Review: Facebreaker (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Facebreaker
Genre: Boxing/Fighting
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: 09/05/08


After the exceptionally high-quality Fight Night Round 3 and its solid boxing simulation mechanics, it’s somewhat surprising to see Electronic Arts attempt a more comedy-oriented arcade boxing game, though not entirely objectionable. Comedy boxing games tend to be hit or miss affairs; games like Punch Out! are fondly remembered, but weren’t exactly huge money-makers, and while Ready 2 Rumble was reasonably well received at the time it came out, it’s not very well remembered, by and large. Still, the market is certainly open for such a game to be released, and with EA Canada set to take up the Fight Night franchise with the disbanding of EA Chicago (the developers of Fight Night Round 3), Facebreaker is certainly a good way of seeing what they have to work with.

Sadly, if Facebreaker is any indication, Fight Night Round 4 is probably doomed.

Okay, so the gist of Facebreaker is that all of the fighters enjoy punching each other in the face, no more and no less, so let’s take a look at the game modes. You’ve got Fight Mode, which is your standard Exhibition Mode. You’ve got Brawl For It All, which is more or less a Story/Tournament Mode where you choose a boxer and progress through various stages beating other contenders to unlock things. You’ve got Xbox Live play, so you can either play online or download other people’s boxers. You’ve got Couch Royale, which is basically your standard Round Robin tournament for two to six players to “collect heads”, IE trophies, to win the tournament. You also have a Boxer Factory, IE “Create a Character”, which allows you to make your own boxers or edit created boxers as needed. You can also Upload Highlights and check out your Bragging Rights from the main menu, with the former allowing you to upload particularly impressive matches for others to watch, and the latter basically amounting to achievements earned and faces broken. Xbox Live matches allow you to customize your Round Length, Rounds, Knockdowns needed, and Damage dealt, in addition to offering the standard Ranked or Unranked matches you’d expect. You can also hop into the “Extras” menu to customize some of the options, as well as view a basic explanation of how the controls work (which will also pop up at the beginning of fights until you disable it). In general, there’s enough variety to Facebreaker to keep you interested for a bit, but not enough to really keep you coming back, which isn’t a good way to start things off.

Facebreaker’s strongest point, arguably, is its visual presentation; the various character models, fighting arenas, and Facebreaker animations are generally high quality and well designed across the board. The game moves fluidly with little to no slowdown, the various supplied characters in the game have their own unique personalities that are well conveyed through their animations and attire, and the various fighting arenas are colorful and interesting in their own different ways. Characters also reflect their injuries by way of facial bruising that shows up after knockdowns, as well as more serious bruising after a Facebreaker has been landed, which is fairly interesting as well as pretty hilarious, even when you’re the one taking the shot. Aurally, the game isn’t as solid, though it’s still acceptable; there’s a small amount of voice acting in the game, which is largely acceptable across the board and often fairly amusing in both the writing and execution, and the sound effects sound as they should, being as they mostly consist of people smacking the crap out of one another. The music, however, is the standard EA Trax compliment of “two or three songs by bands you’ve heard of and a bunch of odd stuff you don’t know anything about” that seems to be the concept’s calling card these days; as such, at best it will amuse you briefly, at worst you’ll put on your own music and never want to hear it at all.

One thing Facebreaker is not is “overly complex” in the gameplay department; while it does have its own interesting control mechanics, the controls are generally simplistic across the board. Motion is controlled with the left stick, with simple direction presses moving the characters around, while quick flicks cause your characters to dash forward and backward to avoid punches or dive in for heavy strikes. All of the boxers, both defaults and custom characters, have two basic punches (one high, one low), a grab, and a Breaker button mapped to the controller face that they work with to decimate opponents. High and low punches, as expected, hit high and low, and can be chained together in rapid succession to pummel opponents as needed. Grabs are used either as a desperation escape tactic to avoid further pummeling, or to force opponents into the corner so you can pummel them to keep them from escaping. Breaker punches deal heavy damage relative to the Breaker meter at the bottom of the screen; as you pummel opponents without interruption, the meter fills, and your Breakers become more powerful and deal more damage to your opponent. If you can manage to fill the bar entirely, you can unleash your Facebreaker, which essentially ends the fight at that moment, after a lengthy animation sequence of you destroying your opponent’s mug is shown. Alternately, you can simply pummel your opponent until their life bar drops to zero, whereupon they take a knockdown and the fight continues on until one fighter or the other has hit the requisite amount of knockdowns needed to end the fight. Should the fight end due to the time limit expiring, the match then goes into Sudden Death, where the first person to be knocked down loses.

