Apart from the obvious hardware shortages, at least some of the blame for the Xbox 360's tepid launch could be laid at the feet of EA Sports, which released what were essentially glorified demo versions of their most popular titles. Favorites like Madden or Tiger Woods PGA Tour never looked better, but their next-gen graphics could hardly obscure their total lack of depth. Given the launch titles' style-over-substance aesthetic, gamers can be forgiven for approaching Fight Night: Round 3 with trepidation, since once again, the same title has been made available for less for the Xbox and PlayStation 2. Yet it takes less than a minute to discover that the latest Fight Night easily outclasses any next-gen sports game to date, and not only because EA bothered to put out something more than a pretty mock-up.
At bottom, boxing games aren't terribly sophisticated (stick and move, basically), so it's the smallest details that count: the mechanics of individual punches and dodging techniques, the cultivation of a winning style, and establishing the right pace over the long haul. Round 3 refines all these features, but it's also a rare occasion in which the graphics' quality amounts to more than just eye candy. Though the options menu still allows it, there's no automatic heads-up display to indicate health and stamina, which enhances the realism and makes these cues entirely visual. Subtle changes in posture and lethargic punches are enough to indicate that you're running out of gas.
Beyond the game: EA could stand to have its announcers cough up more than a few lines of voiceover, but its designers have worked overtime on the ambience, from the sweat-stained grunge of urban clubs to the electricity of a sold-out Madison Square Garden.
Worth playing for: When your opponent leans into that haymaker, it's a bone-crunching delight: Sweat sprays from his head, bloody spittle shoots from his mouthpiece, and his legs turn to Jell-O. Now that's the sweet science.
Frustration sets in when: Because of its realist standards, Round 3 plays slow enough already, but the lag time on EA's servers can make the Xbox Live experience seem like fighting in mud.
Final judgment: The only real problem with Round 3 is that any improvements in Round 4 are likely to be strictly cosmetic.