FNR3 goes the distance on the consoles and will knock you out with a visual KO on the X360. by Vaughn Smith
March 7, 2006 – Although I’m slightly upset that Fight Night Round 3 isn’t available on the Cube (for reasons I’ll explain momentarily), I’m willing to accept the jaw-dropping visuals of the Xbox 360 as a peace offering. Granted, the console versions look very good as well, but you have to see this baby in action on the Xbox 360 in high definition to really appreciate it. Any self-respecting boxing fan who catches a glimpse of FNR3 while roaming the aisles of his or her favorite electronics store, will most likely walk out with a copy, perhaps even with a new system under their arms. Thankfully the talented folks at EA Chicago weren’t relying solely on visual beauty to sell this beast; FNR3 plays as good as she looks, but there are some changes from last years FNR2 that might not sit well with fans of last years game.
The biggest changes in terms of gameplay fall into the good news, bad news category. First the good news. Thanks to the improved visuals there is no longer any use for a HUD or health bar of any kind. With the action taking place front and center and no other distractions onscreen, FNR3 is like watching the fights on TV. The improved visuals – yes, the PS2 is being pushed to the limits – make it possible to keep track of your character and opponents health, simply by watching their physical stature and amount of damage on their bodies and face. While removing the HUD to immerse the player into the game isn’t new, it’s done to perfection in high definition, possibly foreshadowing the end of the health bar as we know it in future titles. The bad news: The career mode has been changed significantly and no longer offers the ability to fight your way up the ranks. I’m not sure why EA Chicago felt the need to alter this all-important mechanic from last years FNR2, but the career mode fights in Round 3 just don’t have that sense of urgency or purpose to them.
The Total Punch Control system first introduced in Fight Night 2004, which helped reinvent the series from the earlier Knockout Kings franchise, is once again present and in my opinion, the only way to play. Moving your character with the L analog stick and throwing punches with the R analog stick is far more satisfying than button mashing, although EA does leave you that option. As mentioned, I found the GameCube version of Fight Night Round 2 to be my favorite, simply because I found the GC’s C-Stick control to be the perfect device for throwing punches due to it’s octogonal grooved design. Sure the bloody thing literally ripped my thumb apart in the process, but I was willing to live with it. Unfortunately EA decided to not support Nintendo’s system this year and that’s a shame.
To keep things fresh and exciting, EA has introduced three levels of Impact punches which can alter the outcome of a fight with one well-connected punch, adding even more boxing brutality to the game. While newbs will have learning curve ahead of them, once the nuances of the control system are understood, button mashing won’t even seem like an option. Those who have played the series before will be able to waltz right in, and it won’t be long before the new Impact punches are integrated. However, throwing a stun punch or KO punch isn’t exactly the easist thing to do as the windup is slow and leaves you wide open for a counter/parry, but when you do manage to connect one, you’ll actually feel like you’ve accomplished something – although the reality is, you’re really just sitting in your living room in your underwear playing a video game and therefore….have accomplished bupkiss. Unless, of course, wasting an entire day in front of the TV is something you’re proud of.
In conjuction with the Total Punch Control, EA Chicago didn’t want to leave your borders undefended, and by borders, I mean that pretty face and sculpted bod of yours. With a flick of the R trigger (R1 for PS2) you’ll be able to block and parry against oncoming blows together with the R analog stick to select the area of the body you’re interested in defending. The L1 trigger allows you to duck and move out of harms way.
One improvement that needs to be incorporated in future iterations is the ability to cancel special punches. In real fights, boxers don’t follow through with hard punches if they’re opponent suddenly moves out of the strike zone, and the game should reflect that one area of realism. Too often your opponent will move out of reach just as you’ve pressed the special punch and there is nothing you can do but wait for the canned animation to finish. There would be ample time to cancel the punch, therefore conserving energy. Equally as frustrating is the slow mo moments when your opponent has taken too much punishment – when he’s reeling, it shouldn’t that difficult to land a few solid punches, but oftentimes his defense reflexes are uber-acute. You’ll also be introduced to first person viewpoints at various intervals but they are difficult to control and result in confusion at best and frustration at worst since you’ll be either be seeing yourself from your opponents eyes or vice versa. This is something that should have been left on the cutting room floor.
Players eager to start a Career and take their creation through the long and winding road, will be faced with EA’s myriad of options courtesy of their consistently impressive and equally robust Create-A-Player feature. If you have absolutely no imagination at all, or simply just want to “get on with it already” you can randomize the process. You can also attempt creating some of your favorite boxers selecting a fighting style for your budding pugilist. Base style, punch style, and block style are the featured selections and you’ll find numerous combinations within each section. Experimentation is key to your overall success, but it helps to have at least some idea of what kind of fighter you want to be. Will speed be your secret weapon? Strength ala Tyson? It’s up to you. The style can be changed between matches in Career mode but if you’re all over the map, you won’t do well in later rounds.
Preparing for a fight before each round consists of mini-games which is familiar territory for anyone who played Round 2. The mini-games consist of the combo dummy, the weights, and the heavy bag. All of the games are timing based and once you get it down, you most likely won’t have trouble achieving a decent level. The healing mini-game has returned where you must repair your fighters cuts and bruises between rounds or risk disqualification if your injuries aren’t tended to, causing the refs to stop the fight. Nursing your boxer back to health isn’t particularly difficult and requires some tender loving care to the face by matching the timing of the icon on the lower portion of the screen by using the R analog stick. Round 3 actually simplifies this method from Round 2, by downsizing the available facial areas to 2 instead of 4. Piece o’ cake really.
The available modes from Round 2 also return – Career, Online and Play Now – but EA has introduced the all new ESPN Classic mode which allows you to put two boxing legends into the ring and fight it out, without worrying about that bothersome weight class. Since I’m honestly not aware of anything outside of the world’s most famous boxing fights, this mode was a little lost on me, but I’m sure that purists will get more out of it than I did.
