Review: Fight Night Round 3 (XB360)


Fight Night Round 3
Genre: Boxing/Sports
Developer: EA Chicago
Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: 2/20/06

Alright, time to come clean. I’m not a boxing fan. I have a fundamental appreciation for the sport, but I can honestly say I’ve never watched a fight in my life. I can count the number of boxing games I’ve played on one hand. I’ve never been a big fan of sports games in general, let alone boxing video games, and I’ve never really sat down with a simulation-based boxing game before, ever.

So why am I reviewing Fight Night Round 3 for the 360, you ask? Well, the short answer is, because I own a 360. But let’s dig a little deeper into that, yeah?

In much the way that I have a love for football without watching it on TV, so it goes with boxing. Boxing is a raw, brutal, visceral sport, bar none, and whether or not I watch it, I can fully appreciate what’s being done out there and why it’s done. And while I’ve never played a Fight Night prior to this, one of my all time guilty pleasure games is Victorious Boxers, which, while no means as detailed a product, is still a fairly faithful recreation of the sport. Besides, regardless of whether or not I watch the sport, video games that feature two people beating the holy hell out of one another certainly rank high on my list of likes, so I’m sure Fight Night and I are going to get along just fine.


1. GAMEPLAY MODES


Nope, no story here, so skip it. Fight Night Round 3 does offer a fair amount of gameplay for the average consumer to sink their teeth into, however. You have a standard exhibition mode as well as Hard Hits mode (knockdowns signify the end of the round, not time), and a practice mode where you can learn the tools of the trade. Character creation is in the house as well, both in Exhibition (you can jack their stats as needed, but get no real customized appearance options) and for Career mode (you have to build them up from scratch, but can customize them more in-depth). And speaking of, Career mode is in full effect here; there’s no grand storyline to speak of, but you can book and train for your fights, and buy whatever attacks and equipment you desire for your legend, which is pretty cool. Rounding this out is full X-Box Live play and the ESPN Legends fights, which place you in control of legendary bouts between legendary fighters (Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Roberto Duran, for instance), which is not only cool for fans of the sport, but is also cool because you can unlock bonus items for completing them. The boxing completist will enjoy the amount of modes available, and for everyone else, between the various customizable match options, Custom character creation, Career mode, and online play, you should find yourself having plenty of fun for a while. Ultimately, there’s not a huge amount of things to do BESIDES beating the hell out of someone, but really, if you’re not buying a boxing game for that reason, then why ARE you buying it?

Gameplay Modes Rating: 8/10


2. GRAPHICS


Wow.

Understand this here and now: Fight Night 3 looks painful, and I mean that in the best way one can possibly mean such a thing. Punches look like they seriously hurt, and when you land a quality haymaker or uppercut, you feel it. Each of the boxers in the game looks accurate to their real-life counterparts, from Evander Holyfield to Sugar Ray Leonard to the Greatest himself, Muhammad frickin’ Ali. Seriously, seeing how the fighters look is jaw-droppingly awesome. Detail is at an absolute maximum, and close shots of the fighters are especially high quality and lifelike. When a fighter becomes injured, even at longer ranges, you can tell; blood will drip from their mouth and nose, eyes will swell up, and they’ll begin to breathe hard, all noticeably in the middle of the fight. Lump a guy up enough, and his face begins to look like wet hamburger meat. I can’t stress this enough: THIS, right here, is the true power of the 360. Also, each fighter animates surprisingly fluidly; each shot they deliver is in direct relation to the prior shot delivered or received. Heads snap back even as blows are being delivered, combinations come out naturally, and bodies contort and twist as if they were natural. The best shots, of course, are the knockout shots; that brief zoom-in on the fighter’s face as it ripples and contorts in pain, followed by the fighter in question spitting some of his own blood just before the lights dim and he drops like a sack of bricks to the canvas is the moment you will come to love or hate, depending on which end of the punch you’re on. Plus, if you’re sadistic, you’ll find great amusement in watching one fighter bust another in the face so hard that his head should just pop off. Arenas are also vibrant and full of life, and the fans in attendance, whether ten or a thousand, seem life-like and realistic enough to not be laughable. Lighting effects are also awesome, and venues like The Warehouse and Madison Square Garden are appropriately lit for the type of venue they are, which all adds to the impressiveness of the product. Clipping is at a minimum, and the visual collision detection is spot on, as fists stop exactly where they should be making contact without passing through a boxer most of the time.

