Call it Fight Night Round PlayStation 3. Though the next entry in EA's popular boxing series isn't an all-new entry, it does have a couple of PS3-specific features that are interesting. During a recent EA press event in San Francisco, we got a chance to see how these new features play, as well as an idea of where this series is heading ahead of its holiday release.
Fans of the series will remember when Sony first announced the PS3, and EA's then-untitled boxing game was used as a standard-bearer of what the PS3 would be capable of. And while the Xbox 360 version of the game is certainly a visual spectacle in its own right, the PS3 version looks even better. Granted the differences between the two games aren't night and day, but little touches, such as cleaner muscle definition in the boxers and improved lighting and sweat effects make for a slick and subtle upgrade to one of the best-looking games of 2006. Heck, even the card girls have improved in two key areas, and we'll leave it to your imagination to figure out just what we're talking about.
But there's more to Fight Night Round 3 for the PS3 than simply incremental graphics updates. The game also holds the distinction as one of the few launch-window EA Sports games to include a brand-new game mode. Dubbed "get in the ring," this is a split-screen boxing mode, where both fighters are boxing it out from the first-person point of view. Anyone who has played the Xbox 360 version of the game will be familiar with the perspective, which you would often switch to when you landed a particularly brutal shot to your opponent. In get in the ring mode, however, the whole fight is carried out from this perspective, and it's a surprisingly fun way to play the game.
Beyond the novelty of it, the new viewpoint has some interesting wrinkles that add to the experience. Most importantly, punches have a more immediate effect on gameplay. Not only do you get a firsthand view of the punishment you inflict on your opponent, but also any blows that land on you are immediately followed by a hazy discoloring effect on the screen--a visual representation of what it's like to be clocked by a haymaker (or hook, or jab, or uppercut, for that matter). The harder the punch, the more dramatic the discoloration effect on the screen. Knockout punches and haymakers that connect at full force might blur your vision completely, as the screen fills up first with the white light of impact, followed by the purple-black fog of confusion and pain.
To make matters worse, should one eye swell up under a constant barrage, your field of vision on that side of the screen will cloud up or, worse yet, turn completely black. Late in the fight, with the damage piling up, it's often tough to tell exactly where the punches are coming from--something any punch-drunk slugger can probably relate to. Just prior to knocking someone down, on the other hand, you can peek over to your opponent's screen and watch the other boxer's vision cloud up in a haze of white, black, and red; at that moment, you can practically smell the blood in the ring.
The controls in the PS3 version of Round 3 will feel familiar to anyone who has played the game on the PlayStation 2, as they are mapped very similarly. Punches are still thrown by moving the right analog stick in a variety of semicircular movements, while blocking, dodging, and parrying maneuvers are all the same as they were before. The analog L2 and R2 buttons feel different than the digital buttons of the PS2 but won't pose much of a problem, especially if you've played the Xbox 360 version of the game (which uses the left and right triggers extensively).
One PS3 control that's new is the ability to throw "dirty" shots such as head butts, elbows, groin shots, or knees by flicking the Sixaxis controller forward. While fun and easy to pull off, using these cheap tactics in the game didn't warrant any kind of response from the ref, a problem we hope isn't found in the final version of the game. Another interesting difference between the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game, knockouts seemed to happen much quicker in the PS3 game. We KO'd opponents (or were KO'd, as the case happened to be) after just two knockdowns; in the 360 version, four- and five-knockdown fights seemed far more commonplace.
While the aforementioned new features will surely add some life to the game, there's not much else that's new about the PS3 version of Round 3. The game will have the same boxer lineup and the same venues to fight in (which probably means the Burger King mascot is still in the game...ugh). On the bright side, the game will also include the same online modes found in the 360 game and the ubiquitous ESPN integration that is standard issue on practically all EA Sports titles these days.
Though many of EA Sports' PS3 launch games aren't that different from their Xbox 360 counterparts, Fight Night Round 3 has taken advantage of its longer development cycle and is raising the bar a bit with a new game mode that turns out to be a lot of fun to play. What it gets right--namely the brutal visuals of giving (and receiving) a good, old-fashioned Everlast beatdown--certainly make it one of the more interesting sports games arriving this holiday season for the PS3. Expect our full review of the game once it hits store shelves.