In a stroke of marketing genius EA Sports released a demo of their highly anticipated Fight Night Round 3 onto the Xbox Live Marketplace. The demo was a huge success, and ever since it’s launch fight-fans and non-fans alike have been waiting with bated breath for the full game’s release. Last years Fight Night set the bar for boxing titles, and expanded on the long running series with some excellent new punching controls and more responsive blocking. While these were welcome additions to a series that often degraded into button mashing, some fans complained about the lack of balance between the new Haymakers and the games traditional punches. For this year’s version, EA promised to fix the balance issues and reinvent the series in even more realistic and dramatic fashion. Did they succeed? On several points the answer is a emphatic yes. On others, they actually took a step backwards from last year’s excellent title.
The first thing you will notice when you start playing the game is the graphical power on display. Simply put, Fight Night Round 3 packs the most impressive visual punch of any sports title, and possibly of any game in any genre, in gaming history. The backgrounds are so lifelike, you may find yourself mesmerized by them while your opponent beats your head in for not paying attention. Light dances off your boxer, and realistic shadows create a sense of realism that draws you in like nothing else. Of course, the thing you’re going to be paying most attention to is the warriors in the ring, and they certainly do not disappoint. Fighters are incredibly well modeled, and animate beautifully. Perhaps the most impressive thing about them is the expression that their incredibly articulate faces show off while slamming home a huge punch, or taking one on the chin. There are some slight graphical hiccups, including some clipping issues with boxer’s hair, the ropes, and the ring floor, but overall they don’t distract too much from the visual masterpiece of the title.
All he wants to do is give you a great big hug…honest!
You’ll need to pay attention to your boxer’s expression and facial damage, because EA has eliminated the need for a HUD. Sure, you can turn it on, but you lose so much immersion by doing so that I definitely wouldn’t recommend it. It’s much more satisfying to know that your opponent is about ready to go down for the count because you can see it in his eyes, rather than seeing it in a meter at the top of the screen. Even without meters, it’s easy to see when your fighter is tired or hurt, and not having to stare at a bar to figure out whether you should play it safe or go in for the kill really adds to the realism, and strategy of a fight.
Even the most beautiful titles are only as good as they play, and while the graphics in FNR3 are a no doubt home run, the gameplay has some issues that keep it from being truly great. The control is once again very solid and innovative. The haymaker punch returns, along with the Stun Punch and Flash KO punch. The Stun Punch takes slightly longer to throw than a traditional haymaker, but it puts your opponent in a first person mini-game where all they can do is block, and your punches do a tremendous amount of damage if they connect. The Flash KO punch is truly the definition of the old adage, “One Punch can Change a Fight”. While they take a while to set up, a Flash KO punch that lands will instantly drain your opponents energy, and send them to that memorable slow motion “Oh crap I’m about ready to get knocked the F out” scene. One or two more big punches, and your opponent will be counting the lights.
Of course, to both add more realism to the title and silence the critics of last year’s haymaker system, EA has made sure that big punches like these drain the stamina of your boxer. Meaning if you swing wildly for the KO, you might find yourself sucking wind and taking shots before the end of the round. This touch certainly helps the balance, and makes it much tougher to abuse the power punch system than last year’s title.
Fist in screenshot is closer than it appears.
Of course, anyone who knows boxing knows that it’s not all slugging it out. FNR3 gives you the ability to block your opponents punches to set up the big counter, or dodge like Sugar Ray and lay two or three in before your opponent knows what hit him. Defensive controls are also very smooth, precise, and intuitive, which adds a lot of strategy to fights. You’ll find it very easy to move like Ali, and look for opportunities to counter. Also in the realm of damage control, one of last year’s most innovative additions to the series, the Cutman controls, return this year. Like last year, you are given the option to reduce the swelling, or try and stop the blood flow between rounds if you got beat like you stole something. While the basic motions remain the same, the controls are actually simplified from last year. Rather than having to try and keep moving through a certain zone, you just have to keep moving the stick back and forth at a smooth speed demonstrated by they stick at the bottom of the screen. Also, rather than four zones of damage (Right Brow, Right Cheek, Left Brow, Left Cheek) like last year, there are now only two (Left and Right). While this makes it much simpler to control damage, it does take away from some of the realism when you know you will only get damaged on your brow or cheek, not both.