Do I have any complaints? Well, occasionally fighters will fall in odd positions, though if a fighter fell face first into the turnbuckle pad, I imagine he’d fall weird in real life. Occasionally (most noticeably in replays of knock-out punches) clipping does rear its head, though it’s not often, and highly forgivable. And occasionally objects glitch (a foot may shake when a fighter hits the canvas, for instance, though I like to pretend it does this because I hit the guy so hard he’s having a convulsion), which is also rare, though notable. But beyond that, make no mistake, this is one of the best-looking games on the market, regardless of platform, and I feel no remorse in saying that the few graphical issues the game occasionally shows are neither consistent nor problematic, and shouldn’t affect your enjoyment in the least.

Graphics Rating: 10/10


3. SOUND

Musically, FNR3 is your standardized rap/hip-hop mix, and EA doesn’t really do anything special with the soundtrack this time around. If you like this sort of music, bully, if not, you’re going to turn it off. Once again, custom soundtrack support is in full effect here, so if you’re not a fan of the music provided, no worries, flip to some of your own tunes. Might I recommend Sevendust’s “Enemy”, or perhaps the trite and clichÃÆ’©, yet still incredibly appropriate “Momma Said Knock You Out”?

Laugh if you want, it gets the blood pumping.

Anyway, the voice acting (as it is) amounts to your various in-game characters (trainers, refs, etc) and the match commentary. Trainers sound good, and display the appropriate interest in their client’s immediate future, the ref is perfectly fine, and grunts and groans of the boxers can be generic at times, but serve the purpose of the product well. Crowd noise is also solid and well timed; the crowd will pop for heavy blows and knock downs, and they will engage in chants for fighters that are faring well in the contest. The in-game effects are also gratifying, especially heavier hits. There are some minor timing issues with effects in replays (occasionally the sound of a powerful hit will go off before the hit connects), but the effects are still quite nice, regardless.

Sound Rating: 7/10


4. CONTROL/GAMEPLAY


The core mechanics of FNR3 aren’t terribly complicated in theory: walk into the ring and punch someone about the face and stomach. You have various sorts of different punches at your disposal, including your usual jabs, hooks and uppercuts, along with “special” haymaker punches that can help turn the tide of battle. Movement is accomplished by moving the left stick, and you can customize whether the character moves relative to the camera or to himself, which is good forward thinking on EA’s part. When in boxing range, aside from your various hits, you have blocks and counters available to you by simply moving the right stick (or by holding a trigger and doing so), and by holding a trigger and moving the left stick you can juke and weave around to avoid shots. Working the blocks, counters, and weaving together is both crucial for survival and easy to accomplish, though effective blocking requires timing and effort to achieve consistently. Indeed, everything in FNR3 requires a lot of strategy and patience; throwing too many punches tires your boxer and makes his punches less effective, taking damage reduces his capability, etc. What the game ends up being is less of a game and more of a strategic dance, as two players (or the player and the CPU) end up moving around one another trying to strike those critical blows needed to drop the opponent before they drop themselves.

Actual punching is achieved by one of two methods: you can either set the face buttons to your various punches, or you can use the Total Punch Control. The Total Punch Control asks that you use the right stick to make punches by moving the stick in various directions to achieve various punches, and while they’re quite complicated to use effectively, should you master them, you have complete control over the power of your haymaker punches, as well as access to some special punches that are new to Fight Night 3 (like the Stun Punch, which brings up a first-person pummeling game). On the other hand, using the face buttons to fight removes the difficulty at the cost of power control and special punches. Ultimately, you’ll find which way works for you (I use the face buttons, because I can’t work with the stick so well) and after some practice, you’ll be ready to mop the floor with opponents.

And that’s where the game becomes interesting. You can’t button mash to achieve wins here, and doing so will end with a trip to the canvas. Strategy is key; mixing up jabs and crosses keeps opponents guessing, as does mixing up punch height, changing stances, and countering or dodging shots to leave your opponent open. As time goes on and you play, you will find that the controller becomes less of a tool to play the game and more of an extension of your arm, a weapon with which to wage war against the competitor. You will know when to weave, when to strike, when that haymaker will hit and when to take the cheap shot to save yourself a knockout, and all of these things will become second nature. This is about as good as boxing games get, folks.

Your standard Exhibition matches are simple one on one fights where you strive to knock your opponent out before time expires, or to perform better than your opponent so the judges smile upon you. Hard Hits mode is a similar contest, only rounds end with knock-downs, and each knock-down counts as a point, similar to Match Play in golf (knockouts still end the match, though). You also have a Practice mode available to learn the craft, though it only really tries to teach you how to play with the Total Punch Control, so button fans like myself won’t get AS much benefit from this.

