Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: February 20, 2006
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: If all you own are current-generation systems, the Xbox 360 version of Fight Night Round 3 is going to give you hardware envy like none other. It looks like a live TV broadcast, the boxer detail is worlds higher, and everything about the graphics is just that much better. This is a shame, because the PS2 version looks darned decent, but when you see that the X360 revision uses polygonal fans, and when you see the instant replays in action, you are going to cry.
I leave it to you to decide how to best deal with this inevitability. With Fight Night demos plastered onto 360 interactive units in game stores across the country, you're going to run across it sooner or later.
Take heart, however! While it's true that the graphics are the weakest on the PS2, they're still no slouch! No matter what version of Round 3 you choose, the heads-up display has been rendered obsolete. Animations, character models and special effects are now such that you can take your cues entirely from how your boxer looks, how he moves, and how he recoils from punches. If you squint, you'll still be hard-pressed to tell the game from an actual bout.
Even if the graphics aren't next-generation, the sound certainly holds its own. With your ears, you'll feel every punch, get angry at the announcer every so often, and even hear the fans shout suggestions along with their cheering. Should you close your eyes, again, you won't be able to tell the game from a live fight.
The kind of polish shown in the aesthetics is actually evident all across the board in terms of gameplay. Round 3 shows some graphical upgrade from its previous iteration, yes, but that's not the name of the game here. Round 3 makes Round 2 look like Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots in terms of boxing depth and technique. Each boxer now has over 10 different attributes that affect how they fight. Weight classes now actually mean something other than making a boxer a larger or smaller target. Pick a mismatch, and you'll know it.
All of these changes and upgrades lead to a multitude of decisions on which boxer you should choose, since they are no longer simply player models and facemaps who happen to be able to punch. Do you go for the big guy who can take a lot of punches but has trouble giving fast counters? Or do you go for the featherweight, who can dance around larger guys, but crumples after a few good haymakers?
But that's not all! The previously mentioned attributes mean that weight classes aren't that only thing that affects how a boxer fights. A boxing star's historical statistics will affect how he moves in the ring. Roy Jones Jr. is going to perform adequately movement-wise, but his punches will be fairly slow. While he may not look it, he's one of the game's tanks. Muhammad Ali, on the other hand, despite his size, is indeed one of the best boxers in the game, as he is in real life, and it shows. You really can float like a butterfly and sting like a bee with the guy. It's as if all of his power has been unlocked for your own personal usage, and let me tell you, that feels good.
The punching game, too, has been given an overhaul. The Total Punch Control with the right analog stick has been tightened, jabs are more useful than in Round 2, and, thankfully, haymakers have been toned down from the ridiculousness of the last game. If you want to get a better feel of using the right stick for punching, switch to the Swing camera view in the options. It's actually my preferred mode of gameplay now. You'll be able to see which swings of the analog stick control your left and right punches, and mentally map your moves more clearly than with the default ringside camera. The basic gameplay established in Round 2 has been left intact, but you may have to acclimate yourself to Round 3's changes and tweaks, especially if you're still accustomed to throwing counter-haymakers left and right and expecting an easy win. In Round 3, that way lies madness.
Suffice to say that if Round 2 were the original Street Fighter II, Round 3 is Super Street Fighter II Turbo. It builds on its core gameplay, and comes out swinging with improved ways to do everything you know and love.
The game isn't lax on options, either; however, it should be noted that they're pretty much the same as last time. The Career Mode has been buffed up a bit, with a better presentation, and more items to choose from than before. Hard Hits mode is a sort of Iron Man boxing match, where round timers are eliminated, and the winner is the one with the most knockouts. There's a mode to live classic rivalries of boxing as chronicled by ESPN – the upshot of this is that when you get to Ali versus Joe Frasier, all the modern settings of the game look out of place. The create-a-boxer is back as well, with seemingly fewer aesthetic options than before, but with more ways to adjust how your boxer actually fights, so it's a bit of a trade-off.
Fight Night Round 3 on the PS2 may not contain all of the graphical style of its next-generation brother, but rest assured that it has all of its substance. No matter which system you buy this game for, you'll come out a winner. Congrats to the Fight Night team for putting this together; for the time being, this is as real as video boxing is going to get.
Virtua Boxer, anyone?
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