After having racked up more than 20 hours between the PlayStation 2 and the PlayStation Portable versions of Fight Night: Round 3, I still don't have a clue as to how I'm going to put my impressions of the game into words. I know I like it. That much I'm sure of.
To me, Fight Night: Round 3 just feels "right."
Thirty minutes after I'd first loaded the game, the controls had become second nature for me and I was throwing jabs, hooks, and uppercuts with reckless abandon at legends like Muhammed Ali, Joe Frazier, and Oscar de la Hoya.
I love how the game goes into slow-motion after you connect with a stun punch, letting you savor the moment as you send your opponent to the mat with a few follow-up punches (or, alternatively, you watch them dodge and block until they're able to snap out of it). After each knockdown, a seamless instant-replay shows you your hard hit from multiple angles, and the camera viewpoint is so close that you can actually see your opponent's face shake from the impact… not to mention watch the sweat and blood fly off of his face.
Such keen attention to detail is nice to see in a sports game that doesn't involve ballplayers or multi-year exclusivity deals. As fights drag on, the fighters start to slouch and their bodies become sweaty. Any bruises and cuts that are dished out can be seen on the player's faces. There aren't many opportunities to gaze at what's outside the ring, what with all of the punches being thrown inside it, but, even so, it's great to notice all of the spectators jumping up and down out there. Personally, my favorite thing to see are the bikini-clad ring girls that hold up the round cards between rounds. Call me crazy, but their sexy bodies have just as many polygons and "bump" maps as the boxers' do. Tying it all together is commentary provided by ESPN's Joe Tessitore, from the network's Friday Night Fights broadcasts.
Playing the game is easy once you figure out the controls. On the PlayStation 2, different punches are unleashed by spinning the right analog stick in various directions. On the PSP, the controls employ a more traditional button-oriented scheme. Basic jabs and hooks are the easiest to do, requiring only a simple tug of the stick or a single button press. Advanced punches; such as uppercuts, haymakers, and signature punches; require additional stick-work or multiple buttons to be pressed. Additionally, you can block or bob & weave by holding down one of the shoulder buttons.
Punches aren't the only actions you have control over. Before each fight, you can set your boxer's training routine. In the PS2 game, you have to play a few simple mini-games to add points to your boxer's attributes. In the PSP game, you only need to specify how hard to train and watch as he buffs up automatically. During the fight, you can put distance between yourself and your opponent to regain stamina and energy, or get in his face and tap one of the shoulder buttons to lock arms and gain a quick breather. The "clinch" is also a good way to avoid the knockdown after an opponent's punch smacks you into the vulnerable slow-motion state. Between rounds, the cutman minigame lets you treat your boxer's swelling and wounds by matching patterns with the analog stick and indicated buttons.
The controls may sound complicated, but they're really not. You'll get by mashing buttons in the beginning, and not long after that you'll find yourself instinctively bobbing back to lure opponents in for counter-punches and unleashing one-two combos without even thinking about it. That's a good thing, since the CPU can be a real badass on higher difficulties and in later career mode fights.
Anyone that purchased last year's game is pretty much already familiar with most of this stuff. EA Sports didn't make any major changes to Round 3, although the numerous adjustments and improvements should satisfy those that choose to upgrade. Punches were re-balanced, the cutman mini-game was made easier, there are more boxers and boxing styles to pick from, and the graphics have been bolstered with more detail and a wider variety of animations. New gameplay features include the one-hit "flash knockdown," the ability to change weight classes, and rivalries in the career mode.
The PS2 version is great at home. The PSP game is great on-the-go. Compared side-by-side, the PS2 version is certainly the slickest of the two, although the gap isn't huge by any stretch. The boxers in the PS2 game are a little more detailed, the ring environments are a bit crisper, and Tessitore's commentary has more variety. Load times are also a bit quicker in the PS2 version. Of course, the PSP version offers one benefit the PS2 game can't–it's portable.
Both versions of the game offer roughly the same set of play modes and boxers. Modes include play now, career, classic matches, offline versus, and online versus. The career mode is particularly deep, as it allows you to hire different cutmen and trainers, and to pay for different entrance music and females to accompany you into the ring. Both games feature a roster of more than 30 different legendary and current boxers, as well as an extensive create-a-boxer function that lets you put your own custom pugilists into the game.
Online play is possible in both versions of the game. The PSP version does a satisfactory job with online fights, but the PS2 version is definitely the one to get if you plan to spend a significant amount of time playing online. For one, lag-related hiccups and pauses are more common in the PSP game. For two, hardly anyone ever logs into the PSP game's server, so fights are harder to come by. It's a shame EA Sports didn't make the two versions interoperable. When I did manage to find some competition in the PSP game though, I found that fights were still fast-paced and fun despite the hiccups caused by lag.
Pressed to sum up my thoughts on Fight Night: Round 3, I'd have to say that it strikes a good balance between substance and flash, and does an excellent job of capturing the thrill of the fight. The PS2 version is a bit more polished, but the portable go-anywhere nature of the PSP game makes it easy to tolerate that version's rough spots. If you like boxing, either version should make you very happy.