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Knockout!

Monday, February 13, 2006 | 12:21 AM | by
So we got hit with a little snowstorm here in New England. Connecticut didn't get it as bad as New York, but the snow is still pretty deep.

I took the weekend off, as I make myself do on occasion, to avoid burning out. My best friend came up from Brooklyn for a couple of days of video-game-induced coma. We played some DOA4, and I finally got around to unlocking the Halo Spartan. But the star of the weekend was EA's Fight Night: Round Three. There is a demo on Xbox Live that we downloaded and enjoyed over, and over, and over again thanks to its two-player option.

Now, I've been anticipating this game for a few months. Aside from the fact that the 360 needs all the new games it can get, I felt this game showed promise. I haven't enjoyed a boxing game since Punchout/Super Punchout.

The first thing you have to talk about when mentioning this game is the graphics. Hands down, when this game hits stores I think it will be the most realistic looking game on any console. No joke. The graphics are that good. The lighting is nearly flawless and the attention to detail is mind-boggling. You can make out the individual beads of sweat gathering on your boxer's tiring shoulders. The graphics are so good that EA has to continually preface all trailers with "Yes, there are in-game graphics", because if they didn't flat out tell you, you wouldn't believe it.

But as good as the game looked, I was concerned when I watched the trailers. Punches seemed slow, and unpowerful, and I thought this would be a serious problem. The fact of the matter is, it's perfect.

To a spectator, some of the punches may seem to move a  bit sluggishly. However, to the person(s) playing the game, the speed is just right. You're so involved in the action, everything is moving plenty fast. Any faster and the game would devolve into a button-mash, just throwing random barrages and hoping you won.

But the way the game is built allows for truckloads of strategy to replace button-mashing. You dodge, you parry, you block and you wear your opponent down with well-placed landed combos all because you can actually anticipate your opponent's next move. If you see his shoulder begin to cock back for a high left hook, you dodge low right and counter with a quick one-two jab to the mid-section. If your opponent goes for a body shot, react quickly and parry, leaving him wide open for a split second. A split second during which you follow up with a jaw crunching haymaker.

It's all about strategy, and reading your opponent.

And not just for anticipating moves either. The Xbox 360 version is completely HUDless, meaning there are no health or powerup displays on the screen. Just like in real boxing, you gauge your opponents energy and stamina by his stance, the look on his face, the way he's throwing his punches. The graphics are so good that you can in fact read different facial expressions. You'll see your opponent charge in with grim determination, and after you flatten his nose he backs off with a look of self-doubt.

Swelling and bleeding and fatigue all add up over the rounds, if you manage to go the distance. The announcers also help, because you'll hear them comment on a particular fighter's appearance and the shots he's taking.

And the best part about no health displays is because a single punch can turn a whole fight around. It can be the last round, and you're getting absolutely pummeled, but if you catch your opponent off-guard with one well-delivered uppercut, you have the change to gain the upperhand.

A lot of the features aren't available in the demo, so I can't comment on them. In fact, the demo only had two fighters (Hopkinson and Roy Jones Jr.), and four rounds of fighting in a training gym, but I am one-hundred percent hooked. I may be speaking prematurely, but this could game could become one of the best reasons to own a 360.

Obviously I'll be picking up a copy later this month when it's released, so I'll follow up once I get to try out all the other modes.

And of course, I'll try and get on Xbox Live and go toe to toe with some of you guys.