Career mode has been reworked entirely, but it all still comes down to bashing random guys' heads in over and over.
Career mode returns, but it has an entirely new look and structure this time around. You can choose to create your own boxer, or you can rebuild a legend like in previous Fight Night games. Again, you begin as an amateur, and you have to fight your way up to the professional ranks. Professional and amateur, however, are the only real "ranks" in career mode. In the past, as soon as you went pro, you'd get a ranking. You'd start as the 50th ranked boxer and steadily move toward number one as you won fights. Now, there is no rank; you simply fight one bout after another. As you win fights, your popularity increases. Once your popularity gauge is full, you qualify for a special contract fight, such as a sponsored fight or a title fight. In career mode, you can become the champion of your weight class, or you can switch weight classes and go for another title. While career mode in Round 3 lacks the rigid structure previously found in the Fight Night series, the basic principles are still intact. You still sign contracts one at a time, then train in one of the three minigames, and then fight. The difference is that there aren't any clearly defined goals or progress indicators, aside from your fighter's stat increases. As a result, career mode feels more like a series of loosely related exhibition matches, rather than an ongoing struggle to fight your way up the ranks and become a champion.
The fights start off extremely easy, and if you have any previous Fight Night experience, you'll be able to cruise through your first dozen or so fights without getting knocked down once. In fact, most of the early fights will be over before the third-round bell. You can increase the difficulty at any time, but the computer opponents still tend to behave the same. The most noticeable difference in higher-level fights is that your opponents are able to absorb a lot more blows, and they inflict more damage per punch. As far as boxing strategy goes, though, you'll see the same few combos thrown repeatedly throughout the game, and before long, you'll be able to recognize and anticipate all of your opponents' moves.
Round 3 introduces to career mode the concept of rivalries. As you make your way through your career, you'll face one or more rival boxers. You have one main rival in the game, and you'll have to face him several times throughout your career. There isn't much of a difference between these matches and any of the others, aside from the ridiculous cutscenes of the weigh-ins before the fights and that rival boxers tend to throw illegal blows while all normal opponents play by the book. Aside from that, and the novelty of beating the same guy's face in multiple times, the rivalries are entirely superfluous.
There's no substitute for the bitterness and bad blood you share with perfect strangers when you fight online. All three versions of Round 3 have online play, with a full complement of stat-tracking features, leaderboards, and match options. We noticed slight lag at the beginning of our online matches on the Xbox 360, but it was quickly smoothed out. You can also score some easy gamer points by going for the whopping eight achievements in the game, which simply require you to win specific sponsored fights in career mode. The online experience on the Xbox is lag-free as well. The PlayStation 2 version of the game doesn't fare quite as well online due to some noticeable slowness, but it's definitely still playable. The PlayStation 2 version also requires you to have an EA Online account, which is free if you don't mind getting some ESPN advertisements sent to your email address, or $2 if you prefer to avoid the ads.
The presentation in Fight Night Round 3 isn't much of an improvement over the previous game on the Xbox and PS2, but it's still more than sufficient. The player models are as detailed and realistic as ever, getting bloodied and bruised as the fights wear on. The create-a-champ mode is as robust and flexible as ever, letting you create the most hideous or realistic fighter you can imagine. The boxing legends included in the game look accurate, although greats such as Marciano, Liston, and Foreman are noticeably absent from the roster. The animations are still somewhat spasmodic when fighters are changing up their blocks, and the ridiculous, twitching rag dolls are still in full effect, but otherwise, the game looks and moves as good as it plays. There are half a dozen venues in the game, from the Staples Center and Madison Square Garden to a warehouse and a hole-in-the-wall boxing gym. The action has been slowed down a bit from previous games, which is noticeable at first, but it doesn't take long to get used to the pace. If anything, the slower gameplay serves to highlight the differences between fighting styles, as you'll see a significant change when switching from a slugger to a speed-style boxer. The dramatic replays return, so you can see each and every knockout punch in all of its crushing glory.
On the Xbox 360, Round 3 looks amazingly lifelike, with the most realistic and detailed fighter models we've ever seen. Everything from the tape on a fighter's gloves to the look of sheer exhaustion on his face makes you feel like you're watching a real bout. The heads-up display has been removed in the Xbox 360 version, and while you do have the option to turn it on, you really won't need to. You can judge how your fighter is holding up by the expressions (or contusions) on his face. The default camera is pulled in close, and it always provides a great perspective on the action in the ring. The knockout replays are especially fun to watch, because the face on the receiving end of a punch contorts and deforms as shock waves ripple through flesh and cartilage. All of the venues and crowds look much more detailed on the Xbox 360. If you have a high-definition display, you'll see an amazing amount of clarity and detail, but even on a standard-definition display, the game looks great. That said, minor issues, such as feet clipping through the canvas or a fighter's trunks clipping through his legs, do detract from the overall presentation of the game, if only slightly.
For as good as it looks, there are some tremendous eyesores in the form of excessive advertisements in all three versions of the game. You'll see Dodge and Burger King logos everywhere, as if it was stipulated in some contract that each frame of the game had to have at least one corporate logo. You can even unlock the Burger King mascot to serve as your trainer, which pretty much destroys any pretense of authenticity this game ever had. It's especially offensive on the Xbox 360 version of the game, which costs $60 and is still loaded with ads.
The new impact punches aren't useful for most fights, but it never hurts to have extra weapons in your arsenal.
The audio is well done in all three versions of the game. When you knock down an opponent with a slug to the mouth, you'll hear the sickening crunch of unseated teeth and snapping tendons, followed by the thick, wet sound of spit and blood flying from his mouth. The excessively gruesome effect really punctuates each knockdown, and it really makes you want to avoid being on the receiving end of such a punch. The commentary is once again provided by Joe Tessitore, and while he's competent behind the mic, he isn't very exciting. He also tends to repeat himself often. It gets tiring to hear the Philly shell defense compared to a Philly cheesesteak three times in one fight. The music is composed entirely of hip-hop tunes, which sound good enough, but there are only a handful of songs, and they get repeated endlessly. As a result, you'll probably end up muting the music after a couple of hours of playing.
EA Sports' heavy-hitting franchise doesn't change up its approach for the third time through, but the gameplay remains as tight and enjoyable as it has always been. So while there are no surprises in store, you can expect a great game of boxing, with a fully capable single-player experience backing up an excellent online multiplayer game. And at $10 cheaper than last year's game, the deal is even sweeter if you pick up the PS2 or Xbox version. If you're going for the Xbox 360 version, you'll have to pay the premium price, but the upgraded visuals are worth it.