Unfortunately, those of you who plan on playing through the title’s career mode may be slightly disappointed. When you begin, you can either choose to create a fighter or take a classic fighters career down a different path. If you choose to create a boxer, you will be presented with a deep and detailed system that allows you to adjust everything from the size of your boxers head, to how much nose he has to break. You can also customize the way the boxer fights, unlocking more options for defensive style, punch style, and base style through the course of your career.
Once you finish modeling your sweet scientist, you begin your path to greatness. First you will pick a contract, then you will be given the option to train your fighter in one of 3 training mini-games. The mini-games are nearly identical to last years, and I would have liked to see some more variety in training methods. Not to mention the fact that after your one training session, it’s fight time. I know that EA can’t exactly fill up all 10 or 13 weeks between fights and keep it palatable, but I’d have love to see several days worth of different training regimens that adjust your attributes in different ways. I would have liked to see a “Weight cutting” mini-game, maybe a jogging or jump rope game to boost stamina. Hopefully they will add more variety to the training system for next years title, as it’s really one aspect of the game that lacking amid the technical strides elsewhere.
Oh My God! Where the hell is her shadow!?!
Once you get to fight time, the real fun begins, at least sometimes. You see, another shortcoming pops up in the AI. Most fights are cakewalks, in fact I would wager a guess that you will probably KO nearly every boxer you face in 5 or 6 rounds. However every now and then the difficulty seems to ramp up unexpectedly. Now this would be understandable if the difficulty was medium throughout, with some tough fights thrown in, but 90% of the fights are so easy that it really comes off more cheap than unpredictable. Someone with ratings much lower than the last guy you fought can somehow turn into a near unstoppable monster. Another flaw is that punch damage often doesn’t seem to carry over well from round to round. For instance, it’s common knowledge in boxing that punches to the body are a great way to slow down a speed guy. However, while this works sometimes in FNR3, other times you will pound a guy to the gut for 3 or 4 rounds, only to have him fire off a featherweight like 6 hit combo while you struggle to keep up. Things like this really make the AI seem cheap, and hopefully next year’s title will balance out the AI so that fights flow realistically from one to the next.
EA continues it’s tradition of top notch sound quality in their sports titles with FNR3. The commentary, while suffering from some of the usual “pause before you say a name” glitches, is generally solid. It’s a good thing too, cause the commentary will (along with fighter’s body language and facial expressions ) be one of the key’s to knowing how the fight is going. Sound effects are great all around, and whether you land a jarring body shot, or a smashing left hook to the jaw you’re sure to be satisfied by the crunch.
Of course, EA has included Xbox Live support and rankings. Online play is very smooth, with few lag issues. Fighting online keeps you from having to deal with the frustrating single player AI, so I imagine most people will focus their efforts here. The only thing missing is statistics for unranked matches between friends. I mean, who would want to gloat about the 39-3 record you have against that friend that always kicks your ass at Madden. EA has also included the obligatory 360 achievements, although they are incredibly lacking both in style and substance. They are all awarded for winning a specific sponsor’s fight in career mode, and there are only 8. 8!!!! Why not have 30 or 40 achievements for everything from your score in the Training mini-games, the number of specific punches landed, or number of fights won. This is one area where I hope EA really dedicates themselves next year as achievements such as this would have really expanded the replay value for “point whores” like most of us are becoming.
Fight Night Round 3 is definitely a solid game, and the most visually impressive title to date from EA sports. I recommend picking it up, if only for the awesome multiplayer, deep Create a Boxer system, and smooth control. Even with the AI problems, this title is sure to give fans of the Sweet Science plenty of jaw breaking, rib crunching fun. Now, if we can just get someone to make a good UFC title, Fight fans would be all set.