Once you get into a mode of play, you choose a fighter with which to wage war. Fighters are separated by weight class, with each class dictating the capabilities available to your fighter of choice. Featherweight fighters will generally be lighter and faster than Heavyweight fighters, but tend to drop under the heavy punching of those in higher weight classes, and vice-versa. Ideally, you’ll want to play as characters in similar weight classes, though playing as characters of classes that are close to one another isn’t too bad. If you’re a fan of boxing, you’ll see plenty of boxers available to play as from the get-go, though there are a few omissions (Iron Mike Tyson, for example, or George Foreman) you might notice. Casual fans will, of course, recognize several of the names here, like Sugar Ray, Muhammad Ali, and Evander Holyfield, though others like Oscar De La Hoya may not register to those less interested in the sport. You’ll also see plenty of fighters made up for the game only, and if you miss a certain boxer who didn’t happen to pop up in the game, Create a Character mode will certainly allow you to make them up from scratch.


Character creation is fairly easy an in-depth; you can change the size and weight class of your fighter, as well as their build and complete facial structure. There are a fairly limited amount of certain options (skin tones aren’t variable, for instance, and there aren’t that many hair styles to choose from), but you can be reasonably assured that you won’t make the same fighter as everyone else unless you’re trying to re-create a legend. You can’t adjust the look of your ring gear unless you buy new gear in Career Mode, though, so standard created characters will all wear the same clothes. Also, moving the stats around takes forever, and I’m not so keen on this.

And then we come to Career Mode itself. You can choose to re-create a legend as you see fit or make yourself to take on a career run, and once you choose which you’d prefer, you’re placed in the world of boxing, such as it is. Generally, you will sign a fight contract (after looking over the choices available, if any), scout your opponent, train, then go fight as needed, and once done, you’ll start this process over again. Most times you’ll have several opponents to choose from, each with potential benefits (popularity boost, extra cash, etc) associated with them, though some fights must be taken on to move onward. Once you’ve signed your contract, it’s off to the gym to train. You can choose one of a couple trainers (including a secret trainer you probably weren’t expecting) and work on either lifting weights, hitting the heavybag, or hitting a practice dummy, each of which focus on different stats. You can either play the mini-games associated with these workouts, which are mildly amusing and not difficult to perfect, or you can auto-train, at the cost of reduced benefits. And with that done, you get into the ring and box, as we’ve discussed. You can also buy various appearance modifying items for your character, including gloves, mouth guards, trunks, tattoos, and so on. These items also impart statistical boosts, but only in Career mode, so if you want to bring your character out to fight in exhibitions, bear in mind that he’s not as powerful as you think. This is kind of a hinderance, as the only way to know just HOW strong your character is, is to guess or to compare stats. Had the game simply showed you your character’s real stats in Career Mode, or allowed items their influence in normal matches, this wouldn’t be an issue. This is really only a minor complaint though.

Live play is quite solid as well. Jumping into a game is as simple as telling the game to find you a player match, and building your own is a snap. Actual play is fast and smooth, and I didn’t see any hiccups in play at all. You can participate in the now standard ranked matchups, or simply bust it up in an unranked match if you’re just looking to goof around. FNR3 is good about finding you a player close to your skill level, so you shouldn’t worry about being mismatched after you’ve established yourself a little bit. The only thing I noticed that was odd was that FNR3 didn’t recall my controller settings between the normal game and online play, so my first matchup didn’t go very well. That’s easily fixed, especially if you know to look out for it, but it seems kind of stupid.

Overall, however, FNR3 is a highly solid and fun game once you learn the basics, and if you’re a fan of boxing, or just a fan of responsive, high adrenaline gaming, you’d do well to pick this up. It’s about as close to perfect in the control response as I can imagine it being, and while there a few minor issues with some of the actual game modes here and there, the total package is a fun and well-built game experience that I think you’ll like.

Control/Gameplay Rating: 9/10


5. REPLAYABILITY

Beating the crap out of someone never really gets old, so that is in the favor of FNR3. Live play and character creation add to the long term value of the product, and being able to train boxers up in different weight classes in Career mode will appeal to players interested in the fundamentals of the sport. A bunch of unlockable extras are also in the game, including venues, boxers, and extras for your created boxers. There probably could have been some extra gameplay modes in the game, and if you’re not terribly interested in managing the career of your champ there’s no reason to go through Career mode more than once (his custom apparel, nice though it may be, does not impart the stat boosts in Exhibition modes that it does in Career mode). There’s still plenty of fun to be had in the long term, though, so even non-boxing fans should be able to have a lot of fun for a while with this.

Replayability Rating: 7/10


6. BALANCE

Well, the good news is that with adjustable difficulty options, you’ll be able to pick up the game at your own pace and not get pasted by the computer before you’re ready to throw down (unlike certain other 360 games we’ve discussed prior). You can take your time adjusting to the nuances of the combat system at your own pace, and unless you’re absolutely hideous at FN03, you should be able to progress up the difficulty ladder with little issue. FN03 is also pretty good about giving you the indications you need to fight a good fight, and if you spend some time with it, you’ll have everything down pat.

