Fight Night Round 3 for the Xbox 360 is several things - a visual masterpiece, a remarkable simulation, and an immersive experience. You'll be impressed by the details and engaged by the controls from the moment you pop it into the console. While there are some issues on the periphery, the core gameplay is so well done that you'll be hard-pressed to find a better sports experience on any platform.
Standing in the shadows of giants
Any discussion of Fight Night Round 3 starts with the eye candy. Simply put, when running in high definition it's the best looking sports game you've ever seen. The boxers are photorealistic, the lighting is spectacular, and the slow-motion replays of big punches are literally painful to watch (for all the right reasons). There's something uniquely satisfying to land a big punch to the face of your opponent, only to see it undulate in super-slow-mo while he grimaces and spews blood. Quite a treat.
EA has done a lot to make the experience of playing the game look and feel like you're watching a match on TV. The standard HUD meters representing key aspects like power, health and time has been eschewed in favor of an uncluttered viewpoint, leaving the player to watch the body language and reactions of the boxers to gauge how the fight is going. While players can activate the HUD if desired, it genuinely takes away from the ambience. The sound behind the punches is impressive as well. When a particularly heavy blow lands, hearing the crunching of flesh and bone is sickeningly sweet.
Mastering the attack and defense control scheme is the key to success in the game. EA has expanded its "Total Punch Control" mechanism that it successfully introduced in last year's edition. While it is possible to use buttons to land jabs, hooks, and uppercuts, the only way to really land devastating blows is to rare back with the right analog stick and load up for a devastating haymaker or impact punch. The timing of these is critical – nothing can turn around a fight as quickly as a well-timed heavy counter blow to an unprotected chin. Properly placed blocks will temporarily render your opponent open for quick combinations that can score valuable points and open up cuts or swelling - and who doesn't love to see swollen eyes and bleeding gums after a few rounds in the squared circle?
An all-star lineup from top to bottom
And who are these boxers? Well, there's a fairly impressive lineup of current and past pugilist heroes, spanning most weight classes. Naturally, legends like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Joe Frazier, Oscar de la Hoya, and others are along for the ride. The list of available fighters is not as long as in past issues, but it's by no means small. These brawlers are available in standard exhibition and online mode, but can also be used in career mode to take your favorite all-timers from humble beginnings to championship belts.