STAFF REVIEW of FaceBreaker (Xbox 360)

Saturday, September 27, 2008.
by Stacy Code

FaceBreaker Box art Facebreaker, for all of its supposedly good intentions, reminds me of my solemn duty as a game reviewer on this site ? I play games like Facebreaker so hopefully fine folks like yourselves won?t ever have to. It?s always a sad surprise to me when a studio with a lot of money and talent such as EA Vancouver turns out a game that is so sadly unplayable, and after digging around in it for several days looking for the fun, I have to report with honesty that there is very little fun in there to be had, regardless of what the player came looking for in the game.

In all outward appearances a fun, cartoonish boxing game, Facebreaker pits a variety of very ludicrous, bizarre fighters against each other in three round boxing matches ? the cast of fighters features a lot of the expected cliché?s in a fighter-brawler game. You have the enormous, steroid-pumped silverback-gorilla ape, the cute Japanese pixie-girl, the mysterious, leather-clad anime-style fighter, the ex-surfer turned kickboxer, the Spanish-womanizer etc. etc. ad infinitum. Unfortunately, their fighting characteristics do not vary greatly, and there is no backstory to any of these characters at the beginning of each ?career?. You fight to attain a number of belts, in different arenas, to achieve mastery of Facebreaker.

Gameplay-wise, the game is anything but a boxer. Playing more like a frenetic Killer Instinct style fighter, the game plays with simple rules and simple controls (and simple should be easy, or at least fun, right?), where you have a low strike, a high strike, a heavy strike, and a block. Strikes are dodged by charging the same attack on your own side (a high strike is dodged by holding down and charging your high strike, giving you a free hit or two) and can also be parried, a more difficult variation where you hold block and hit the same strike that?s incoming. All of this is academic, however, since you?re just going to get the living crap beaten out of you anyway.

Matches go for three rounds plus a sudden death round, or whenever an opponent is knocked out three consecutive times or had their face broken in. Where the game logic starts to get a little fuzzy is that you can be building some headway on an opponent ? say, knocked them out two times with a clean record on your own side, and you?ll be working on that third knockout ? and the timer will go to Sudden Death. This means that whichever fighter gets the first knockout wins. So your AI opponent will suddenly blast out of the corner of the ring with a second win of energy, knock you flat, and you will suddenly find yourself the very frustrated loser. There is little to no strategy in the game; it comes down to an exercise in trying to time and counter your opponents? hits with appropriate counters, and with the speed and the (dare I say?) unbalanced cheapness of the AI opponent fighters, it rarely ends with a satisfying win. After four consecutive nights of playing the game, I had yet to win even a single belt in the game, and began to despair that the single player game was, well, unplayable. Thinking that perhaps the game would shine and show its virtues in multiplayer, I went on Live several times looking for matches, to no avail. It seems as though there aren?t a lot of people online playing this game. There are a few tutorials available in the menu on user-made fighter creation and mapping your photo onto an in-game character (using the same software from Tiger Woods, in which you can use your Live Vision Camera to map your own mug onto a rough-and-ready in-game fighter), but a complete absence of a 'practice mode' or any kind of tutorial on actually playing the game, which is fairly inexcusable given the difficulty level of the game.

One of the touted features of the game is realistic facial deformation of the game (that?s where the title comes from) wherein when you whale on the face of an opponent you break bones, impose cuts and bruises, and generally ?break the face? of the character you?re beating on. While this is mildly entertaining with the AI characters which are super-deformed and exaggerated to begin with, on user-made fighters it takes on a truly disturbing edge, where the characters after a subsequent pummelling will look like before-and-after photographs of advanced facial reconstruction surgery or repair of facial gunshot wounds. It stops being fun and is just, well, creepy. Maybe with a few quips and taunts to elevate the comedy this feature could be a little more fun, but as it stands it?s a headliner that rings like a joke that leaves the room quiet. All in all, it?s not a very fun game to play.

Graphically the game has some style ? the fighter characters are exaggerated in style and stature, and playing as the cartoons they are it takes some of the edge off of the bad joke of both the play mechanics and the facial deformation feature. Unfortunately, there isn?t anything really going on here that couldn?t have been pulled off on a last-gen console ? the game looks like the sort of fare that one might expect on our old trusty Xbox or even PS2 ? there aren?t any visual effects or levels of detail that would demand the horsepower of the platforms we?re currently playing on. The fact that the game is rendered in a simplified, cartoon style doesn?t excuse the lack of any kind of ?pow? in the visuals department ? even the menu screens are bland and there aren?t even any cutscenes or cinematics to speak of.

The game features the typical stable of current top-20 rock-and-pop hits for an EA Sports game, so the soundtrack is very listenable ? one thing EA can be counted on for is that you won?t have to reach for the iPod to plug in your own soundtrack to the game. Actual game audio is nothing notworthy ? typical ?punch?, ?pow? for the actual game audio and nothing much else to note. Some of the voice acting for the fighter characters is mildly funny but with characters generally only speaking at the intro to a fight, there just isn?t enough to go on here.

Overall, the game is a brilliant idea that was executed terribly. A boxing game with a loose set of rules and a large cast of ridiculous cartoon fighters, and the ability to actually smash an opponents? face in? I?m confident it looked great on paper when it was approved, but what we got is an exercise in frustration where you will lose almost every match, you won?t be able to find anyone else to play with, and you?ll rapidly forget why you ever showed up in the first place. I?m sure Tyler Durdon would find some sort of vindication in playing a game where getting your face smashed in repeatedly is some sort of exercise in satisfaction, but for the average gamer, take a pass on this one.

Overall: 5.0 / 10
Gameplay: 3.5 / 10
Visuals: 6.5 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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