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published Saturday, Jul 18th

Fight Night Round 4 Review

Fight Night Round 4 is the latest boxing game from EA Sports that endeavours to excite the boxing enthusiasts and those looking for a adrenaline fueled punch up. Fight Night Round 3 was an early 2006 title with memorable striking realism. Visually Round 4 does not disappoint and raises the bar once again. The animation is extremely accurate and synced perfectly with the controller creating a smooth transition between movements. Reactions to stamina loss include sweating, loss of breath and legitimate loss of strength to create a drastic authenticity. Response to damage, including bruising, bleeding and swelling, adding to the realism of the sport in the game, especially when close-up camera angles are used to full effect.

The sound from the ring is also excellent, with the crowd and commentary combine to create an fantastic arena atmosphere. The commentary is particularly effective as comments range from hints and tips for the current fight and background knowledge from the fighters.

The create-a-boxer feature includes two options to place the users head on a new character – using the Xbox live vision camera or importing a photo from the EA sports world website. The vision camera takes an image of the face and requires nodes to be placed at the key features, accompanied by a guideline model. An optional side photograph can be taken to increase detail. The outcome is a complete in-game head, even though it may lack any noticeable resemblance. Uploaded photos offer no noticeable advantage in comparison, despite the prospect of using higher resolution images. Creating a new boxer offers a plethora of options ranging from boxer introduction music to the style of mouth guard. A custom entrance theme can be assigned through ripping a CD to the hard drive and adding a music play list to a boxer on the game menu. These options allow for any combination of boxer as attributes can be applied for any style of play. The created player can also be uploaded so that others may download them. This has lead to many infamous boxers, such as Rocky, to become playable.

Legacy mode, the career mode, contains a mix of current and legendary boxers, all of which are playable, or a created boxer can be imported. The objective is to achieve the highest legacy accolade ‘Greatest Of All Time’. Fights are arranged on a custom calender, where the dates can be set, and training sessions are allocated before hand. This allows for freedom in where, when and who you fight.

The control system is unique to Round 4 and uses the right thumb stick to throw punches, the left and right sides are allocated to the respective hands. Body shots are associated with stamina, too many will make the boxer weak, and head blows result in the depletion of the health bar. Attachment of blocking movements to the right stick, with the right trigger, allows for a faster response for counter punches. Counter shots are particularly emphasized in game play with much higher damage infliction and the opportunity to set the opponent into a stun state. A counter punch can be achieved three different ways – setting up a block directly before a punch comes toward the targeted area, leaning, and weaving to dodge a shot. A small camera zoom indicates that the opposing boxer is frozen, for a split second at least, enough time to strike and cause a considerable increase in damage with normal contact. This takes away dependency and overuse of the haymaker, even though it remains in the game, and adds a easy to understand, hard to master method of ensuring the opponent hits the canvas. Draining the health bar or planting a counter will make opposing boxer liable to a knockdown. Landing as many punches as possible when the bar turns red, or through sheer luck, will send them plummeting to the ground. If a controlled boxer is in the unfortunate position of becoming knocked down a balancing act will come into force using the left stick to get upright and the right stick to stand up. This gets increasingly harder to perform as the boxer continually hits the floor.

Fights become progressively longer through Legacy Mode, and between each round is an interval for the cutmen to clean up their boxers. Performance in the ring in the previous round allocates points to spend on health, stamina and damage recovery. Get more shots on target, stun or knockdown the opponent to gain points to spend, or allow for automatic recovery, so the fight can proceed.

Online modes include a world championship mode, and the usual quick and custom matches. The world championship mode offers an online ranking for created boxers in the lightweight, middleweight and heavyweight classes. Once a boxer is inserted into the most appropriate class the stats are levelled for online play and a leader board displays the most successful players and belt holders. Only one player can hold the title belt at any time and so the aim is simple – hold and retain the belt. The offline and online career modes offer an extended game lifespan, adding more competition and maintaining interest.

