previews\ Feb 2, 2006 at 7:00 pm

Fight Night Round 3 - 360 - Preview

A crushing blow to the eyes, the jaw pops open, wagging side to side slowly like an anesthetized but happy puppy. The assault continues, relentless and totally enjoyable.

No, no, no – this is not some fighter throwing a succession of punches and knocking his opponent into a shell-shocked state, but rather the reaction as EA Sports Fight Night Round 3 unfolds on the Xbox 360.

Visually, this game is stunning, and slightly terrifying. You will see the punches land, the boxing glove indent as it encounters bone structure, which sometimes gives way. The flesh will ripple as the repercussions of the blow extend across the face, or through the body. The head will snap, blood will spurt and the eyes shut as the wounded fighter heads for a mat nap.

EA Sports has pulled out a lot of the stops and rendered up a game that brings the brutality of the sport into focus, along with the tactical nuances.

Gone the way of the 20-plus round slugfests are the health and energy meters. Instead you have to watch your fighter and listen to his breathing, and judge the way he throws punches. These will clue you in to the fact that no matter how wide open the target is, if the punch lands there may not be much steam on it. Block, back away, get some breathing space and recover some stamina.

This is very much a game that asks gamers to watch for openings, as well as keep an eye on their own fighter. There are several game modes available in the title as well as three new punches known collectively as Impact Punches (the Haymaker, the Flash KO punch, and the Stun Punch – more on these in a moment). The game modes include Play Now, ESPN Classic (historic fights in which the gamer can take on the role of one of the fighters, such Ali versus Frazier, Robinson vs. Lamotta, Leonard vs. Duran to name but a few), Career, Game Mode (which leads to the Xbox Live, Hard Hits – in which fights are not determined by time, but rather knockdowns, and training) and Create A Champ.

There is a routine to this game’s career mode that is very easy to step into. You pick or create a fighter, begin in the amateur ranks, sign a fight contract, hire a trainer, train up attributes, like power, agility, stamina, the ability to take punches on various parts of the body, and then enter the ring and go toe-to-toe against a smart AI foe. Different fighting styles are represented. You earn money in the bouts, can hire trainers to improve stats, or afford better gear that provides boosts to stats as well.

Fighters move and punch like their real-life counterparts, and you can create styles for your fighter and even establish rivalries.

The control scheme is wonderfully suited to the 360 controller. The right thumbstick is the one used to manipulate the punches. Pulling the stick to the right or left and rotating it will load up a punch and deliver it. The left thumbstick controls ring movement, and you can combine them with the left and right trigger to move, avoid or block punches, load up and deliver a devastating blow with your weight behind it. Hit and move is fundamental and necessary. Stand in the middle of the ring and you are asking for punishment.

The musical score features hip-hop and some rap, but it blends into the game very well. The announcers are very good with the only audio drawback being the crunching bones heard regularly with the impact punches.

The graphics are advertised as being cinematic and this is spot on. Of course, there are pieces of fly-away hair on some of the fighters – hair that clumps and sticks up. But overall, this is impressive. Load times are fast.

When released, the title will feature online play.

There are a few stumbles in the preview code, like if you create a fighter and give him a unique name, the headlines that float past on the main screen between fights and training refers to him as Duran. A minor inconvenience that will likely be taken care of before release. There are also a few clipping problems, but nothing that detracts from the intensity and quality of this title. It is amazing, addictive and offered up in a visually spectacular manner.

Fight Night Round 3 is slated to hit store shelves on Feb. 22 and this is a title that does boxing justice, and should be on the list of all fight fans that happen to own this platform.

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