Earlier today, just a few hours before the Xbox 360 version of Fight Night Round 3 took center stage at Microsoft's CES 2006 keynote address, Electronic Arts made a playable demo of the game available for free download via the Xbox Live Marketplace. The demo, which weighs in at around 468MB, lets you pit incredibly lifelike re-creations of Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. against each other in a maximum of four rounds in a gymnasium ring. You can choose to fight as either of the aforementioned pugilists against the CPU, or plug in a second controller and take on a friend. We eagerly downloaded the demo as soon as it was available and are here with our latest impressions, as well as new images and videos for those who can't download and play this demo for themselves.
One of the first things you'll notice upon entering the ring, right after you've been wowed by the fighter models and picked your jaw back up off the floor, is that the Xbox 360 version of Fight Night Round 3 features no onscreen HUD whatsoever. There are no health bars for the boxers, and there's no clock counting down the number of seconds remaining in the current round. In fact, the only time you'll see anything on the screen that you wouldn't see if you were sitting ringside at a real match are the numbers 1 through 10 that appear in the middle of the screen after a knockdown. All of the other information that you'll need comes courtesy of the game's incredible visuals, or from the talkative commentator who seems to do a great job of injecting fighter trivia into the proceedings when the action in the ring doesn't really warrant comment.
If your boxer is getting tired because you've thrown a few too many air shots, for example, you might notice his shoulders slumping or hear the commentator talking about how more of your shots need to meet their mark. If your boxer is taking too many punches, it seems reasonable to assume that you'll know about it, especially as the big hits are often accompanied by brief slow-motion close-ups. When things start looking really bad for your fighter, additional cues can include eyes closing shut, bleeding cuts, and noticeable bruising. Somewhat disappointingly, the demo of Fight Night Round 3 doesn't include its predecessor's cut-man minigames in between rounds, nor does it feature the knockdown minigame that tasked you with lining up erratically moving markers in order to get up off the canvas before you were counted out.
Those differences aside, Fight Night Round 3 plays similarly to its predecessor and is best played using the left analog stick for movement and the right analog stick to throw punches. The shoulder triggers are used for blocking and evading punches, as well as for targeting your opponent's midsection or head. The left and right bumpers can be used to switch stances or to throw signature punches, respectively, while the D pad is used for clinching, taunts, and illegal blows. Haymaker punches can feel a little overpowered against the CPU opposition in the demo, but they take long enough to wind up that you shouldn't be able to land too many of them against a skilled player. The all-new stun punch takes even longer to get going, but it's worth experimenting with if only because landing one successfully immediately switches the camera to a first-person perspective--looking through the eyes of the fighter who got hit as he desperately tries to avoid any follow-up shots that might put him down.
Landing a powerful punch in Fight Night Round 3 is undoubtedly one of the most satisfying moments we've ever experienced in a boxing game, not only because doing so is often a real achievement, but because the visual feedback you get is so visceral. As your opponent's head gets knocked back in slow motion, you might be treated to a close-up of blood flying out of his mouth, for example, and if you're reaching the end of a long fight, you'll almost certainly get to see drops of sweat flying from his face as your fist makes contact. Faces and mouths deform realistically as boxing gloves make contact.
In short, we're now more excited than ever to get our hands on a finished version of Fight Night Round 3 next month. If you've got an Xbox 360, an Xbox Live account, and enough room on your hard drive, you'd be crazy not to check this out.