Fight Night Round 3 PS3 Review
It's been almost a year since Fight Night Round 3 was released to critical acclaim on the Xbox 360, so it's curious to me that EA would wait this long and then deliver the same game again. But here it is: it's got all the hard-hitting punches and great boxing action of the 360 version. While this port is still excellent, what little the PS3 version adds isn't quite enough to make up for what we lose in the rush EA had to go through to deliver this for the PS3's launch.
EA Sports' Fight Night Round 3 brings in dozens of real world-class boxers from around the world, from all weight classes, and from present and past eras to duke it out in the ring. If you're not happy with playing as a past or current boxing champ, you can start a career and make your own boxer, creating and sculpting his face as well as his height, weight, and muscle tone. As your fledgling boxer crawls up through the amateur ranks and finally into the pros, you will lose the headgear and have to start working, in-between rounds, on the swelling and cuts that your boxer develops during the fight. If you put too many points into speed or stamina instead of your Cuts rating, then you'll find that you'll be working very hard between rounds.
All of this is brought together with an excellent control scheme that translates well onto the PS3. You move with the left stick, and if you hold the L1 button, the left stick will lean you around - forwards for body punches, backwards to avoid incoming face punches, and to the side to trip up your opponent's strategy. The right stick controls all of your punching, as you "swing" it around in various ways for jabs, straights, hooks, uppercuts, and haymaker punches. Hold the R1 button and move the right stick, and you'll protect yourself in one of four "quadrants" - face or body, left side or right side.
I always found that the Total Punch Control system, unique to Fight Night, was difficult to work with. From a game design standpoint, I don't see why the only way to stop the game from being a button-masher is to stop people from pressing buttons to punch. There are plenty of ways to make those who use strategy and rhythm win in a fight without having to come up with wonky stick-only controls. At least EA still allows other configurations, including the ability to put the basic punches on the face buttons (my favorite is Config 3). This makes it easier to get a rhythm going for short punch combos, but it doesn't allow the game to devolve into the ridiculous drunken-party-game antics that many past boxing games turned into.
Combining defense with offense is crucial in Fight Night Round 3. Unlike in real boxing, you can't simultaneously defend yourself with one glove while punching with another, so you'll need to punch carefully. If you keep trading your jabs for your opponent's hooks and uppercuts, you'll find yourself on the mat pretty early on.
Most of my gameplay frustrations associated with the Xbox 360 original are still here on the PS3; the training mini-games are terrible and don't actually teach you how to box, while the massively powerful haymakers and KO punches are still a bit too crucial to winning for my tastes. Finally, the product placement is just too in-your-face here. Between the Dodge Calibur, Everlast sports equipment, and Burger King, the game's just loaded with promotion. But that would be fine with me, except that they also got the announcer, Joe Tessitore, to actually throw in quips at the start of some fights about the companies. Putting the logos on the ring, in banners, and even having them "sponsor" some fights is tolerable, but having to hear the announcer shill this stuff on top of everything else is just one step too far for me.
Speaking of the announcer, it's still my opinion that good boxing commentary needs to come from two people, not just one - and while Tessitore does a decent job, some of his catchphrases ("And the ones you don't see always hurt the most!", "It's like he knows what his opponent's gonna throw before he throws it!") start to really grate after a few hours. For the next Fight Night, I hope they give him an even larger vocabulary along with someone else to commentate with.
The PS3 version of FNR3 has great graphics, but unfortunately they're not as good as on the 360. The arenas have fewer spectators and overall less detail, while the textures that make up the boxers' skin aren't quite as sharp. The PS3 version does have better lighting so you can see the sweat glistening more realistically, and the PS3 version does support 1080p for those that have the TVs to support it, but the game still doesn't look as good. This is probably a result of EA having to get their game on shelves to launch alongside the PS3, and I fully expect the next Fight Night to look as good or better on the PS3 than the 360.
There's one new feature in the PS3 version of Fight Night - the first-person camera. You'll have to pop out to the menu and into the options to get to it, but you can set a new camera called "In the Ring" which resembles the view you get when an opponent does a Stun Punch. But you'll be in it at all times, and it really adds a little something to the game that you don't get with the usual view from the side. Incoming punches are easier to see, and I found that my reactions with counters and parries were better. Sadly, you can only use this in a single player mode, so there's no way to take this new camera into online play. While a two-player match with local play would be pretty awkward with a camera view like this, but I don't see why this couldn't work online.
There are plenty of gameplay modes here, and the ESPN licensing allows for some cool stuff. For example, if you hang out in an online lobby you'll hear the hip-hop soundtrack fade away and ESPN streaming radio will fade in, giving you real-world sports highlights and scores. There's also the "ESPN Classic" mode which lets you set up matches against the computer or another player locally, all of which are based on real rivalries in boxing. And the boxers here include many of the world's greatest, like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Oscar De La Hoya, Micky Ward, Arturo Gatti, Roy Jones Jr., Jake LaMotta, Floyd Patterson, Bernard Hopkins, and plenty more.
Between the career mode that lets you build your boxer's stats, get caught up in rivalries, and eventually retire as champ, there's plenty to do. Then there are several modes for local versus play between two gamers or against the CPU, and finally there's the online play. Some gamers have been concerned over whether EA's online play on the PS3 would be as good as what we saw on Xbox Live, but I can say that in the case of FNR3, there's nothing to worry about. There are both Ranked and Unranked matches as well as plenty of options to fine-tune a match and the boxing is mostly lag-free, but the one thing that's missing is voice chat. Considering the annoying trash-talk attitudes of almost every person with a headset on the 360 version of Round 3, though, I was actually relieved knowing I wouldn't have to hear some guy constantly calling me the same four-letter word for a half-hour straight. I know that the lack of a feature is not really a feature, but the boxing's still as good and I don't have to deal with idiots over Live. It's a nice change.
Fortunately, the most important parts of Fight Night Round 3 made it onto the PS3. The great boxing action, high level of tactics in developing your offense and defense, and excellent selection of real-world boxers all come through, and the new first-person camera almost makes up for the toned-down graphics (when compared to the 360 version). This is by far the best boxing game you can get nowadays, so if you're remotely interested in it and looking for a great sports game on the PS3, this is most definitely your game.