all, making the whole thing just seem like a disjointed group of single matches. You are never ranked as a veritable threat to other fighters, only as more “popular” than you were ten minutes ago.
It is sign, train, fight, sign, train, fight… until you’re too old to do it anymore. The mini-games that boost your fighter’s stats can be painfully dull and annoying, and the developers must have known this because they added an “auto-train” selection to the training menu. This proves to be a pretty worthless selection because if you choose the auto-train feature you’re limited to only half the benefits that the training session could provide if you did it manually. That’s like limiting yourself to only enjoying the game half as much as you could. So, ipso facto, off to manual training you go before each and every fight. Mastering the timing on the real heavy punches (haymakers, stun punches, etc) takes a bit of time, but you will want to learn every nuance possible, as they leave you open and unguarded if you miss. Also, your mastery of that timing will help you quite a bit when avoiding your opponent’s attempts to flatten you.
When you do manage to take a title belt away from some opponent, it is kind of a bittersweet victory, as your fighter is never seen wearing it. There should have been some sort of ballyhoo as the belt is placed around your waist… it would have added miles of satisfaction to earning your victories and belts, but nada (even Punch-Out on the NES had a belt). The bright side is that all of that is about the limit to the negative aspects of the title. No title is perfect, but this one comes close.
The sound design is top notch. Players will grimace at the crunching and snapping sounds of the slow motion hooks slamming into cheek and teeth… it’s appropriately disturbing in the most fascinating and compelling way possible. Ring announcer rhetoric tends to repeat quite a bit, but that’s endemic in the commentating in all sports titles. Musically, Fight Night Round 3 delivers a hip hop mix that starts off as being catchy, but ultimately warrants shutting off.
Fight Night Round 3 is a fantastic boxing title that really delivers the action in a realistic way for fight fans, and those discovering the sweet science for the first time on their home console. It has surpassed what was delivered before in previous titles and really set the bar very high for future entries of the series, and will likely go down in history as the “first” title of the console generation that began in 2006.