There is little to fault with Fight Night Round 4, it leaves no gaps in features as each aspect is broadened with the wide use of customisable options, its controls are impressively intuative and it looks simply stunning. As a boxing game, it can’t get much better than this.


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published Friday, Dec 12th

Facebreaker K.O. Party Review

Fans of Punch Out!! and Ready 2 Rumble Boxing have been squirming with fist-happy glee sinceFacebreaker was announced in January. Distinctive characters, cartoon violence, and a worthy challenger to the Punch Out!! throne were all promised. Two of these things have been achieved. Guess which one wasn’t.

Simply put, the controls are a tragedy. If you want to see two people in snazzy clothes slap wildly at each other, you could walk to your local bar at closing time. Facebreaker K.O. Party charges £20 for it. Jab as fast as you can, a’ la Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots, to interrupt your opponent’s blows. You can dodge the hundred-hand-slap, but it requires you to yank the Wiimote towards you, and it’s so finicky and unresponsive that you end up flailing about like an idiot. It’s almost as if they ported the game right across from the Xbox and PS3 versions, where you actually have buttons to bash.

To that you might say, ‘Big deal. So there are no tactics. Plenty of games have simple controls, to attract casual gamers.’ Wrong. The computer AI is so difficult, even at the easiest setting, that playing the single player mode is akin to fighting off a wolf with a feather duster. They may as well rename the game “AAGH! LET ME DODGE!” and be done with it. And to that you might say, ‘It’s called K.O Party. It’s multiplayer. So what if the solo mode is a pain?’ Well you’d be wrong; half of the characters and most of the stages need to be unlocked, and guess how you do it? Six championship belts, each more difficult than the last, totaling 18 matches, and if you decide to switch characters mid-way you have to start all over again.

So now let’s focus on the good. There are a few attractive aspects to this game. To start, we have the stylised and original characters. Each has a personality, a distinctive look and manner, and unique stats that alter the gameplay (though this comes down to either ‘punch slow’ or ‘punch fast’). Then we have the between-round break, where the characters show off their warped, bruised faces. Finding their jaw where their ear should be is, admittedly, entertaining – if only for the satisfaction of knowing your character has suffered like you have.

The game’s main attribute is the soundtrack. 24 tracks of licensed music, including material from the likes of The Hives, Gogol Bordello, the Dropkick Murphys and The Go! Team, as well as many electro and hip-hop songs, play as menu music and character theme songs. The inclusion of such high-calibre music really makes you want to like Facebreaker K.O. Party. But if anything, it causes this awful depthless game to stand juxtaposed against the soundtrack, like an old man doing the Charleston at a rave.

So, we’re back to the criticism.

Here are some features of boxing: wearing down your opponent, provocation, stances and footwork. And here are some features of not-boxing: kicks to the balls, glowing fists and charging up your Facebreaker-bar to instantly win the match with a special move.

So, as opposed to being a boxing game, it seems Facebreaker is an impaired beat-’em-up, with two kinds of block (one of which being too finicky to be valid), punching, and damageless throws. Each character has a different move-set, plus one special move. That’s five moves. Pitiful though it may be, this is some incentive to unlock more players. The game isn’t entirely unplayable, just entirely frustrating. Occasionally you’ll win a match, but then you’ll return to the character-select screen to find some nasal American singing emo-pop and tainting the only good aspect to the game.

In conclusion, Facebreaker is superficial, weak, and an apology of a game. If EA Freestyle put half the time and money into the gameplay as they did the soundtrack, it might have worked. But yet again, the studio formerly known as EA Sports Big – the once-great brand that gave us SSX Tricky – has shamed itself with another game of the lowest calibre.


