Electronic Arts’ inaugural title in the publisher’s Freestyle brand name is none other than FaceBreaker. Developed by the team that brought you Backyard Boxing, FaceBreaker’s crowning highlight is an innovative technology called "real-time facial deformation," allowing gamers to deform their opponent’s faces as the match progresses. The question remains, however, does FaceBreaker punch above its weight, or is it ultimately a knock out from start to finish?
FaceBreaker is compiled of several game modes that allow you to test your boxing skills either against your friends, online opponents or the difficult AI. The most common game mode is entitled Fight! This is your standard exhibition mode where two fighters square off to see who is king of the virtual ring. When you first start the game out, you’ll have several boxers available to choose from; however, a selection of the game’s boss characters will remain inaccessible for the time being. As such, in order to unlock the entire cast of ridiculous characters, you’re going to have to box your way through a Brawl for All.
Brawl for All is basically FaceBreaker’s career mode. You’re given the option to choose a boxer and battle your way through a multitude of the game’s combatants, culminating in a boss battle once you reach the end of each belt stage. There are four belts in total, my personal favourite being that of the Arcade Belt. This particular item enables you to unlock Steve, who in my opinion, reminds me of Chris Farley from Beverly Hills Ninja. Steve is equipped with the abilities of a ninja, thus he can drop smoke bombs, which enable him to appear directly in front of you or even behind you.
FaceBreaker excels throughout its multiplayer component, and EA has delivered an excellent mode of play for this aspect entitled Couch Royale. This mode works like King of the Hill, where you and up to five of your friends square off in matches to determine who is king of the couch. In order to become the champion of your buddies, you’re going to have to beat each and every one of them at least once. This will allow you to capture their character’s heads as trophies. If your friends happened to have to created their own boxers, however, you’re going to be able to capture their heads instead.
The create-a-boxer feature in the game is extremely well executed, and players will have a multitude of options when creating the fighter of their choice. You can even utilize the PlayStation Eye accessory in order to put your own face in the game. While this sounds like a fantastic idea, the end result of putting yourself in the title is only mildly successful. After 2-3 attempts, I had the boxer looking around 75% like me. Some may find this percentage adequate and I can’t really disagree; however, I would prefer it to be a tad more accurate. Outside of the eye, you’re given around 20 different sliders to utilize in order to shape your character’s face. Overall the creator tool is very handy which definitely helps improve the game’s replay value.
As for the gameplay itself, it’s simplistic enough for the pick up and play crowd, whilst still being strategically sound for those hardcore gamers that are looking for a challenge. Those of you who perceived that FaceBreaker would amount to nothing more than a ripoff Ready 2 Rumble button masher couldn’t be more mistaken. Though you will find gamers mashing away at their controllers, those who have mastered the strategic values of the title will be victorious nine out of ten times. Each style of attack has its own strengths and weaknesses that go as follows: Strong Attacks > Defense > Light Attacks > Strong Attacks.
When it comes to winning though, the strategic values rapidly become less apparant. String together an 8 punch combo and you can end the fight quickly with a FaceBreaker. While this manoeuvre works as an automatic knockout, you’re also able to utilize three other breakers. The three breakers vary in strengths and range from the Groundbreaker to the Skybreaker. Each one is achieved by building up a combo meter at the bottom left (right available in multiplayer). The fourth level, which is the highest, results in your character being able to perform his/her hilarious FaceBreaker. The other way to pick up the W is by scoring three knockouts. If a boxer doesn’t reach either goal, the fight will enter into a sudden death mode where the first knockdown wins.
The only true downfall to the gameplay is the difficulty level. While PixelJunk Monsters made difficult gaming fun and addictive, FaceBreaker will push gamers away with that same problem. Even on the easiest setting, the title is sometimes too challenging even for the most hardcore of players. EA definitely needs to update this portion of the game in order to make it a more accessible title for the casual gamer.
Visually, the game maintains a decidedly ‘cartoony’ feel to it, though the graphics nonetheless boost a high level of detail and make for some pleasurable viewing. Many of the boxers themselves are downright entertaining to watch, and equally as intimidating. The atmosphere and surrounding presentation outside of the ring is also particularly impressive. Not only will you see other boxers doing ridiculous things outside the ring, but also each ringside brings a unique comedic element to the table, which only works to elongate the game’s entertainment value considerably.
Online play, meanwhile, is largely similar to that of EA’s Fight Night Round 3. For those unfamiliar with the aforementioned brawler, suffice to say you can expect some discernable slow down at various points throughout a match, though due to it being that way on both sides of the screen, it doesn’t detract from the overall experience. I definitely see myself enjoying toe-to-toe battles online.
Ultimately, while FaceBreaker admittedly isn’t for everyone, the gameplay mechanics are on the whole highly inviting, affording gamers a true pick up and play experience. Having said that, the game’s difficulty even on the easiest setting is likely to deter casual audiences, and may cause some frustrations for even the most seasoned players. As a multiplayer experience both online or off, however, you’d be hard pressed to find something better.