Now, as you might expect, the game isn’t ALL offensive action; the right trigger acts as a block button to stop weaker attacks, and you can attempt to either parry or dodge incoming strikes to counter your opponent. Dodges ask that you hold down the identical button to the opponent’s incoming strike (high to high, low to low) to dodge the strike, then counter it with a punch of your own, while Parries ask you to hold block and press the corresponding attack button to deflect the opposing strike and, again, counter it. Dodges are significantly more likely to happen, and are therefore safer, while Parries deal more damage and are generally more likely to hit with the following counter attack. Every character can also stun, IE dizzy, opponents in different ways, IE Ice can stun foes with a Low Bonebreaker, Kiriko can stun with a Counter-dodge, Sparrow can stun with a High Dash Attack, and so on. Stuns make your opponent dizzy, and allow you to beat on them heavily for a bit as they attempt to shake off the stun by spamming buttons rapidly. Generally speaking, the combat system is fast-paced and frantic across the board, but the mechanics are designed in a sort of rock-paper scissors format, where Breaker attacks beat defensive actions, defensive actions beat regular punches, and regular punches beat Breakers, which seems to more or less be accurate.

As noted, you can go into battle with any of the pre-created fighters in the game, or you can make your own fighters (or download someone else’s fighters, if you’d rather) by way of the Boxer Factory. Making your own boxer is a snap; you can either modify one of the presently existing fighters (including EA head Peter Moore, Kim Kardashian, and some people from The Hills) or drop in your own head, either with an Xbox Vision Cam or by uploading a picture to EA Sports World. Making yourself into a boxer is simple enough; upon dropping in a picture, the game asks you to pinpoint eye, cheek, nose, lip and chin positions, then converts the face into the face of your boxer (which takes some time; the process informs you that “It takes a while because we’re smart”, when one would believe the opposite would be true). The process generally works okay, though one needs to be in optimal lighting for an ideal head shot, lest one end up with blotches on their face. This process also works surprisingly well with, say, publicity photos, so you’ll be seeing plenty of celebrities to download if you look around online (Borat seems to be one of the more popular ones). After getting a head onto your boxer, you choose a fighting style from one of the default boxers, then customize your boxer’s hair (head, facial, and eyebrow), eye color, ring attire, muscles, and name, and take them out into the world to box. Generally, creating a boxer is incredibly simple and anyone should be able to do so with little to no effort.

Once you’ve chosen a boxer to play around with, you have a few options to choose from to play with, as noted above. Brawl For It All is the mode where you will spend most of your time, for a while anyway, as this is where you can unlock everything in the game, from hidden characters to alternate costumes for your default fighters to arenas and beyond. BFIA mode essentially puts you up against various fighters, each of whom has some sort of weakness you must discover while fighting them in order to put them to the canvas, which will certainly take some time, as even on the easiest setting, the boxers are a bit rough. Fight mode, aside from allowing you the option to play simple exhibition matches that are adjusted to your personal tastes, either against local players or a CPU opponent of variable difficulty, also acts as a practice mode that allows you to fiddle around with the game mechanics, as well as practice against a dummy that can defend all attacks, attack relentlessly, or actually spar with you as a normal CPU opponent would, without the depleting lifebars. Couch Royale, as noted, is basically a tournament mode for two to six players where everyone fights everyone else, with the goal being to collect heads from opponents until someone meets the required number of heads. The online functionality of Facebreaker is also pretty solid; aside from being able to upload and download videos and custom boxers, you can also jump into online fights with other players that can also be customized to your liking, and by and large the online functionality is solid, though as with most fighting games, whoever has the better connection has the advantage.

