It's been an extremely long time since we've had an arcade boxing title. Why, the last memorable one was Ready 2 Rumble: Round 2. before that it was Super Punch-Out, and before that it was Punch-Out. As you can see, the time gaps between one great arcade boxer and the next are more than just canyon-esque, but rather planet-sized. Here to fill a void that we've been aching over is FaceBreaker, a game that marks the debut of EA's all new "Freestyle" brand, an evolution of the "BIG" brand we had previously. So how does the first game to wear the all new brand size up? Not so bad.
Off the bat, if you're expecting an epic and deep boxer with a detailed move-list, immense presentation, and a never-ending career mode, this is not the game for you. But if you're looking for a genuinely fun game where you can pummel your opponent senseless, shoot them in the air, and deform their face, FaceBreaker is what you want. It's a game that's even more outrageous than the title it pays an homage to - Ready 2 Rumble.
Second off, this game is blistering fast. The action is lightning quick, and the combat can be exhilarating. You have four face buttons, three of which are punches, and one that's a throw. You have a low punch, a high punch, and a super punch. The low and high punches are what you'll use to begin a combo, and the super punch is what you'll use to end a combo.
There is a combo bar with four levels to fill-up; the longer the combo, the more you fill up of the bar. Now, depending on how much of the combo-bar you've filled up, the super punch will launch your opponent in the air, which gives you the opportunity to juggle him/her in mid-air with one last powerful attack. If your combo bar is full, you'll be able to trigger a FaceBreaker; a three hit finishing move, which ends the match instantly.
The combo strings come off naturally, but there is depth behind the pick-up-and-play mechanics. You can block and parry combos, by either hitting the block button, or canceling the opponent's hit by dodging and countering it by holding down the button he's attacking you with. For example, if your opponent is assaulting you with low hits, hold down the low punch button to parry his hits - the same applies for the high hits. By parrying hits, you'll be able to create the opportunity for a counter attack, ending the opponent's combo immediately.
You can perform forward and backward dashes, which, if you're not familiar with the newer Street Fighter games, means you can take large steps simply by double tapping a direction. With a controller in the hands of two players, FaceBreaker is an even better experience, as opposed to the single player game. FaceBreaker definitely makes a better multiplayer title, as opposed to a single player, thanks to a few annoying issues. For starters, the A.I. can be a little bit frustrating, as they somehow manage to trap you in repeat combos over and over again, ultimately knocking you down, or FaceBreaking you. Even parrying their combo does little to stop their barrage, as they'll just start a new one before you can even counter. This is an issue no matter what difficulty setting you choose, and it can be rather annoying and feel cheap. Furthermore, the A.I. has some sort of amazing ability to parry a combo of yours no more than three or four hits in, and counter with blows that often leave you stunned.
If you can practice enough to throw some variety into your combos, by switching between low and high punches often, then you may succeed more. But if you just stick to the same few combos, you'll likely get nowhere. I should also mention that perhaps some may find FaceBreaker repetitive, which is a valid complaint. Because there isn't a massive movelist for you to access, and because the action is rather simplified, those with a short attention span may get bored quick. That said, there's still a decent amount of fun to be had.
There is a quirky cast of characters, all of which feature their own respective FaceBreaker move - the game's version of a finisher. As you would expect, each boxer has his/her own personality and stage to match that personality. When you're in the mood for something else, FaceBreaker boasts a custom character creator that allows you to paste a face, anybody's face, on to a character template, by using either the PS3 Eye, or cropping images on your own.
Out of the box, FaceBreaker features Peter Moore's face for you to apply onto any character you wish. Best of all, EA took the liberty of creating other custom fighters such as Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt of, The Hills fame; the two people we all want to furiously bash to a pulp. You can take the fighters through the game's tournament mode called Brawl For It All, this is the core mode of the game, and what you'll want to stick to in order to unlock the rest of the stages, fighters, win belts, and trophy heads. The Tournament Mode, while not terribly long, will still last you plenty of time, considering how often you'll find yourself restarting matches.
What I quite like about FaceBreaker is its visuals. Sure, it may not be the most gorgeous game in town, but it does run at a full 60 frames per second, with 2x Anti-Aliasing, all at a native 1080p. That's right, as far as image quality goes, FaceBreaker is one of the cleanest looking games of the year, and while playing in 1080p, there are no visual compromises such as a framerate that takes hits. The fighters are huge and detailed with cartoonish proportions, colors, and style. The stages are all complete with unique backdrops, complete with all sorts of objects, lighting touches, and other background activity. Animation is also very well done, as there are no jerky transitions from one animation to the next.
The audio is rather conventional. Sound effects of punches, slams, heavy punches, falls, and so forth make up the collection of sounds you'll hear during a match. In the background is a soundtrack, with each track made to fit the location you're fighting in. Voice-acting is present in the form of boxer intros and outros, where you'll hear boxers talk some smack to your character and then whine about it when you've beaten them senseless. The voice acting isn't anything particularly good, though.
Overall, I found myself liking FaceBreaker more than disliking it. But it does have a lot of things wrong with it, specifically the horribly cheap and cheesy A.I., which is God-like no matter which difficulty setting you pick. Playing through the game on the easiest difficulty is challenging enough, and just tolerable; the harder settings will leave you completely aggravated. FaceBreaker does, also, make for a good multiplayer game, as the cheesy A.I. is no longer there to frustrate. Before I go, I should also mention that perhaps FaceBreaker would've been better off as a downloadable game for the PlayStation 3 - it's not exactly chock-full of depth and features. And on that note, it's also a bit hard to recommend the game for its $50 price-tag, while it does have a lot of redeeming qualities, such as its visuals, custom fighter creation, two-player fun, and a nice combat system, it does have all of the nagging issues I mentioned. Buy it if you find it cheap, but rent it first, otherwise.
9/20/2008 Arnold Katayev