It's been a while since I've seen a multiplatform game so obviously designed with one console in mind. I'll give you a hint: It's white, it makes a whole lot of noise when it's running, and it's in a severe need of an update to its backwards compatibility list. I'll give you a moment to figure that one out.
My advice: If you don't have a 360 yet, you might want to jump on the Microsoft bandwagon and get one now because the 360 version of Fight Night Round 3 is not only visually superior to its brethren, it actually plays better too - a whole lot better. Combine that with the game's excellent impact punches, an in-depth create-a-boxer mode, and solid online play, and you've got yourself an easy third round knockout.
As you might expect from a next generation title, Round 3 is absolutely gorgeous on the 360. Heck, it's better than gorgeous, it's downright lifelike at times. Arena lights realistically reflect off each boxer, sweat drips from their forehead (but oddly doesn't reach their neck) and if you land a knockout punch the boxer's face will ripple and the connecting glove will actually give in to the pressure of the impact. I remember the first time this happened, my friend was Jones Jr and I was Ali. I evaded his blows, gave him a few jabs and then let loose a wild haymaker knocking the poor guy to the floor. The replay started, the punch connected, and just like true nerds, we jumped out of our seats and squealed like school girls. It's even better if you have a high-def television. Actually, scratch that, you need a high-def television to truly enjoy the game's visuals. Anything less than 720p just doesn't cut it. Still, even when playing in standard definition, the Xbox 360 game looks head and shoulders above the Xbox and PS2 versions.
That being said, Fight Night suffers from some serious clipping issues - feet going through the floor, gloves disappearing after a punch is landed etc - and the boxers often have seizures as they hit the ground and end up in awkward positions on the mat. I've also noticed that during some of the replays, the audio isn't all that synchronized. You can sometimes hear the punch hit your opponent well before it actually has. Additionally, the blood, even more so on the 360 version, looks absolutely ridiculous.
'... the visuals play more of an important role than just eye-candy.'
However, the visuals play more of an important role than just eye-candy - they actually enhance the gameplay for once. I'll give you an example: In the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions, your fighter's health and stamina bars are, by default, located on the bottom of the screen. During the fight you'll spend most of the time watching those bars and adjusting your fighting style accordingly. Makes sense right? Well in the 360 version, the HUD is nowhere to be found and instead you have to rely on what you see and hear to determine what kind of punches you're going to throw. The game becomes a much more immersive and instinctual experience as you have to pay close attention to not only what the announcer is saying, but also how your opponent is reacting to each blow. If your opponent is throwing too many punches, you'll see him get tired. Likewise, if he lets too many punches get by his defences, you'll actually witness the bruising develop on his face - very cool indeed.
As far as the actual gameplay is concerned, not much has changed from Round 2. The total control system returns and is as responsive as ever; however, now you can throw stun punches and flash KOs, as well as haymakers, which, incidentally, are much harder to execute now. And unlike Round 2, the jabs do a decent amount of damage, making every punch equally as dangerous.
Round 3 features all the bells and whistles from before, but with a few subtle changes. Career mode for example, is structured relatively the same as Round 2, except now your rank is determined by popularity. As you win more bouts, your popularity meter increases, and once it reaches its limit, you're given a title shot. A better example would be the new rivalries. You begin your career with a rival, who you'll have to fight a number of times during the course of your career. It's really an unnecessary feature as there isn't much of a difference between your rival and a regular opponent, sans a few illegal punches here and there, the oddball weigh-in cutscenes, and some new lines of dialogue from the announcer.
As you make your way to the top, you'll sign contracts, earn some dough, purchase new equipment from a poorly designed menu system, and train in the same mini games from before. The fights start off pretty easy, easy as in Gabby Jay easy (let's hope virtual boxing fans pick up on that reference), and progressively become more and more difficult as you move up the ranks. The fights are never too much of a challenge though, which if you're a casual gamer might be a good thing, but I find being able to give the legendary Muhammad Ali a wholloping in the first round with a severely underdeveloped boxer, a little strange. Fighter difficulty can be increased, but even then they tend to fight in the same was as before.
Other modes include the classic quick match, where you can choose from boxers in any weight class and duke it out in a number of venues. The roster set is still lacking some of the sport's best boxers, like Rocky Marciano, Ken Norton, and the jolly giant himself, George Foreman, whose grill has inspired me to actually make something other than a ready-meal each night.
ESPN Classic mode on the other hand, lets you relive some of Boxing's greatest fights, such as my all time favourite: Ali versus Smoking Joe Frazier. After choosing a classic match you're given a brief history of the boxer and rivalry before you're thrust into the ring. While most of the matches are in full colour, some of the real classics are played in black and white. And while that sounds authentic, all of the classic matches appear in venues that are clearly pulled right out of the 2000s. I'm pretty sure laser lights weren't developed in the 60s, but then again I'm no history major. It would've been neat if the venues were historically accurate and the spectators wore appropriate clothing for the time period, but I guess you can't have your cake and eat it too.
My beef, however, isn't with the lame blood effects or the unauthentic venues in ESPN Classic mode, no no; it's with the damn product placement. What is the King doing frolicking around the ring? And for that matter, why is the Burger King logo plastered across every venue. I guess it's good marketing though, after all, I am writing about it, and now that I think about it, I am a little hungry too, but that's besides the point. It makes me wonder how long it'll be before ads are run at the start up of every game, or during the credits - hopefully never.
All three console versions of Fight Night Round 3 feature online play, with the usual set of options such as player stats, leader boards etc. There's minimal lag, mostly appearing at the beginning of each match, but the fights play out smoothly and the framerate most definitely holds its own. Unfortunately, just like every online game, you'll find yourself about to win a match, only to have the opponent disconnect him/herself. This, of course, isn't a fault of the game itself, but on many occasions I wasn't awarded a win when the other player left the match, and that definitely isn't an incentive to keep playing. The game also doesn't cater for the differences in play styles between punch control users and button bashers, often leading to some unfair fights.
Now that 2k has announced that it will be stepping into the ring with EA, it'll be interesting to see how many rounds the two gaming giants will last for. But for now, EA remains on top with another solid entry into the Fight Night series. Even though there isn't a whole lot here that we haven't seen before, if you dig the sport, this purchase should be an obvious one. And if you have an Xbox 360, well then, all the better.