Yes, that’s right, “fighting game”. Facebreaker is not a boxing game in anything other than concept; the mechanics and designs of the product have more in common with Dead or Alive than they do with Fight Night, between the fast pace and the more limited, less involved control mechanics, and that would be fine, for the most part, except for one, significant, glaring flaw in the whole experience: it’s not particularly solid. Okay, let’s compare: a product like Fight Night or Victorious Boxers presents its combat as a sort of physical chess match, in that the player is expected to dodge, counterpunch, hit appropriate openings, and so on in an intelligent way; wildly swinging at opponents is counter-productive, as it only tires out your boxer and makes further fighting problematic, but fighting smart means you can take down more powerful opponents with little problem. Fighting games like, say, Tekken, Dead or Alive or Street Fighter feature combination attacks, special moves, grapples and so on that can be used together to build a fighting style, and can be exploited by skilled players to defeat opponents in any one of a number of ways. Facebreaker does not do either of these things; instead, all of your fighters more or less play identically with a few minor changes here and there (IE characters have special play mechanics that can make them marginally different from one another) that would probably be neat if the game didn’t really come down to two people pummeling the same three buttons ad infinitum. The POSSIBILITY of depth exists, thanks to characters having different special capabilities and stun techniques, but thanks to the frantic pace of the game and the limited combat options, most players will never see them. Granted, playing against other players CAN be fun, if limited, but playing against the CPU is borderline absurd; the CPU characters play harshly even on the easiest difficulty setting, and plowing through them will take considerable effort (or cheesy play) in order to unlock everything in the game. This is partially because the game basically expects you to be far more skilled than you will be, even in the earlier fights, and partially because if you lose against an opponent in a particular section, and you run out of rematches, you will be bumped down to the prior fight, making the experience far more tedious than it really needs to be. The game hints that the opponents have weaknesses that can be exploited, which is certainly true to a point, but frankly, only the most patient of players will even be bothered trying to figure these out; for everyone else, the game is a very obvious example of Fake Difficulty (specifically, MK Walking, where you’re constantly countered and decimated and have to tap your way through things).

Further, Facebreaker is exceptionally shallow across the board. We’ve already discussed the fact that the gameplay is generally limited and shallow, but with enough gameplay options, this can be forgiven. Facebreaker does not have this, as there are, literally, four play modes: the Brawl For It All single player tournament mode, the Couch Royale multiplayer tournament, the Fight exhibition matches, and online play. That’s it. Fighting games can get away with this, in most respects, because they feature fairly large character rosters with varied offensive capabilities, but Facebreaker only has a dozen or so boxers, all of whom largely play similarly enough as to be virtually indistinguishable from one another. The Boxer Factory doesn’t help matters any; you can stick your own head onto your boxers, certainly, but customization options are limited otherwise. You can choose a fighting style, but there’s no customization to that, so you can’t box like one fighter, have the stun capabilities of another, and have the Breakers of a third, which basically means your boxer will still box like whoever they’re modeled after. Worse, fighting style dictates gender, meaning if you want to make, say, yourself, and your favorite boxer is of the opposite gender, well, it ain’t happening. There’s no real way to customize your boxing gear, either; all of the characters have clothing indicative of their sense of style, but your boxer will have the basic boxing trunks in whatever color and pattern you pick, no exceptions.

Basically, it comes down to this: Facebreaker is a game that is trying so hard to appeal to everyone that it doesn’t quite appeal to anyone. It’s pretty, has lots of personality, is simple to learn and play, and functions generally well all in all. There are multiplayer modes for people who like online play as well as multiplayer modes for people who have local friends, creating your own boxer offers the option of sticking your own head onto them, and in general, it’s a cute product in small doses. But boxing fans won’t like the game because it’s overly simplistic and bare-bones, fighting game fans won’t like it because of the dearth of options and lack of variety in the roster, and casual gamers won’t like it because of the limited character creator and oppressive difficulty of even the easiest fights. In the end, if you’re a very patient or dedicated person, or the sort of person who misses comedy boxing games, you might get some decent mileage out of Facebreaker, but everyone else will find it to be a small, oppressive product that offers little to do and much frustration trying to do it.

The Scores:
Game Modes: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: CLASSIC
Sound: ABOVE AVERAGE
Control/Gameplay: ABOVE AVERAGE
Replayability: BAD
Balance: BAD
Originality: BAD
Addictiveness: DREADFUL
Appeal: BAD
Miscellaneous: DREADFUL

Final Score: POOR.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Facebreaker is truly a jack of all trades that masters absolutely nothing it sets out to accomplish. It’s pretty, well animated, full of personality and looks impressive enough that one might be willing to give it a shot, and if you do, you might well find that the experience is for you if you’re dedicated enough to really get everything from it. The game offers some mild diversity in the roster, enough modes to be entertaining alone or with friends, and a solid online community to play against and acquire content from, and for those reasons alone, it might be for you. That said, the game is far too mechanically shallow and one-dimensional to be worth the interest of boxing fans, the character roster and gameplay are too basic to be any interest to fighting game fans, and the experience lacks significant long-term depth and features abusive CPU difficulty that will put off casual fans. If you’re patient and dedicated you might be able to get your money’s worth out of Facebreaker, but for most players the game is, at best, a rental, and at worst, not worth the time invested in even that.

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