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?
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.