The bad news is two-fold. First, FNR3 isn’t simply a pick up and play experience; even on easy, if you don’t play with a little strategy in your game, you’ll get pasted. You’ll have to learn the subtleties of the game before you can go out there and box, and while this won’t take you days to accomplish, getting destroyed in your first match is a touch demoralizing, so you have to be expecting this. Second, while players of equal skill levels can go out and have a good match, players of unbalanced skill will either have to play at different weight classes to have a fair match or the weaker player will get destroyed every time. That the players CAN play at different weight classes for a challenge adjustment is a good thing, though, and will keep fights from becoming one-sided ass-beatings. Pound for pound, if you stick to players of your own skill, you should be just fine.

Balance Rating: 7/10


7. ORIGINALITY

Well, it’s the third sequel of a series, and it’s a sports title. The Legends battles are interesting, and the Total Punch Control is different (even if I can’t use it), but ultimately, we’re not treading new ground here. Where this game succeeds is in making the best game of its kind, not in re-inventing the wheel. As such, it’s not extremely original, but what it does is done so well that it frankly survives without needing to be.

Originality Rating: 5/10


8. ADDICTIVENESS

Hey, I went from having no interest in FNR3 beyond it being an ass-whipping simulator and a 360 game to it becoming one of my favorite titles on the console thus far. That should about sum it up. That it’s a open appeal boxing title is only part of it’s addictive charm; the presentation is spot-on, the gameplay is responsive and fun, and as stated, whacking the crap out of the opponent is awesome. Whether you whip ass in a first-round knockout or take the match to decision over fifteen rounds, you’ll get that rush of adrenaline every time that powerful haymaker hits, that rush of anticipation every time the opponent is staggered, and a rush of petrifaction when you’re about to take the dive. It doesn’t get much more powerful than that.

Addictiveness Rating: 9/10


9. APPEAL FACTOR

Most sports titles exist with the understanding that if you’re not a fan of the sport in question (golf games notwithstanding) you most likely won’t be a fan of the games. This is not true of FNR3. Whether you’re a major fan of the sport or you can’t tell Ray Leonard from Ray Liotta (hint: one was Tommy Vercetti, the other would beat Tommy’s ass), you can have a lot of fun with FNR3. If you can’t get past the boxing aesthetic, or you’re more interested in the more fanciful world of fighting games, you may find it hard to get into FNR3, but for those with an open appreciation for games, regardless of genre, or for boxing fans, this is definitely going to push the right buttons, and it’s well worth the investment.

Appeal Rating: 7/10


10. MISCELLANEOUS


It might seem like I’m being a touch overly dramatic with my appreciation for this game, but understand things from my point of view. I had absolutely no expectation that I was going to enjoy playing FNR3, at all. I figured I’d be okay with it, like it for what it was, and move on with my day, the end. Instead I find this to be one of the best games on the 360, pound for pound, as well as a game that, shockingly, I’m enjoying far more than I expected. That has to count for something, and I think that even if you’re not a fan of boxing, as I’m not, you’ll still approve of what’s here.

Unless you hate EA. But then again, I’m not exactly a fan of theirs either, so take that as you will.

Besides, the freaking BURGER KING is in the game. He’s only a corner man, but come on! Seeing that giant head bobbling down to ringside almost made me snort Vitamin Water out my nose.

But seriously, if you’re hurting for 360 action, definitely give this a spin. There’s no plainer a way I can word it. As a boxing game, it’s awesome. As a 360 game, it’s awesome. As a game, period, it’s a hell of a package, and you should definitely check it out. Certain elements are slightly limited at times, and it can be a little daunting at first, but if you can commit to learning the game, you’ll be just fine.

Miscellaneous Rating: 9/10

The Scores:
Gameplay modes: 8/10
Graphics: 10/10
Sound: 7/10
Control/Gameplay: 9/10
Replayability: 7/10
Balance: 7/10
Originality: 5/10
Addictiveness: 9/10
Appeal: 7/10
Miscellaneous: 9/10

Overall Score: 7.8/10
Final Score: 8.0 (GREAT!).

Short Attention Span Summary
Wow, never thought I’d see that, an 8.0 for an EA game. Well, in this case it’s well deserved, and kudos to them for giving me a reason to do it. Fight Night Round 3 is a very sold, very entertaining experience, even if you’re not a fan of the subject matter. It’s not the best game on Earth or anything, but it has a wide appeal and a hell of a lot of fun inside, and if you decide to check it out, I promise you won’t be disappointed.