Platform: PS3, Xbox 360 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Ever since the release of the first Knockout Kings title in 1998, EA has been the undisputed champion of realistic boxing games. Their domination of the genre only strengthened in 2004, when the Knockout Kings franchise was renamed Fight Night. The series peaked in 2006 with the release of Fight Night Round 3, a game many consider to be the best and most realistic boxing game ever produced. On the other side of the pugilistic spectrum, arcade boxing hasn’t been represented on a home console since 2000’s Ready 2 Rumble: Round 2. EA Canada changed all that with the release of Facebreaker, a cartoonish boxing game that’s admittedly inspired by the Ready 2 Rumble series. Can the game do for wacky boxing what Fight Night did for boxing sims?
Take everything you’ve ever learned about boxing, get it all in one small area, wrap it up real tight, and set it ablaze. In Facebreaker, time-tested skills like sticking and moving, using the jab to set up the hook, and covering up to conserve energy are out the window. Instead, you’ll need to rely on fast fingers, accurate timing and a bit of luck. Facebreaker is a button masher; pure and simple. The “X” and “A” buttons represent your high and low punches, and “Y” is “Breaker” attack. “Breakers” are powerful, unblockable punches that have different effects. For example, a “Groundbreaker” will slam your opponent into the mat, and a “Skybreaker” will launch him into the air. Landing a series of punches in a row will fill up your Facebreaker meter, allowing more powerful “Breakers.” Once your meter is completely filled, you’ll be able to throw a powerful uppercut that immediately finishes your opponent. The “B” button acts as a grab, which stuns your opponent for a second.
Offensively, the button configuration makes sense, as does the “rock, paper, scissors” mechanic at work in the game. Hard punches (Y) can blast right through defenses, but is susceptible to light punches. Likewise, light punches can be trumped by blocking. The problem, however, is that parrying punches is accomplished with the same button as the punch itself. For example, to counter against a high punch, you hold down the high punch button. Mapping pretty much the whole game to only two buttons makes for a button-mashing mess of a boxing match. There’s a block button, but you’ll barely use it because the game is so fast, you’ll rarely have time to do anything other than pound on A, B and Y. Of course, regardless of your strategy, the controls are always unresponsive. You’ll often find yourself being pounded on by an opponent who completely ignores any of your attempts at throwing punches or defending yourself, not because of any strategy or skill, but because the game simply ignores your commands. Controls this shallow and near-broken would feel more at home in a low quality fighting game or the fighting segment of a hockey game than in any kind of game that purports to emulate boxing.
Game modes are limited to exhibition, online vs, Couch Royale, a round-robin tournament mode, and a career mode, known as “Brawl For It All.” Your “career” consists of nothing more than a series of fights wherein you try to win five different belts. The problem here is that the computer AI is so incredibly cheap that very few gamers will actually get through the mode. Computer opponents often simply decide to win a match, then proceed to lock you in a corner and dismantle you no matter what you do. Other times, the computer will refuse to attack you, instead waiting for you to throw a punch so that he can counter it and wail on you mercilessly. The game indeed states that you will lose a lot, but losing because the game is challenging is very different from losing because your opponent decided that you weren’t allowed to win that match. Online play is plagued with technical problems. In addition to occasional lag, there seems to be a huge advantage for the host of any online match. In a game as fast-paced as Facebreaker, button timing is crucial, but for online guests, there is a noticeable delay from which the host doesn’t suffer. The only worthwhile play mode is local head to head, and even that is so shallow and monotonous, you’ll probably be done with it after a few rounds.
One of Facebreaker’s few redeeming qualities is its character creation system. Borrowing from the Tiger Woods series, Facebreaker allows you to put your face on a boxer by using either a digital camera or the Xbox Live Vision camera. The process takes about 20 minutes total, and with a good enough picture, the results are often remarkable. Though body modifications are very limited, the facial import feature allows for essentially limitless creations, which can be shared on EA’s servers and downloaded by others. It’s an excellent system, especially when you take into account the game’s impressive real-time facial deformation technology, but once your lovely character is created, you’ll probably feel compelled to play the game with them, which, as I mentioned, is just short of an unmitigated disaster.
Whether you use a custom character or not (including the ill-fitting but inexplicably included Kim Kardashian, Heide Montag and Spencer Pratt), the game always looks nice, despite its gameplay issues. Character models are cartoony and play on some very old, tired stereotypes like the big scary Russian and the Spanish ladies’ man, but always look solid in the ring. Due to the game’s speed, you’ll hardly notice the characters’ animations, but they’re all reasonably well done. The game’s audio is less impressive, with mediocre sound bites of voice acting and underwhelming sound effects.
Other than the A+ character creation and the B+ graphics, the best thing about this game is the ever-so-busty ditz of a ring girl that shows up between rounds to semi-flash what’s under her robe. The boxing action is in the neighborhood of broken and the game is less deep than a spit bucket. For anyone looking for a satisfying, fun, arcadey boxing experience, I strongly suggest you look elsewhere, because Facebreaker isn’t it.