With all the hype surrounding the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of Fight Night 3 abounding, it's easy to forget that the third game in EA's boxing franchise is also coming out for the original Xbox and the PS2. After all, the mind-blowing graphics on the next- generation consoles have been causing quite a stir ever since the game was announced for the PS3 at last year's E3. While graphics are well and fine, let's not forget that it is Fight Night's gameplay that has kept gamers enthralled with the series since its inception. Though the current-generation consoles may not be visually on par with the 360 version, the gameplay seems to be right where it needs to be, based on our recent hands on time with the current generation versions of the game.
If you've read our previous preview of Round 3, you already know about the control scheme and its slightly revamped take on big haymaker punches. For those who haven't, here's the short version: In addition to your standard haymaker punch, there's also the addition of the flash KO and stun punches. Flash KO punches are simply haymakers with more windup, and they'll send your opponent reeling. Stun punches, on the other hand, feature more windup and more follow-through. Connect with a stun punch and the camera angle shifts to a first-person point of view that really ups the tension of the fight.
One of the areas we hadn't had the opportunity to explore in our previous looks at Round 3 was the career mode, which once again has you creating a boxer from scratch, training them up from a flabby one-punch wonder into a carved-out-of-wood fighting machine in the quest for gold, fame, and, of course, loads of cash. You start off your career just like last time, as an amateur boxer looking to beat down some scrubs before you can remove the headgear and join the ranks of the pros. An interesting alternative in the Round 3 career mode is to forgo creating your own boxer, and instead choose to rebuild a legend like Bernard Hopkins or Evander Holyfield, and shape his career as you see fit.
Assuming you go with the option to create a new fighter, you'll find a robust character-creation tool at your disposal. Practically everything is adjustable when it comes to getting your fighter looking exactly as you like--from head size to nose width--and it's all done using the dual analog sticks, just as in the last game. Once you have your pugilist complete, it's time to climb in the ring and deal some leather. Well, almost. First, you'll need to pick an opponent. Each fight, you'll have a number of foes to choose from, and you can even scout any of the opponents to see how your attributes match up against one another. This is a pretty cool feature, as it will give you key insight into how a fighter should be approached once the bell rings. If you've got a decisive speed advantage in your next fight, for example, you'll want to take advantage of it. Conversely, if you're severely outmuscled in a fight, you better have your defense in order before you climb between the ropes. You'll even get tipped off to the kind of base, block, and punch styles each prospective opponent uses.
For each contracted fight you choose from, there are different stipulations and rewards. One fight might be worth a lot of money, for example, while another might give you a big boost in popularity should you win it. Some bouts come in the form of the "hard hits" mode, where rounds are decided by knockdowns, and the fighter with the most knockdowns wins the bout. Fight purses also vary, depending on the quality of your opponent. The more cash you win, the more money you'll have to spend on better trainers and new gear. The fight store has plenty of items to buy for your created boxer, from new gloves that can give you bonuses for attributes such as body and speed, to mouth guards that will improve your chin rating.
In Round 3, the developers at EA Chicago have endeavored to create more drama on your road to the title by setting up storylines and rivalries of sorts in between bouts. Your career progress is always front and center in the mode's main menu, which highlights upcoming fights with big-name opponents and trumpets your last victory (or defeat, as the case may be). As you move up the ranks and start seeing quality competitors, you'll see fighters guaranteeing wins against you, or calling you a chump in an effort to get a rise out of you. We haven't progressed far enough in career mode to see if this is the extent of the storytelling, but even this is a marked progress from last year's drama-free season mode.
Something that hasn't changed this year is the training exercises that you use to prepare yourself for your next bout. As in Round 2, the exercises come in three varieties: the combo dummy for speed work, the heavy bag to improve your body and chin attributes, and weight lifting to bulk you up. Though specific attributes will improve for each training session you undertake, it does come at the expense of some of your other attributes. Spend too much time in the weight room, for example, and your speed numbers and agility numbers will suffer. These training exercises play exactly like last year's game--so if you played Round 2, you'll feel right at home here. In addition to these specific training regimens, you can also enter a free-sparring mode that lets you duke it out with an opponent with no time limit. This is especially useful if you want to work on a certain part of your game--such as practicing parrying, or shifting stances in the middle of a round. There are also lessons in sparring mode that focus on specific boxing skills, such as advanced sparring and defense. You can switch back to free sparring at any moment in the mode.
Round 3 is one of the first EA Sports games making use of the newly acquired ESPN license, mainly through its ESPN Classic mode that re-creates famous boxing rivalries from years gone by. Some of the battles available in this mode are Roy Jones Jr. vs. James Toney, Ray Leonard vs. Marvin Hagler, and Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, along with a number of unlockable contests. Before entering each fight, a brief video is shown that details each boxer's characteristics and style.
Graphically, Fight Night Round 3 has made some strides since last year's already impressive-looking game. The devil is in the details so they say, and some of the cooler details in Round 3 are dust particles hanging in the air in some of the dingier gymnasiums, as well as a plethora of new punching and blocking styles for the boxers. In fact, the boxer animations look to be more plentiful this time, and the punches themselves fly around with even more speed than before. A speedy fighter feels zippy and tight in Round 3, and brutal replays show haymaker punches from every blood-spewing angle for maximum effect. Another big plus is the camera work, which seems more dynamic than ever before. When you deal a nasty punch to your opponent, for example, the camera angle tilts slightly to convey that woozy sense of danger.
Judged purely on the tale of the tape, Fight Night Round 3 for the PS2 and the Xbox may be outclassed by its next-generation counterparts, but that doesn't mean it's not turning out to be a fine-looking game in its own right. With the same kind of compelling gameplay that made Round 2 so engrossing, along with a few new tricks up its sleeve, Round 3 is aiming to be a fine alternative to those who haven't been able to score a 360 yet. We'll have much more on Round 3 in the coming weeks, along with a full review when the game is released in mid-February.