Review: Fight Night Round 3 (PS3)

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Good: Great graphics, Get In The Ring mode, multiplayer

Bad: Mostly unchanged gameplay, bare-bones career, create a champ, framerate issues, pixilated crowd

With its then-new Total Punch Control system, the original Fight Night became the best boxing game since Mike Tyson's Punch-Out. Fights were virtual chess matches (albeit with more face-punching), and the series featured some of the most detailed character models ever seen on a console.

Round 2 introduced the haymaker punch, which was a blast to pummel opponents with. Unfortunately, this haymaker was far too easy and devastating, and fights between two experienced players became back-and-forth haymaker volleys. Fight Night Round 3 for the Playstation 3 vastly improves upon the already-great visuals (although it has some hiccups compared to the 360 version), but doesn't feel like a true sequel thanks to mostly unchanged gameplay mechanics.

As always, gamers can choose between several control configurations, with the biggest difference being the function of the face buttons. On the default control setting, all punching (outside of the signature punch) is performed with the right analog stick, and various other functions (clinch, taunt and illegal blows) are performed with the face buttons.

While a good amount of gamers prefer this setting, others may opt for one of the other settings that allow the face buttons to perform punches. In this case, Square and Triangle perform left and right hooks, and Circle and X perform straight jabs. All of the other functions are switched to the D-pad. The right analog stick will cause you to bob and weave or block, depending on the trigger button you're holding in.

The entire preceding paragraph about Round 3 could be copied-and-pasted into a review of either of the previous two titles, and it would still ring true. Gameplay feels almost identical to the other FN games, and the formula is starting to grow slightly tiresome. The best tactic is to wait for an opponent to throw a punch, and attempt to block at the correct diagonal to parry it. At this point, you'll have the ability to counter with a haymaker or a quick punch combo.

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After this is over, it's back to square one. Granted, you can try to mix up your fighting style, but this method tends to be the most effective. Simply throwing punches randomly will be met with parries and blocks from the AI, so it's best to be on the defensive. This makes almost all of the early fights ridiculously easy, as the dumber AI opponents have a tendency to telegraph where the punch is coming from long before it arrives.

New to Round 3 is the new KO Punch and Stun Punch. The KO punch instantly drains your opponent's health bar, and is performed by pulling the stick farther back than you would for a haymaker. If you land one successfully, it can turn a fight around in the blink of an eye.

I wasn't as big of a fan of the Stun Punch, which puts your opponent in a first-person minigame in which they attempt to block your punches. Both of these punches have long animation times, so don't expect them to work often against experienced online fighters. Haymaker punches have also been slowed down to make them less of a crutch than they were in Round 2.

This Playstation 3 version features a new Get In The Ring camera angle, which puts you directly in your boxer's shoes with a first-person view. It's actually pretty nice and does a good job of changing up the gameplay and in-ring tactics.

Career Mode was never terribly in-depth in the previous games, but it's even more bare-bones in Round 3. It's a neverending cycle of "Sign Contract, Train, Fight" that gets old extremely quick. The training minigames are so basic and monotonous that you'll want to skip them after the first time you do them. Unfortunately, auto-training is less effective, so you'll have to endure the load times and inane training games if you want to get the best stats for your fighter.

Create-A-Champ is almost identical to the previous game, and doesn't feature a great deal of customization outside of facial structure. You can buy new shorts, gloves and various accessories, but the menu system for the Fight Store is poorly organized and clunky.

Thankfully, most of these complaints leave my mind when I load up a two-player bout. It's then that Fight Night transforms into one of the better two-player sports game experiences of recent memory. You don't have to deal with underdeveloped A.I., just you and a friend slugging it out. Online play is lag-free for the most part, so you can battle opponents from around the world when you eventually tire of the Career Mode.

Fight Night Round 3 is still a graphical powerhouse, but the PS3 version features some confusing hiccups. The framerate takes a hit from time to time (especially during replays), and the crowd is noticably inferior to the 360 version. Regardless, character models still look absolutely identical to their real-life counterparts, and you'll want to watch the face-rippling replays again and again.

Sound effects are solid, but obviously don't have the "wow" factor of the visuals. Crowd noises, grunts and punch effects all sound realistic. The announcer does have a tendency to repeat himself very often, however (I was ready to deliver a haymaker to my 360 if he compared the Philly Shell defense to a Philly Cheesesteak again).

In the end, I feel a purchase recommendation is in order for Fight Night Round 3. While I certainly have my complaints, the multiplayer makes most of them a non-issue. Even if you're not a huge boxing fan, give this one a shot. If you're new to the series, go ahead and purchase this immediately if you want the best boxing simulation available.

Graphics: 9.0

Sound: 8.5

First Play: 9.0

Replay Value: 8.0

Gameplay: 8.5

Overall: 8.5

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