Reviewed: January 11, 2007
Released: December 5, 2006
Last February EA Sports took the 360 world by storm with Fight Night Round 3 and now nearly a year later they are headed back into the ring on a whole new system. Just how does this latest version of Fight Night fare on Sony’s high-tech system, and does it actually surpass the 360? Read on…
First, I should probably confess that I despise boxing as a sport. Sure, I’ve seen the Rocky movies and even played the game (for review, not for pleasure), but I don’t seek out boxing events on ESPN or HBO and I don’t anticipate EA’s yearly boxing release. In fact, Fight Night on the 360 was the first time I had ever seen, let alone, play the game.
An for those of you who read my 360 review, you also know that I was converted, at least temporarily, for the duration of the game that is, into tolerating boxing if for nothing more than to witness some state-of-the-art visuals including the best human models ever seen in a video game.
I was dubious as to if EA could actually milk any more graphical goodness from the PS3 port, but with a solid package of extras including ESPN integration, and a new “Get in the Ring” mode, I was certainly looking forward to stepping over the ropes nearly a year later.
The presentation for Fight Night Round 3 is pretty straightforward. You have a simple menu that gives you access to Play Now, Career, Get in the Ring, ESPN Classic, Online, and your setup options. Newcomers might want to check out the play now and even turn on the optional HUD to learn the ropes, but jumping into that career mode is your ultimate destination.
The first thing you need to do is create your boxer. This is easily one of the most intensive character creation processes of any game since Tiger Woods. You have the ultimate freedom to mold just about every facial and body feature and a list of stats that are extensive enough to put this sports title in the RPG genre.
Sadly, this is where the PS3 version started to lose its appeal. While I tolerated the long load times just to get into the game, the load times during character creation were simply intolerable. Each time you pick a new face, hair, nose, chin, shorts, gloves, or anything it takes 15-20 seconds to load the item and update your character model. And don’t think you can be sneaky and skip ahead six items because it will just multiply your wait by six.
I sat down and created the exact same character on the 360 and PS3 and timed the process from start to finish. It took 18 minutes to create the guy I wanted on the 360 and to recreate that same boxer on the PS3 using the exact same components took 44 minutes. And that was knowing which parts I was using. Imagine how long it would take if you were just doing trial and error. Nearly 110 minutes – I timed that too.
I don’t know what was going on or why the PS3 has such infernal load times. I hate the whole concept of caching 2 GB of game data to my hard drive to speed things up – not that this was even an option on Fight Night Round 3, but it probably should be. Load times for the rest of the game probably aren’t that noticeable, but they almost all are 2-3 times longer than that same wait on the 360.
Get in the Ring is the new PS3-exclusive mode that literally puts you in the ring in an exhilarating first-person view, ala Punch Out, only with 25-years worth of graphics improvements. This puts a whole new perspective (literally and figuratively) on the sport of boxing. Not only does your timing and tactics change, you have a whole new way to read body language and learn to react, defend, counter, and strike.
The career process is a lengthy cycle or hiring a training, training, fighting, then spending your winnings on gear in the Fight Store and hiring better trainers. As you win fights your reputation increases until you start competing for titles. This repeats through eight title bouts, which can take 10-14 hours of real time, but several years in game time.
Your character will start to age as you keep playing the game and your stats and ability to train will start to degrade making it much more challenging to defend your title. Of course you can always retire anytime you wish and create a new boxer.
There are three ways you can train and each will improve some stats while taking away from others. You can hire specialty trainers that will protect some stats while increasing others. You have the option to automatically train and take a reduced amount of stat improvement or you can manually train.
Manual training involves an increasingly challenging series of mini-games and your stat rewards are based on whether or not you can meet the increasing demands of your trainer. Strength training features a mini-game where you lift weights by alternating nudges on the two analog sticks to move the weights to their target height (but not above it). You are graded on successful reps and earn bonuses for not going outside the target zone.
You can also take shots at the heavy bag or the combo dummy. The heavy bag tests your reflexes and your ability to hit left and right and high and low, while the combo dummy tests your ability to memorize complex patterns of body blows and punches to the torso. These get really difficult in the later levels and if you don’t like reflexive mini-games you might want to opt for auto-training.
There is also a sparring option that allows you to fight a real boxer and practice your moves without risking money or your title. This is a great way to practice with your current boxer and stats to see what is possible.
For all you button-mashers out there – go home. The Total Punch Control system is all about turning traditional boxing punches into realistic movements with the right analog stick. Just picture the right stick as an extension of your boxer’s arms and you’re halfway to understanding how TPC works.
Quick movements to the left or right throw quick jabs in their respective directions, but you can start combining lateral movements with sweeping circles for hooks and diagonal reverse movements to wind-up a punch before doing an uppercut. You can also extend your circular motion for Stun Punches or do quick reversals on the circular motion for Flash KO’s.
The buttons are reserved for the specialty moves. L1 acts as a toggle to lock your boxer’s feet and have his body lean with the left stick and it turns the punches from the right stick into body blows. R1 blocks and parries incoming punches. L2 changes your stance while the R1 and X buttons will throw your character’s signature punch. The square button will taunt your opponent and the circle button throws an illegal punch. You can also thrust the SIXAXIS controller away from your body to throw an illegal punch. Throw too many of those and you will get disqualified.
Between fights you will not only have the opportunity to train, you can also spend your winnings at the Fight Store buying new gear and unlocking bonus content. Much like Tiger Woods, the equipment you buy will give you stat boosts. Gloves can give you more power while shoes can give you more speed. A new mouthpiece will give your chin stat a boost while some new trunks will boost your stamina.
