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Game Review

Once, when I wore a younger man's clothes, I took my best girl to the opening night of a little known fight film. And I'm not embarrassed to say that when we walked out of Rocky I was charged up. I burst out with, "Man! That was cool." I could envision myself pumped up and flexing, filled with adrenaline, standing toe to toe with some other warrior, discerning his weaknesses and defeating him with studied skill and sheer sinewy might. My girlfriend looked at me with that flat—you poor man—look that women seem to master at a young age, and insensitively informed me that a pro boxer would probably break me like a twig. In light of the truth of her statement, I dropped the subject.

But even twig-men can step into the ring with EA Sports' new Fight Night: Round 3 and reach for fisticuffs glory. The game's designers have made that reach a little easier with a wonderfully intuitive control mechanic. Instead of using complicated button combinations like many fighting games, Fight Night uses the left and right analog sticks. The left stick moves your boxer around the ring and the right delivers multiple punch and defense combinations. For example, a quick thumb-tap-up delivers a sharp jab to the left or right, add a half-circle motion and you connect with a punishing uppercut. After learning the basics, you polish these boxing moves by visiting the sparring area and, of course, by entering bouts and gradually facing better fighters.

Equally important is how you develop your fighter's physical toughness. After you sign a contract for a fight, you train (using weights, combo dummy or heavy bag) and fortify your fighter in key areas like strength, speed, agility and stamina. After all, an effective fighter is a well-balanced fighter. (You don't want an overly muscled pug who punks out in the second round.)

A Few Trophies
Round 3 is divided into three major sections: play mode, where you fight as famous boxing greats against the computer or another player; ESPN Classic mode, where vintage battles—Robinson/LaMotta, Ali/Frazier, etc.—are reenacted; and career mode, where you fight your way to trophies and divisional dominance. With a few matches under your belt, your boxer can even poke and slug it out with online prizefighters, and battle his way to a virtual world title.

And speaking of your boxer, one of my favorite features of this game is the create champ mode. In this mode you construct the genetic boxer of your dreams; choosing everything from race and fighting style to height and hairstyle. I had fun designing a boxer who looked like me. I couldn't make him look exactly like me—they didn't have a potbellies section—but I ended up with a pretty good representation to take into the ring.

A Few Black Eyes
Which illustrates how character design is improving in these kinds of games. Physical features appear more realistic and less painted on. And bruising, puffy eyes, cuts and bloody noses give you a real world indicator of how a fighter is holding up. However, new realism can also bring new problems. While watching slo-mo replays it's almost impossible not to cringe as boxer's heads get crunched and blood and spittle spray.

In addition to the bruises, blood and gore, Fight Night 3 exhibits a few other lifelike features unworthy of a champion. Between rounds, bikini-clad models sashay around the ring with an abundance of virtual cheesecake. And players are able to buy taunts and illegal blows to use during the fights. Doing so can bring penalties and even disqualification from the referees, but offering them as a special purchase option in the fight store leaves the impression of an approving nod to unsportsmanlike conduct. (The fight store also offers things like tattoos and branded shorts and gloves that affect your fighter's skills.) On an audio note, the imbedded music consists of invidious hip-hop titles that keep mercilessly recycling before and after every fight. Thankfully, the frequent f- and s-words in the lyrics are muted.

A Few More Thoughts Before the Bell
Most likely, your perception of all three Fight Night games will have a great deal to do with how you view boxing in general. If you abhor the sport, and think it's nothing more than a brawl between troglodytes, you will dislike this game. And I won't argue with you about it for even a second.

Still, Round 3 is certainly not Rumble Roses XX. If you gravitate toward the skill and finesse of a pugilist's art, you'll find it agreeable—if you skip the between-rounds "entertainment" and turn off the overtly negative features in the options menu. That's something you'd never have the benefit of in real life while standing across the ring from a mountain of flesh who is flexing his massive biceps while calling you ... twig-man.

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