Fight Night may be the only boxing game in the business, but the lack of competition certainly hasn't made the champ soft. The perfectly precise and intuitive Total Punch Control mechanic, cringe-inducing knockout blows, and in-depth boxer creation mode are all accounted for in the latest installment in this fighting series, Fight Night Round 3. New to the series this time around are the impact punches feature, a reworked career mode, and a customizable boxing style feature. Admittedly, most of the improvements and updates found in Round 3 are merely incremental, but they're still enough to warrant stepping into the ring for another bout.
Fight Night is back with a fistful of leather for your pretty little face.
Unsurprisingly, the best parts of Fight Night Round 3 are the parts that haven't changed. The Total Punch Control mechanic is back, and it works just as well as it has since the first Fight Night made boxing fun again back in 2004, which means that series veterans will be able to jump right in and start throwing combos with ease. If you're new to Fight Night, you might find that the controls take a bit of getting used to, but once you know them, you won't want to go back to plain old button mashing. The way the controls work is you move your boxer with the left analog stick and throw punches with the right stick. You can throw jabs by tapping the stick forward to the right or left, depending on which fist you want to use. Hooks are thrown by moving the stick in a quarter-circle motion toward your opponent in either direction, and uppercuts are closer to a half-circle motion. You can put extra power behind a punch by pulling the stick back even farther and "winding up" for a powerful haymaker.
Featured for the first time in the Fight Night series are impact punches, which are variations on the haymaker. The haymaker is the basic "swing for the fences" power punch, which was introduced in last year's Fight Night Round 2. The flash KO punch is like an exaggerated haymaker, and it instantly drains your opponent's health and primes him for a quick knockdown. The stun punch is another version of the haymaker, and it initiates a sort of reverse first-person minigame where you see yourself through the eyes of your opponent as you pummel him with punches. It's difficult to pull off a stun punch, and even when you do, it's pointless, since the first-person mode is awkward and trivial. In fact, it's difficult to pull off any of the impact punches, because the windup is slow and the punch is easily countered. That's a good thing, though, because it helps keep the action somewhat balanced.
Throwing a lot of punches is a fine strategy and simply flailing about will often win you a match, but occasionally you'll have to defend yourself. You can block and parry punches using the right trigger on the Xbox and Xbox 360, or the R1 button on the PlayStation 2. You can use the right analog stick to determine which part of your body you want to guard. For example, if your opponent shows a left hook to the head, you can throw up your right arm to parry the shot and then return fire with your own left while your opponent is off guard. When you parry or block successfully, you can quickly and easily make the transition from defense to offense and throw a barrage of counterpunches before your opponent knows what's happening. Indeed, successfully parrying and countering is an integral part of any fight. You can also lean by holding down the left trigger or the L1 button, which is a good way to hold your ground while avoiding punches. Clinches have returned, so when you've taken a beating and are about to go down, you can press a button to lean on your opponent and regain some energy.
Of course, there's more to boxing than simply throwing and absorbing punches. You also have to worry about maintenance. Maintaining your fighter's health is an important part of Round 3, and it's all handled through the same training and cut-man minigames from the previous Fight Night titles. Before a fight, you have the option to train your fighter in one of three regimens, depending on which stats you want to focus on. Before you train, you can hire a trainer, and each one has a specialty that will improve your results in a given parameter. The minigames consist of the heavy bag, the weights, and the combo dummy. The minigames are extremely simple timing and pattern-recognition exercises, and you'll never have a problem reaching the required point goal to achieve the maximum benefit from the training. Once you're in the ring, though, your health concerns will be more immediate, as you start stopping hard leather with your face. Between rounds, you can play a minigame to reduce swelling and patch up cuts on your boxer's face. The routine has been simplified since the previous game, and instead of four focus areas, you only need to worry about the left side and right side of the face. A small icon appears at the bottom of the screen, and you have to move the right analog stick in time with the icon to heal your fighter. If you let him get too swollen, he won't be able to see to defend against incoming punches, and if he's bleeding profusely from unattended cuts, the ref will stop the fight.
You can assign different fighting styles to your boxer, and it's fun to experiment with different styles to see which one best fits your own strategy.
While the game still plays mostly the same way, you are given a bit more control over how you fight, thanks to the inclusion of some new fighting styles, which you can assign to your fighter. When creating a custom fighter, you are given the same options as in the previous games regarding your boxer's physical attributes, but now you can choose his fighting style by setting a base style, punch style, and block style. You can give your boxer a speed-based style to make him light on his feet, a slugger punch-based style to give him extra power behind his blows, and a cross blocking-based style to provide a bit more protection. There are plenty of combinations to choose from, and the different styles have a significant impact on your fighting strategy. You can change your fighting style between matches in career mode, and it can be fun to try out different combinations to see which work best.
Fight Night Round 3 features career, play now, and online multiplayer modes like in the previous games, and it also has a new ESPN Classic mode. Play now lets you choose your fighter, opponent, and venue for a quick match. In this mode, you can pit any of the boxing legends against another, regardless of weight class. If you want to see Evander Holyfield go up against Manny Pacquaio in front of thousands at Madison Square Garden, you can.
The ESPN Classic mode lets you relive some of the biggest bouts in recent boxing history. You can choose from classic rivalries such as Ali versus Frazier, Robinson versus Lamotta, and Gatti versus Ward. Before each fight, you're treated to an all-too-brief history of the fighters and their rivalry. These classic fights could be an interesting sort of interactive lesson about the history of boxing, but they're severely lacking in authenticity and detail. Despite having the ESPN Classic brand stamped on the game, the classic fights feel half-baked. The classic theme is ruined by modern laser lights and Dodge advertisements plastered all over the place, and it doesn't help that a lot of the fights don't even take place in historically accurate venues. You can unlock special gear by winning these classic fights, but ultimately, ESPN Classic mode fails to offer anything different than the play now mode.