Thursday, February 23, 2006

Fight Night Round 3 (360)

Man, there are a lot of reasons not to like this game. The damned advertising is getting more and invasive. There is no ranking system, just a series of "popularity meters" that totally suck ass. The much-promoted "rivalry" feature is totally meaningless. The training mini-games really kind of suck. The commentary is ass. Fighters start defending themselves as they advance toward you, even if they're well out of reach of your punches.

So why can't I stop playing it?

I've said it several times before, but succesful games overcome their mistakes. Unless it's Guitar Hero, which is damn near perfect, all games have design and execution issues. Great games overcome them. Bad games don't. And in spite of everything that's wrong (and there's quite a bit), Fight Night is addictive. So even though EA overpromised and underdelivered (for about the hundredth time in a row), the difference is that what they did deliver this time is very, very playable. And fun.

Graphics and animation are both jaw-dropping and mouth-watering. I'm serious. I don't what it looks like on a regular television, but it's nothing short of sensational in HD.

And damage. Oh man, do the fighter's faces reflect damage. The first time I broke somebody's nose and saw it between rounds, I actually winced. It was amazing. Cuts and swelling also look fantastic.

The in-ring action, with only a few exceptions, is wonderfully tuned. An example: haymakers were unbelievably powerful last year. This year, the motion on the analog stick to throw a haymaker takes twice as long (at least) as it takes to throw a regular punch. That means haymakers don't land very often, and when you miss, you'll get tatered. In other words, haymakers and the other specialty punches are relegated to acts of desperation, as they should be.

You can stick and move in this game, and counter-punching is terrific fun. Every possible style of fighting is workable. It's hard to beat that.

The no-HUD gameplay is a brilliant design decision and long overdue. No, the visual cues are not as finely tuned as they should be, and they need to be improved, but they're workable, and it's much better than using a HUD.

They've also done an outstanding job of improving the camera so that the default camera is entirely usable. Being so close to the action and maintaining camera usability can only happen with excellent execution by the development team.

Some reviewes have commented that the difficulty in Career mode, even on Hard level, is just not hard enough. Flab McCanvas is 13-2 in his promising heavyweight career on Hard and I haven't felt like the game was too easy. And if it was, I could just fail some of the training sessions and not get my ratings increases.

That's not to say that there aren't some A.I. issues. Some fighters, in particular, can't seem to make the fight. They're very passive if you're not coming to them, and they're slow to advance. That happens less often as you work up through the ranks, though. And I also think the A.I. doesn't press hard enough after a knockdown. But by the same token, some of the A.I. is very, very good, and when you're matched against aggressive fighters, it's excellent.

Here's the Catch-22 about boxing games. By definition, your boxer sucks when he starts his career. It's almost a role-playing game in that sense. And in the first few fights, your boxer seems slow and awkward--because he is. Once you get past that and start getting a few ratings increase, he becomes more polished, and when he does, this game really takes off.

I've spent about four hours with the game at this point, so these aren't long-term impressions. So far, though, even with the chippies they've missed, this is an outstanding sports game.

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