Electronic Arts’ Fight Night series has always garnered high acclaim from reviewers and players alike for its high-speed gameplay and impressive graphics. When Fight Night Round 3 was displayed at Sony’s E3 2005 Press Conference, EA promised this latest incarnation would benefit immensely from the horsepower of next generation consoles.
Fight Night Round 3’s first real test was when it first debuted on Microsoft’s Xbox 360. It was seen as a worthy addition to the series, but stopped slightly short of the jaw dropping demos circulated a few months before the game’s launch.
For the PS3, EA decided to spend some extra time tweaking and adding a few more features over the 360 version. With the final product now shipped, a single question remains. Was the latest version of Fight Night Round 3 worth the wait? The answer is not as black and white (or black and blue) as you may think.
It starts at the core
Boxing is a fast paced sport with jaw-shattering punches guaranteed to have the crowd cheering. The very first goal of any boxing game should be to preserve this very elementary concept. Thankfully, FNR3 passes the first test.
A major concern with Fight Night Round 2 was how overpowered the haymaker was. The haymaker should really be a finishing move following a combination of jabs. In FNR2, there was virtually no punishment for blindly throwing the finishing combo move over and over. However, if you try this in FNR3, prepare to hit the ground. EA has done an excellent job refining the system. Now you must really think like a boxer to win a round.
Fatigue and injury also play huge roles, especially in the new first person view dubbed "Get in the Ring". Too much swelling to your left eye will cause the left side of your screen to literally go black. If your lips swell up from failing to defend your face, you may find yourself gasping for air instead of throwing that finishing punch in a combo.
With the standard control set, most of your punches such as jabs, hooks, and uppercuts will be mapped onto the right analog stick on the Sixaxis. Your right analog stick also serves for blocking and parrying punches in virtually every direction while holding R1.
The left analog stick functions to move your boxer around the ring or lean in all directions while holding L1. There are various other techniques such as clinching, switching stances, illegal blows, and signature (power) punches that all need to be used effectively to have any chance in the ring. Overall, the button layout functions well. Master using the analog sticks and buttons, and you will become a boxer even Mohammed Ali will fear.
Sting like a bee
As promised in the multiple trailers that came out before the game, replays of knockout punches may very well fling you out of your seat. While the physics and visual result of your replayed punches may not be perfect, the bone snapping crunch and flying saliva may be all it takes to get you wincing. This is where the Fight Night series’ transition to next generation consoles truly shines.
The fighters themselves look fantastic as they punch, sweat, and bleed their way through rounds. Although there are only six arenas, they are all pretty detailed and feature impressive lighting. Sadly the crowd isn’t quite as impressive.
The baying, cheering audience in sports games often has as much importance on the atmosphere as the virtual sports stars on the screen. Sadly, in FNR3 it’s hard to tell whether the pixelated blobs watching the fight were even male or female.
One area where Fight Night particularly delivers is its audio. The rap soundtrack, while not to everyone’s taste, fits perfectly with the presentation and feel of the game. Also the announcers are generally spot on and informative, albeit occasionally repetitive.
Finally, the gameplay audio in Fight Night will have you cringing – in a good way. Punches landing, fighters grunting, and the blood flying are all accompanied by some of the most brutal, intense sound effects you’ll have heard. During the slow motion K.O. replays, you’ll be squirming with delight as your powerful hook lands and the sound of skin rippling passes through your head.
Grumbles in the jungle
The game suffers quite a few slowdowns. You will notice some frame rate drop in first person modes and even the standard third person mode when the action gets frantic. This is disappointing considering EA has had extra time to work on the PS3 version.
Also, while the amount of customization you are allowed when creating your boxer is stellar, don’t expect anything you choose to load anytime soon. With load times of nearly seven seconds just to compare different eye colours, you may just result to a default look just to avoid the wait.
This doesn’t get any better once into a bout. The load times are atrocious from the moment you start up the game, to the end of a fight; expect to be waiting between 15-30 seconds before anything gets accomplished. For a next-gen game this a truly last-gen setback, and hinders the overall experience.
I coulda been a contender
While it appears FNR3’s visuals and content have received a lot of attention, the Career mode hasn’t received the same TLC. Career mode (AKA the single player campaign) involves signing contracts to fight various boxers, earning money for newer equipment, while building your reputation to compete against stronger and stronger opponents.
You’ll have a chance to train in between each fight by participating in four different mini-games to raise your stats. While fun at first, these games become very tedious as you wait for the game to load before and after your short mini-game. However you can skip them and choose to auto-raise your stats, but you’ll only receive half of the maximum benefit available.
Now comes the fight night. Your opponents get harder as you go deeper into the game, but there are always ways to exploit the AI that you couldn’t do against a regular human opponent.
Sometimes you’ll fight a "Hard Hits" bout or a championship fight, but the majority of your time will be spent boxing in regular events. There are plenty of unlockables here, such as arenas, different items, and more; but the empty experience that makes up the single player game may turn you off before you get them. The core fighting remains solid, but the flimsy solo game is a devastating body blow to the overall package.
Saved by the bell
Multiplayer is a different story altogether. Both online and offline multiplayer are an absolute blast to play. In offline multiplayer you’ve got several modes including Get in the Ring, Hard Hits, ESPN Classic, and Play Now. You’ll be dodging, weaving, laughing, and yelling as you play this game with your friends.
Even when you’re a pro and your friend is a beginner, simply change weight classes to even the playing field. The best part of offline multiplayer is that it never stops being entertaining to watch the blood fly out of your friends mouth just after you deliver a brutal haymaker.
Online, you have all of the modes you had in single-player with the exception of Hard Hits. You can play either ranked or unranked games as you compete. If you’re new to online play, you should stick to unranked in the beginning, otherwise you’ll get dominated a couple times before you learn the ropes.
Although FNR3 doesn’t have your PlayStation Network buddy list built into its online play, the inclusion of lobbies makes it easy to find your friends while playing. Also, feel free to trash talk as much as you want, as this game includes headset support.
With the exception of the sometimes unreliable EA servers (occasional disconnect), lag and no PSN buddy list built in, online is a decent experience which complements a solid game.