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Fight Night Round 3 (Xbox 360)
MSRP: $59.99
Number of Players: 1-2 players
Developer: EA Chicago
Publisher: EA Sports

Rating:
****1/2
out of
*****

Fight Night Round 3 is the latest attempt by EA Sports' to deliver a proper videogame representation of the sport of boxing. Admittedly, it's not an easy task. Boxing is about strategy as much as it is about beating the crap out of someone. There are rules. There are tactics. It's not as simple as immediately pummelling your opponent into submission. Early boxing games differed from other fighting games almost only by the fact that you couldn't kick your opponent. Fatigue, cuts, swelling, training, equipment and the like weren't even factored into the equation.

Fight Night Round 3 includes all of those factors and couples them with graphics so realistic, you don't need a health bar or an on-screen meter to tell you that your fighter is tired or being beaten-up. You can clearly see that as your fighter tires, his hands will begin to drop. His punches will lose their snap. His breathing will become labored. He will have to rely on landing a lucky punch to switch the momentum if he's being beaten.

Controlling the action isn't about mashing buttons either. EA has created something called Total Punch Control. Using the Xbox 360's right analog stick, you'll "swing" your fighter's arms as you desire. The left analog stick moves your boxer around the ring. Using the left trigger allows you to bob and weave and the right allows you to block punches. The controls will take about an hour to get used to as you wean yourself off the natural tendency to want to press one button for one type of punch and so on. The Total Punch Control allows a much wider variety of punches to be thrown, including uppercuts, haymakers, jabs, hooks, and straight punches, as well as allowing you to control their speed.

When you land an "impact" punch, the game will shift gears somewhat. If you land a "stun" punch, the game will switch to a first-person view from your opponent's perspective. You can then watch yourself attempt to finish him off from his point-of-view. It's mostly a pointless gimmick because the stun punches are rare and once you adjust to the new viewpoint, you're taken back out of it. A "flash" punch will weaken your opponent and the game goes into a sort of slow-motion mode for a second to let you know that landing another impact punch will knock him to the canvas.

When you do score a knockdown, Fight Night Round 3 displays its trademark slow-motion replay of the punch's devastating effect on the opposing fighter's face, and is usually accompanied by rippling flesh, a spray of salivia, blood, and sweat and a sickening bone-cracking sound. If you're knocked down, you'll see the same thing but it will be followed by the two circles that must be moved to the center of the screen with the analog sticks. If you can't get them into the center before the ref counts to ten, you're knocked out.

Between rounds, you're responsible for being your own cutman. You've got to make sure that any cuts or swelling are dealt with before they get out of hand and cause the referee to stop the fight. This is done by moving the right analog stick back and forth as an on-screen meter tells you how much the swelling has gone down on each side of your fighter's face.

Fight Night Round 3 features a plethora of actual fighters, including Muhammad Ali, Evander Holyfield, Oscar De La Hoya, Bernard Hopkins, and Roberto Duran. You can also create your own fighter and put him through a career mode that allows you to train and groom him for the championship. After taking on some generic fighters, he'll eventually work his way up to face the real champions in his particular weight class. Although the career mode is fun, it also gets a little monotonous after awhile because it really boils down to selecting a fighter to fight, training through the game's training minigames and then fighting. Over and over again.

One noticeable negative aspect of the game is the abundance of in-game advertising. For example, you'll have to win corporate sponsored matches to gain acheivement points rather than by winning a fight by a knockout, being saved by the bell, or something skill-related. All the work the game does to acheive realism is vaporized by the fact that you can hire the spooky Burger King mascot to be your trainer in career mode.

Xbox Live allows you to go online and face other boxers in ranked or unranked matches. The online boxing felt a bit sluggish when compared to matches that were played offline. Strategy seemed to go out the window too, as most of my online opponents prefered to throw as many punches as possible and lucking into a quick knockout rather than actually boxing. The online fighting provides some variety and can add a lot of staying power to the game as long as the online servers remain well-stocked with willing opponents.

Overall, Fight Night Round 3 is an outstanding representation of the sport of boxing and, with a bit of tweaking to the stun punches, the career mode, and the removal of (at least some of) the advertising and it will be just about perfect.

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