When EA boxing title Facebreaker was first announced earlier this year, I swear for a moment I thought Nintendo had resurrected the NES classic Punch-Out! Promises of simple gameplay and a cartoony graphical style – part of EA’s “Freestyle” drive to entice casual gamers to join in – elicited a nostalgic smile, but it turns out I would have been better off digging out the NES then booting my Xbox 360 for boxing thrills.

Being an EA-developed title, you can expect the standard round of game modes; quick-play, an arcade league, a variety of Xbox Live options, a simple tournament mode and a central hub for sharing custom brawlers are all included. Bizarrely, there’s also a “Trophy room” in which profile shots of characters you’ve bested in the single-player modes are displayed, but these aren’t tied into Xbox Live achievements in any real way.

The arcade mode, “Brawl for it all”, is where you’ll spend the majority of your time, unlocking characters, stages and outfits. Working your way through a collection of intentionally over-the-top character stereotypes – each fighter has their own elemental trait or gimmick, such as utilising explosives in attacks – you’ll gather four boxing titles and aim to become a champion Facebreaker. Matches are accompanied by character dialogue-driven intros and outros, which provide an amusing distraction between bouts.

Once you enter the ring, combat is surprisingly fast and furious, if rather shallow. There are two primary buttons which double up for offence and defence: X controls high punches and dodges, and A performs low punches and dodges. Combining one of these buttons with the right trigger, you can convert a dodge into a parry, giving you a free attack, but this requires delicate timing; it’s never entirely clear when you’re supposed to use it. The B button also allows you to throw your opponent, occasionally stunning them in the process, but the attack requires such a large window of time to execute that you won’t be using it often.

Fighting becomes more interesting once you understand haymakers. Activated by using Y (usually in combination with a high or low attack), haymakers are used to pummel your opponent for extra damage through cinematic attack animations. During normal gameplay, the haymaker meter builds up as you chain high and low punches, and at full power you can unleash a Facebreaker; an instant-KO attack which ends the match with an enthralling attack sequence. Unfortunately, a single receiving blow will empty this meter, forcing you to restart. With gameplay as fast as it is, this means you rarely ever get the chance to use anything interesting.

The simple mechanics are further compounded by the most frustrating enemy AI I’ve encountered in some time. If you’re ploughing through a match and have already taken your opponent down twice without a sweat, prepare for them to transform into a ferocious psychopath of no equal. Suddenly, the CPU can read your every button press and character balancing is thrown out the window. You’ll lose, badly, and it won’t be your fault. And this is just in quick-play; Mike Tyson help you if you attempt the arcade mode, where opponents act like this all the time beyond the second belt, even on the easiest difficulty.

All of this could probably be forgiven if the multiplayer proved compelling, but there are issues here as well. Matches play smoothly both online and off – with little to no lag experienced even against opponents overseas, although be warned that you’ll require an EA account to play – but fights often devolve into mindless button-mashing sessions, even when both players do understand the dodge and parry systems. You can bring custom boxers into the fray to spice things up a little, but no matter how you taper their looks, they feel out-of-place next to what else is on offer; you have little control over how they play. You can use an Xbox-Vision camera to place yourself in the game, but the results vary greatly by user.

Presentation is a mixed-bag. On one hand, facial animations and character dialogue do a superb job of adding some personality to the game. On the other, the exaggerated character models seem inconsistent, and it never feels like anything in the game is pushing the capabilities of the Xbox 360. From an audio stand-point, the sound-effects are acceptable; each jab and blow has a reasonable level of bass to it, but it’s never over-powering. The game’s musical soundtrack consists entirely of commercial music (“EA trax”), which isn’t particularly engrossing, but that will depends on your personal taste.







Leave a Reply