Picking your next fight might take some reading between the lines. Some fights pay out big rewards while other fights give you rep bonuses. Other fights require you to fight x-many rounds and some require a knockout. You’ll also want to check the date for the fight. If your character is advancing in age you might want to pick fights with a shorter lead-time.
EA has worked closely with ESPN to not only recreate most every significant bout in boxing history, you can also play those fights and rewrite history or how about unlocking Sugar Ray, Ali, or Frazier’s personal fight style and make it your own. Yes, this includes taunts and signature punches.
The single player game is hampered significantly with some generic AI that can easily be defeated, even on the hard skill level with a bit of effort and some forethought when it comes to training. Basically, if you build up your strength and stamina you can walk all over this game. I only lost one fight in my entire “career” and that was because I was stupid and tried to take the advantage of a 10-count then couldn’t get up in time – basically another mini-game where you must line-up two dots in two moving circles with the two analog sticks in ten seconds.
Most every opponent succumbed to the same strategy over and over – simply pummel their body until they have no stamina then start throwing the heavy hitters until they go down. Rinse, repeat, and spend your loot. The only real challenge in the game is if you start fighting opponents in a higher weight class.
Fight Night Round 3 duplicates the Xbox Live offerings as far as standard and ranked matches and you can track your boxer on the leaderboards, and they even have an “Analog Only” player lobby so you don’t get paired up with a 15-year old button masher. But the online game still lacks organization and structure, plus, when you combine the long load times with the laggy PS Network, your best bouts are with the guy sitting next to you on the couch.
Fight Night Round 3 is easily one of the most gorgeous games on the system, but it’s also a one-trick pony when it comes to those amazing images. Without a doubt, you have the absolute best character modeling, skin textures, sweat drops, and character animation of any game with a human being in it to date, at least for the boxers. The ring girls all look like anorexic crack whores…scary and ugly.
You also have some very nice venues ranging from the local Chicago gym to Madison Square Garden, Staples Center, and a few rings in-between. But that is the extent of the content. Sadly, I do have to dock the graphics on several issues that weren’t on the 360 version including lag and framerate issues, as well as pixilization in the backgrounds, and some downright freaky collision detection issues with the boxers’ bodies and the floor and ropes.
You do get some superior special effects including ultra-realistic lighting and shadows (even better than the 360), particle effects for spit, sweat, and blood, and some incredibly texture rippling during those tantalizing slow motion replays. I guarantee you put two or three guys in a room and start playing this game and you will hear more groaning and see more empathic gestures of pain than any other game ever made.
The damage model for the characters is so subtle and so detailed that the game no longer requires a HUD. That’s right – no health meter or even a clock. You fight until you hear the tap…tap…tap indicating ten more seconds and your only indication of damage and stamina is exactly what you get in real-life boxing – opponent observation. You watch the bruises and blood build-up on their face, you focus your attacks on their most vulnerable spots, and you watch their speed and stance (body language) to determine their stamina.
The new first-person view in the Get in the Ring mode takes this even further by slowly blinding a portion of your view as your eyes swell shut. It’s extremely realistic and a good incentive to keep those gloves up.
The pain becomes even more apparent between rounds when you must heal your boxer using all the traditional tools of the cut-man. You’ll have to get that swelling down and the blood to stop bleeding or the referee will call the fight.
There are a handful of licensed songs that make up the limited soundtrack. You’ll get pretty tired hearing the same opening song each time your boxer enters the ring and the music in the menus is just as annoying about 3-4 hours into the game.
Commentary is really good although it tends to repeat and Joe Tessatore can make some strange unrelated comments from time to time. There are some interesting comments before the matches and between rounds, but there is only so much recorded dialogue and with the number of fights required to win the career mode you are going to hear it all repeat often.
The rest of the sound package totally saves the audio presentation. Each punch impacts with painful authenticity, and when those slow-motion replays kick in the impacts and groans of the boxers are all slowed down as well. It’s comical and horrific at the same time and you cannot look away.
I was able to beat my way through the career mode in just under ten hours, mostly thanks to the experience I had earned on the 360. Rookies to the new analog fight system can probably add a few hours of learning curve to that estimate unless you wimp out and go back to button mashing mode.
Once you get the rhythm down you can get a string of Round 1 KO’s in a lot of the early and mid-level fights. Near the end some fights might go the distance but you really have to screw up big to lose a fight.
The online modes have the potential to keep you playing a lot longer than the career mode and the two-player local mode will make this one of your favorite party games. Nothing beats a case of beer and two guys beating the crap out of each other.
As ironic as it sounds, I hate boxing but I loved Fight Night Round 3 on the 360, and even on the PS3 to a lesser degree. The graphical boost is undeniable, but the cost in framerate and odd technical glitches may be too high. And nothing is worth those insufferable load times. Do yourself a favor and create a totally randomized character, unless you have a few hours to kill.
So if a non-boxer like myself can enjoy this game then anyone who remotely enjoys the sports will have the time of their life. The lack of a HUD is totally immersive and easily creates the illusion of a real fight rather than a video game. I guarantee you can fool any unsuspecting person who passes by your TV that you are watching a real boxing match.
The controls are slick and intuitive and the Total Punch Control creates a realistic union of your controller and on-screen boxer, again, reinforcing the illusion that you aren’t playing a game by simply mashing buttons. The AI is admittedly lacking, making this a game that is best played with friends, either online or off. Either way, Fight Night Round 3 is the best recreation of boxing ever made, and one of the top PS3 sports games in its growing library.