previews\ Feb 2, 2006 at 7:00 pm

Fight Night Round 3 - PSP - Preview

The fighter reels from the hard blow to the noggin, time slows. You move in for the kill. He is blocking, leaning, trying to avoid your onslaught. You watch his frenetic dance, more reflex than anything else. Body shot, head, head, body, and the sweat flies, dotting the air as stars on a clear night. He hits the canvas. The camera rewinds, shifts, shows the blow again and again from different angles.

It’s enough to make you flinch.

Welcome to Fight Night Round 3 for the PlayStation Portable handheld console system. Very much a reflexive exercise, the game manages to combine thumb exercise with a certain intelligence, based on fighter movement while paying close attention to the health and energy meters that border the top edge of the PSP screen.

EA Sports sent along preview code for the pending title, and while certain attributes were not available – like the multiplayer capabilities – still what was there provided a solid look at what promises to be a very good handheld experience.

There are several modes of play, including the Play Now (instant fights), Rival Challenges (in which you get to repeat history or even change it in classic rivalry fights, beginning with Ali versus Frazier), and a two-mode tab called Game Modes (broken down into Career and Hard Hits – the latter is a fight based on knockdowns, not time). Multiplayer will feature both Ad hoc and Infrastructure, and there is even a function that allows you to go into EA Pocket Trax to shuffle the song list or remove some of the 12 mostly-hip-hop tunes that are featured.

You can create your own fighter, work through the rankings beginning at the amateur level and move up to vie for a world title and the big paydays.

The Create Champ options are varied and quite good, allowing players to customize the appearance of their fighter. You can manipulate various aspects of the head, and pick the weight class and body appearance. As you fight and earn wins, you can unlock new elements from the Fight Store that may give you a boost to your skill stats.

Essentially the way the career mode works is you are given a selection of potential fights to pick from, each with a payday and each allows you to scout would-be foes. Once you sign the contract for the fight, you go to training. There are three styles of training, which are linked to intensity – normal yields the lowest results, confident will give better results but there is a chance of injury and aggressive carries the best chance for top results, but the injury risk goes way up. You can focus training in three areas, as well – balanced, power and speed.

Once training is complete you climb into the ring. There are several ways to set up the controls. The default will have the hot keys controlling punch locations with the analog stick in charge of the fighter movement. The D-pad will allow for the special punch (like a wind-up haymaker), taunt, clinch or illegal blow. The left shoulder trigger is for leaning and body shots and the right controls blocking.

Across the top of the screen is the health meter (which diminishes with each blow taken) and energy meter. You can replenish your energy by stepping back and moving around the ring.

The default camera angle is ringside, keeping the fighters in profile.

For a handheld device the action is very solid and the venues are well done. From the dingy rings in Lower Flushing to fairgrounds in Idaho, and some of the nicer arenas as you move up in the rankings, the game does sport a nice backdrop to the action. It is the latter – the action – that takes center stage in this vehicle, giving players a solid and challenging experience. The game does have some load times (which may be tightened up by the release date) but they are not overly long. The animation is very fluid and the controls are responsive.

Some of the actions and animations can be a little cheesy – in reference to the fighter standing over a downed opponent, and there is some repetition in the corner chat between rounds, but these are all easily overlooked. There are also a few clipping problems, but again, this is no big deal.

Players may enjoy the challenges of looking for the openings in their opponent’s defense and the tapping in a jab to alter the stance, and combining it with hooks to the body, or vicious uppercuts. Stagger your opponent and he can go down at any time. He will usually rise before the 10 count if early in the fight, and from a bar that was bottomed out, he will regain health, but is susceptible to more devastating barrages.

Fight Night Round 3 is a very good PSP title, sporting great sound and graphics and challenging gameplay. This title is slated to hit store shelves on Feb. 22 and is a certain early contender for favorite PSP titles in 2006.

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