As I pointed out, Career mode has been altered from the ranking structure found in Round 2. You’ll begin your career as an amateur and eventually make your way up to the pro fights as your popularity increases, eventually working your way up to the champ of your weight class. From there, you have the opportunity to switch weight classes and go further. You’ll also be given contract fights as you progress and if you’ve left your morals outside by the tool shed, you’ll even be given the opportunity to take a dive….for varying degrees of cash depending on your current stature. Unfortunately sometimes you’ll even take a dive completely reluctantly, just by the sheer luck (or bad luck) of losing in the Round you were “asked” to. It would have been better to have a check box beside the contract stating that even if you do lose in the 4th round (or wherever), you did so of your own volition and not because you’re a pathetic sportsman looking for easy cash.
If you play Round 3 long enough and take it seriously enough, there is a good chance that you’ll come across some incidents that I consider to be blatant balancing issues. If you’re up against a brute like Hagler for example, you might knock him down a few times, get the upperhand on him and he’ll still knock you for a loop in the later rounds and win the match. I have found that the opponent AI can toss a lot of punches my way and not become as tired as my character, which then opens the door for an easy loss. There is the matter of really knowing how your opponent fights – whether he’s got a lot of stamina, throws a flurry of punches etc. – which will definitely make the difference in your matches and this knowledge can’t be discounted. Often times if you’re losing, you have to investigate why this is happening and make the necessary alterations to your fighting style. However, that being said, sometimes you’ll just have to wonder how it’s possible to lose after you’ve fought long and hard and had your opponent on the ropes. It can be pretty maddening.
Online play is one of the best reasons to pick up FNR3, but I can’t say that I attempted online with the PS2. Since the Xbox 360 version will be heavily supported by the growing community of 360 owners, chances are very high that you’ll find someone to play with. Same goes for the Xbox version. The game performs well across the net, although there were a couple of incidents of lag that interrupted gameplay, but it was nothing I’d consider a dealbreaker, like Call Of Duty 2’s “now you see ’em, now you don’t” nonsense.
Anyone caught in the crossfire of the Xbox 360 when this game is on will have to look twice to see whether it’s real or not. Aside from some clipping issues which will sometimes allow you to see through the polygon bodies of the fighters (usually during replays when the camera is in an awkward position), the game on the 360 is as visually stunning as Dead Or Alive 4, but is actually far more impressive when you consider that FNR3 features real time damage modelling and some great looking blood, sweat and tears. Okay, maybe there aren’t any tears. The game on the consoles isn’t quite as impressive but it’s still is on par with last years game although I didn’t trot out Round 2 to compare and contrast.
The audio portion of FNR3 really captures the sights and sounds of the sport with obvious aural embellishments for dramatic effect – ie: the “Hollywood” bone-crunching impact sound that every fist in every movie makes when striking flesh. You’ll also experience the “whooshing” sound of arms and gloves cutting the air as they home in on their intended targets. While the sound effects have been enhanced, they really give the game some credible “oomph” when you land a particularly crippling blow, not to mention the accompanying shot of the face being distorted as it takes a direct hit. Ouch. The commentary is quite good but like any sports game, it’s unrealistic to expect an infinite amount of topical yakkery. Musically, EA is quite content relying on its vast licensed library of hip hop tunes and yeah, sure it makes sense given the subject matter, but for once I’d like to hear a banjo in an EA game.
Fight Night Round 3 is a great contender for anyone looking for the most realistic boxing simulation currently on the market. It’s not cartoony and filled with silly characters; it takes the sport seriously and therefore can be difficult if you don’t know how to play properly or hone your character’s abilities. The absense of ranking in Career mode is a significant loss in my eyes as the game tends to lose purpose, but the improvements help ease the pain a little. If this first next gen boxing title is a sign of things to come, the future of video game boxing will be black and blue. That’s a good thing in case you weren’t sure. Highly recommended.
- Super Punch – Clench down on that mouth guard rookie! Players will feel the impact of a devastating punch as the boxer’s face ripples from a super punch knockout.
- Film-Quality Graphics – Featuring hudless gameplay, gamers rely on facial expressions and body language to gauge an opponent’s health and energy creating a more emotionally immersive experience. With unique gameplay, visually amazing in-game boxers and photorealistic environments, EA SPORTS Fight Night Round 3 redefines how you think about games.
- One Punch Can Change A Fight – Three new Impact Punches ala the EA SPORTS Haymaker keep gamers at the edge of their seat as players are only one punch away from the entire dynamic of the fight changing. Land a perfectly timed Flash KO or jump into a quick mid-fight mini-game to land a humiliating knockdown punch. Thrown using EA SPORTS Fight Night’s innovative analog punch system, Impact Punches are high risk and high reward – put down your opponent or get knocked on the canvas.
- Boxing’s Greatest Rivalries – Watch ESPN Classic footage of real-life bouts or re-create the greatest fights from past and present including Arturo Gatti vs. Mickey Ward, Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Eric Morales, and Ali vs. Frasier.
- Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk – Establish intense rivalries of your own by intimidating opponents before the big fight with heated press conferences full of hype, trash talkin’, and fights at weigh-ins. Relive the best rivalries of your career in ESPN’s Instant Classics!
- Style Defines a Fighter – Create a style of your own, then see how you match up against the authentic signature styles from the world’s best fighters. Licensed boxers use tactics and strategies that match their real life counterparts. Self Determinant AI adapts its style to match user strengths and to exploit weaknesses.
- Online Gameplay – EA SPORTS Fight Night Round 3 features online play with Xbox Live.
By Vaughn Smith
CCC Site Director