FaceBreaker from EA games is a return to the little seen arcade boxing genre, last witnessed in the Ready-To-Rumble series on the Dreamcast and Super Punch-Out on the SNES. This is cartoon fisticuffs, and couldn’t get anymore removed from the realism of EA’s other boxing title, Fight Night.

The game can in no way be accused of being overly complicated, there is a very simple interface presented to the player. It’s a case of picking a play mode, picking a fighter, picking an opponent, picking an arena, then mashing buttons as fast as possible until the opponent is dazed, confused and badly bruised. Fights go on for three rounds; to win an opponent must be knocked down three times. Fail to do this and the game enters sudden-death mode, where the first person to get a knockdown is victorious.

Quick Fight and “Brawl For It” are the single-player offline modes available, the latter of these being a tournament arrangement where a fighter will work his way up the ladder of bouts, with the goal of winning five different belts. The online side of things, along with the bog standard ranked and unranked matches, supports tournament leagues, where it’s possible to fight against dozens of opponents. Unfortunately there is a huge “host” advantage in the online matches, which just becomes frustrating if you’re the person on the other end of the line, especially given how fast this title plays.

The pace of the game is blisteringly fast. Fists being thrown left, right, centre and all over the place that it’s almost a blur – and there is some merit to this, if just for the adrenaline rush. The action is controlled via the four face buttons, three of which issue punches, and one that’ll attempt to throw an opponent. There’s a low punch, a high punch, and a super punch; combining the low and high punches will set up a combo, which can be finished with a super-punch to cause some bone-crunching damage.

As the fists fly, the combo-bar fills up. There are four levels to this, and the higher the bar, the more punishing the super-attack will be. There are Bonebreakers, Groundbreakers and Skybreakers. Fill it up to the top and the fighter will perform the game naming FaceBreaker move; a three pronged attack that brutally breaks an opponent’s face, and ends the match there and then. Sadly these combos are a little on the light side in terms of strategic gameplay.

Facebreaker does try to throw in some further game mechanics by allowing a fighter to dash across the ring, block punches and the parry the fists of opponents, but this often feels like it’s happening by luck, rather than by good timing. There isn’t much room for frame counting counter attacks here, rather just good old button mashing and hoping for the best.

The game isn’t without its highlights, one of these being the fighter customisation options. It’s possible, using the EyeToy camera or a picture that’s been uploaded to EA’s server, to place a face of your very own onto an in game boxer. It takes a while to render, but the results are very pleasing indeed. There are loads of different body shapes on which to stick the head, and lots of options when it comes to paraphernalia to adorn the newly formed brute. It’s also possible to share and download other people’s creations, and there are some great characters available, mostly based around the rich and famous. If you’ve ever fancied giving Gordon Brown a bloody nose, chances are he’ll be out there somewhere in the ether, in exaggerated caricature form.

The over-the-top cartoon like presentation of the game is superb. All fighters are well animated, and the way the damage done from painful pummelling is shown on the boxer’s faces is delightfully detailed. Each prize-fighter has a unique look and also a unique style and special attack, but this is where things start to fall down a bit.

The AI is cheap, and even at the lowest level the CPU is able to throw its fists so fast that the player ends up black, blue, dazed and unable to move, which simply leaves him open to even more punishment. Get pushed against the corners and it’s even worse; despite dodging, attempting to block or parrying, it feels almost impossible to stop the CPU from dominating the situation.

It is feasible to learn the techniques needed to defeat an opponent, as each has a weakness in their fighting style that can be exploited, but it does feel very trial and error in play – it’s satisfying when it happens, but this quickly returns to annoyance once a new opponent squares up. As the game warns, you will lose against the AI a lot, but in the higher-ranking championship belt bouts, this borders on the impossible.

Despite the great looks and fantastic “Create-a-fighter” ability, FaceBreaker is a pretty shallow experience that comes across as more frustrating than fun. Fine for those lacking fighter finger finesse, but for those looking for a deep, strategy filled boxing game, it won’t be found here.

Marty Greenwell

Marty has been gaming since the heady years of the ZX-81 and still owns most of the gaming systems purchased since those days, including the Atari 2600, ZX Spectrum, SNES, Jaguar, Dreamcast and GameCube. Being a collection junkie (or more accurately, hoarder), he buys more games than he can possibly play, far too many of which are still sealed in their packaging. Marty favours RPGs and Driving games when it comes to genres, and is possibly a little bit too addicted to Disgaea. When not gaming he’s out frightening OAPs on his motorcycle, clad in black leather.

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