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published Monday, Sep 29th

Facebreaker Review (PS3)

Facebreaker is not the usual game you’d expect EA to release. Their back catalogue is lined with great sport simulators encompassing the sporting worlds of golf, ice hockey, American football and boxing as well as many others. Serious and realistic games designed to satisfy fans of the sports. So what does Facebreaker have to offer? Is it a step in a new direction for EA or simply filling a gap until their next proper boxing sim?


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published Monday, Sep 22nd

Facebreaker Review (Xbox 360)

EA have taken quite a bit of stick over the years for churning out endless updates of their sports titles, but despite most feeling like carbon copies there have been some series that have really shaken up the rest of the competition and introduced some neat control ideas. Tiger Woods was one of those; the analogue control gave golf games a big kick in the clubs and was a major departure from the traditional 3-click control system. Another series was Fight Night. Again EA took full advantage of analogue control, this time making each analogue stick directly control the boxer’s gloves and giving an unprecedented level of control over each punch and jab. This alongside the impressive graphics made it one of the better boxing games available.

With the series seemingly given an indefinite break, EA have brought out something a little different to fill the boxing glove shaped gap in their release schedule. And despite coming from the same team, Facebreaker couldn’t be more different.

The analogue control has been thrown out of the window in favour of a return to buttons only, meaning fights are less about finesse and more about who can hit the buttons quicker. The parry/dodge moves lend a bit of credibility to what is a weak control system but it’s just not solid enough to make enough of a difference. It’s a far-cry from the epic, crunching bouts of Fight Night. Facebreaker feels too shallow; it’s all glorified razzmatazz without the substance to back it up. Think less Nigel Benn and more Frank Bruno.

Graphically, EA Canada have gone for a style about as far removed from the realism present in Fight Night as you can get without using wizards and scaly creatures of unimaginable horror. Gone are the real life boxers, instead they are replaced by a bunch of cartoony brawlers that look like the forgotten rejects of Punch-Out or Ready 2 Rumble. Unfortunately none of Facebreaker’s cast are as memorable as King Hippo or Afto Thunder were; instead you get to choose from 12 pretty stereotypical fighters to hit the ring with. To be fair they do play quite differently, aside form the usual balancing act of strengths and weaknesses each fighter has a distinct weak spot you’ll need to exploit in order to win. Finding the Achilles heel for each opponent can be quite gratifying if you spend enough time with the game.

Unfortunately EA haven’t managed to balance this very well. Fights against AI opposition quickly become repetitive as each fighter sticks rigidly to his or her AI routine. Until you work out your opponents weakness fights can be pretty frustrating affairs; once you find it you can guarantee a win every time. It isn’t helped by the eponymous facebreaker punch – land enough combos and you can eventually unleash a devastating punch that leaves your opponent ‘s face looking a bit like Sly Stallone’s mum. The result is impressive enough (using an exaggerated version of Fight Night’s realistic damage feature) but it means fight’s can be decided more by luck rather than pure skill.

Facebreaker’s longevity is seriously hampered by a lack of options in single player; you can fight, or you can fight to win characters and arenas. But the AI battles can quickly become tiresome and the unlockables don’t feel worth unlocking. There aren’t any variations on the one-on-one fights, so no career modes or arcade-style tournament progression here. Only the create-a-boxer options give you a reason to come back after you’ve unlocked everything and these don’t feel as fleshed out as some of EA’s other titles.

In multiplayer, however, Facebreaker can actually be pretty good fun. The flipside of simplified controls and cartoony graphics means that you can have an evenly matched brawl with any of your friends and the cutscenes showing off each fighter’s mangled features are funnier (and slightly less annoying) when there’s a crowd. And fighting with your own tailor-made characters (or ‘guest star’ Peter Moore) can make these fights more interesting.

Facebreaker showed some early promise but it fails to deliver anything more than an average brawler. It might appeal to the casual crowd but there’s precious little here that will keep the hardcore interested. If Michael Bay ever decided to make a boxing game, he’d probably come up with something similar to this. But with more explosions. And Bruce Willis.