With EA Sports upping the ante on boxing titles with their brilliant Fight Night series, other contenders have found that stepping into the ring as the newcomer to the genre can be quite a daunting task. Rather than taking another authentic simulation approach to the genre as they did with Fight Night, EA Canada has returned to the genre with a new approach - aimed squarely at the jaw of the casual gamer. With FaceBreaker, the EA camp has shifted towards delivering an over-the-top arcade-styled brawler. But sadly, this is one title that is down for the count.
Before we get to the bad, we must give EA kudos for the things that they did do right with FaceBreaker. Namely, the impressive boxer creation options which is, hands down, the best feature of the game. Using either your PlayStation Eye, Xbox Vision camera or downloading a picture that you have uploaded to to the dedicated website, FaceBreaker will render your face for input into the game - a process which takes roughly ten minutes - allowing for a wealth of custom made boxers for players to share. Although female creations don't tend to match up to their male counterparts, a player with a lot of free time and patience can create some wicked pugilists. While browsing the custom boxer catalogue, you'll have a chuckle at some of the celebrities that have made the cut: Borat, Rocky Balboa and the Joker are just some of the excellent examples on display and are definitely the pick of the bunch.
Another plus that FaceBreaker has going for it is its stylised cartoon style. Taking a leaf out of Valve's book, the game has a certain Team Fortress 2-like charm to it with its roster of stereotypical caricatures from the ninja loving nerd to the big, dumb Russian. While these brawlers lack much in the brains department, they make up for it with crisp textures and fluid animations. The one detracter from the presentation is the game's audio track which mainly consists of badly voiced one-liners and a repetitive soundtrack of punches.
Aside from the presentation and the boxer creation modes, you'll find that there isn't much on offer in the shallow experience that is FaceBreaker. The first thing that you'll notice about the game is that it is dreadfully light on gameplay options. The offline single-player aspect of the title merely consists of Quick Fight, Couch Royale (a round robin style tournament where the objective is to collect your opponents head as a trophy) and the Brawl for It All mode, which is the game's Career mode. The objective here is to work your way from zero to boxing hero to collect all five championship belts. Sadly, this is the shallowest mode of them all as players are not given the opportunity to train or customise their boxer in any way as they progress through each championship, but you will find yourself playing it for a frustratingly long amount of time due to the cheap tactics of the AI. FaceBreaker also comes complete with online features such as the obligatory Quick Fight as well as the option to set up an online league. You'd be hard pressed though to find a game going thanks to the uber advantage given to the person with the best internet connection. Though the lack of game modes is quite disturbing, the reality of the matter is that you'd most likely find yourself so annoyed with the game that you won't even finish Brawl for It All, let alone contemplate the lack of other modes in the game.
After sitting down with FaceBreaker for an hour or so you'll stop thinking of it as a boxing title and more as a frenetic, button-mashing fighting game, like the ones that you used to play down at the arcade after school. The objective of each fight is to knock out your opponent three times during the bout in order to win. If you can't make your opponent kiss the canvas three times, the fight turns to a sudden death mode where the first player to knock out their opponent is deemed the winner. Sudden death is the quickest way to end a bout, but more often than not you'll find yourself on the losing end of the fight - and completely frustrated at the fact that you pummeled your opponent into oblivion but couldn't deliver the killer blow when it mattered.
The game's control system is simplistic, not to mention dreadfully unresponsive. The face buttons on your controllers will let you unleash a flurry or high and low punches, a throw and a devastating haymaker that gets blocked by the AI more often than not. Defensively, you can duck and weave away from your opponents fists or block their killer blows, which ultimately proves to be a clumsy button-bashing experience. This control system does the game a great disservice as it essentially negates the unique fighting style of each boxer to the point that it is irrelevant, with each bout determined not by player's skill but by who can mash their buttons the fastest.
If you find that FaceBreaker's shoddy controls don'tt completely irk you, you're almost sure to find your daily dose of irritation at the hands of the game's infuriating AI. Exactly how infuriating is it? Think back to the days of the PlayStation, when even non-gamers wanted to know about the biggest modern craze to hit the living room. Think about those days when you'd challenge a non-gamer buddy to a friendly match of Tekken 3 only to have him/her choose Eddy Gordo and cheaply kill you with combos of random button mashing... you see what we are getting at? Most of the frustration comes from the fact that you'll be pummeling your opponent into the corner for the first two rounds of the game, then instantly the tide turns and you find yourself trying to fend off the brutal punches of your opponent in the last round and eventually you watch as your character is knocked out cold... leaving you staring in awe at the screen and wondering exactly how you ended up in that predicament. At its core, FaceBreaker is a maddeningly difficult game - that is, until you find a cheap tactic of your own to use against the CPU.
While there are fleeting moments of fun to be had with FaceBreaker, its sloppy gameplay mechanics, frustrating AI and lack of game modes ensure that this game won't be battling other titles for your hard earned gaming dollar.