I knew it wasn't going to be as dark and myth-filled as Tosches' The Devil In Sonny Liston. And I knew it wasn't going to tell the whole story like Remnick's King of the World. Still, when I was told of the opportunity to meet and play FIGHT NIGHT ROUND 3 with cover athlete Arturo Gatti, I jumped at the chance. Since I had to keep my game face on, I didn't mention that I was nervous about meeting Arturo. Gatti's kind of a real life Rocky, who's known for his legendary fights against Micky Ward. He's also been the WBC super welterweight champ and he punches so hard with such spirit, the Jersey City-based fighter often breaks his right hand.

In a large suite in a fancy midtown Manhattan hotel, Gatti admitted he hadn't played the game until that morning. It was no comfort: I hadn't played the game at all. "But I'm pretty good at it," Gatti jabbed. Great, I thought, I'm going to get a virtual butt whomping which I will never live down.

Arturo chose to play as the legendary "fists of stone," Roberto Duran.  I picked the equally legendary Ray Robinson. Both fighters looked ready, massive, fine-tuned bodies full of rage and stamina. When the bell rang, Gatti began to brawl: he wasn't blocking at all. I thought I'd be down in a minute: the swift punches came hard and the bone crunches echoed à la Raging Bull. I found the block button and got Duran with a series of rights. Duran appeared dazed. And then, Gatti as Duran fell, knocked down hard by Robinson. Gatti stood up and tried to use body English to get Duran off the mat. In the game, there's a way to revive a knocked down fighter before the 10-count. But Arturo wasn't able to move two dots into the center of the screen using the controller sticks. Duran stayed down. I had bested the great Arturo Gatti.

FNR3: A couch potato smackdown
photo: Courtesy of Electronic Arts
FNR3: A couch potato smackdown

At first, there was disbelief on Gatti's face, then a flash of anger, at which point I wanted to run down Fifth Avenue as quickly as I could. Moments later, there was good natured respect. "Congratulations," he said. Even in loss, Arturo Gatti was a class act.

This ain't no cheap arcade game. On the next generation 360 console, the faces look as close to human as I've ever seen in a game (although I still love its brawling predecessor, Knockout Kings). This version doesn't make you use the annoying right stick to throw the punches if you don't want to. I'd suggest that you try Controller Setup 3 in Options. That way, you can use buttons to throw punches. You can still punch using the right stick, if you so choose.

The perks here are as varied as Ali's footwork. ESPN Classic mode lets you refight some of the best matches of all time. While the Career mode isn't stellar, it (and the whole game) sports some of the finest dialogue I've ever heard in a boxing offering. New innovations include the Stun Punch, which puts you in a scary first person perspective, and Flash KO, one dynamite punch that yields a knockout. Finally, there's a minigame which takes place at a press conference. After a few barbs are tossed, it turns into a brawl, just as some of promoter Don King's press conferences did.

I do have some beefs with FNR3. The announcers often seem to recount the pugilistic blows long after the punches are thrown. And the faces in the crowd, although nicely rendered, should be more varied. The online mode sometimes suffers from lag time, which is no good when you're boxing. Finally, I wish that the story within the game was as rich as Tosches' or Remnick's work. Then, I'd really be knocked out. Still, this game feels so real (and that goes for the Xbox, PS2 and PSP versions), you'll be gritting your teeth as you fight, ever bobbing and weaving . . . in couch potato mode, of course. 

Check out reviews of all the latest and greatest games (updated every week), along with past faves in NYC Guide.

World Soccer Winning Eleven 9 International
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami TYO

Soccer moms: hide your children. World Soccer Winning Eleven 9 International is upon us and that means no homework will ever be done again. Despite its unwieldy name, WSWE9 is the only choice for action, graphics and a true simulation of soccer. Here're just the facts, ma'am. With 136 club teams, 57 national teams, and over 4,500 players, you'll never lack for variety.  Plus, it's not simply kicking the ball down the field and into the goal. This game is hard to play, and that difficulty enhances what every sports game needs: dramatic tension, the hand-wringing, sweat-spewing, bug-eyed kind. 

What makes the game even more intense is the so-called artificial intelligence coded onto the disk. From the referee, who constantly and manically runs up and down the field handing out penalties, to the players, who have the same personality traits and physical strengths as their real-life counterparts, you will be challenged so much that the ref would yellow card you in your living room.

You'll have to practice because the moves take precision, but even the worst game player (read: me) will get the idea after about 10 exhibition games. If there's a coach in you, you'll want to play the Master League mode which lets you trade players and basically do all the tweaking you need to do to create a money-making, winning team. There are a few problems: the crowds are gone from the stadium. And the announcers should have their own artificial intelligence because the repetitive banter is annoying. These are minor brickbats, however.  

It's a few months old. But I want to tell you about NHL 2K6 now that I've played through a full season in the very difficult Hall of Fame mode on the Xbox 360.  First off, I admit I've become addicted to the game, so much so that I have to soak my right hand after playing. 

Yet there were drawbacks. The beginning animation of the crowd going into a sports facility made it look like every auditorium in the U.S. and Canada was the same with the same marble floors and same food stands. (I mean, where's the Beef On Weck in Buffalo?!?) Sometimes, the announcers spewed an incorrect fact or score. While the crowd is nicely animated, each fan looks too similar to the other. And once, my goaltender, Kevin Weekes of the New York Rangers, decided to leave the net and hang out near the boards in the middle of play. Plus, Hall of Fame mode didn't seem hard enough: I lost only four games during the whole season (Full disclosure: I admit I cheated: when I lost a game, I'd play it again until I won).

Having said that, I think NHL 2K6 is a terrific game. Each player has his own strengths and weaknesses based on real life stats. And this is a true simulation, not some arcade cartoon where there's a lot of fighting and knocking a player over the boards. You'll find that certain players will be more agile than others. Rangers Jaromir Jagr and Michael Straka, for instance, can grab a rebound off the goalie and backhand it into the net with precision. You can coach and trade players, too, if you like. (Even if you don't want to trade, you'll get messages in the game offering such swaps anyway.) You can deke other players, but if you deke too hard, you'll get a penalty (I never really figured out the soft deke that was powerful enough to knock a puck off the opponent's stick). Everything, even winning a faceoff, requires your full attention.

Ultimately, both games feel real. You truly get caught up in the action, the suspense of the game. And if you're like me, you'll happily waste 20 or more minutes a day playing a complete season. Then, you'll worry that you could have been out in the world—doing something real.

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