Gone but not forgotten, EA Big has been replaced by EA Freestyle. At X'08 Canada EA unveiled its premier title under its new flagship to us, a quirky, little boxing game called FaceBreaker
From first glance, having a boxing game represent you as the face of a new collection of next generation titles can appear dicey, especially if you take into consideration that EA Sports already has the fantastic Fight Night series. While the long heralded fourth edition did not make an appearance at the EA booth this year, FaceBreaker will satisfy the general boxing fan and potentially draw in an entirely different crowd that may have shied away from the robust, simulation style that has become renown with the Fight Night series.
While Big provided some excellent series including the SSX and Street theme sport titles, Freestyle is about providing gamers with titles that are short on instruction, and long on action and playability. Hence it should come as little surprise that FaceBreaker is more of a throwback to classic arcade boxing titles such as Punch Out! and more recently, Ready 2 Rumble. Since then, arcade style boxing games have mostly been reserved for handheld systems. Titles such as Boxing Fever on the Game Boy Advance and Super KO Boxing available to download on most wireless phones are two that come to mind. Throw in the dreadful Black and Blue released on the last-gen systems and the door has been left wide open for a title to help bring this alternative sports-genre back up from the canvas, is FaceBreaker a contender or just another pretender?
The first thing apparent with FaceBreaker (and what can be expected by other titles by Freestyle) is the simplistic control scheme. There is no fancy analog stick movements needed to control your punches. Instead, the analog stick is used for what it was more naturally intended for; controlling your boxer. The X and A buttons are for high and low punches respectively, Y allows you to throw/push your opponent across the ring, and B will become a popular button of choice as it is used to throw haymakers (otherwise known as hay-breakers) as well as other specialty punches which become available when you fill up your facebreaker meter. The most effective way to fill up the meter is by throwing and connecting with a series of high and low punches; once your meter is filled you have the opportunity to send your opponent down hard with the aptly titled facebreaker punch or a couple other painfully effective punches such as the skybreaker (which sends your opponent airborne), the bonebreaker (which usually sounds as brutal as it looks) and the groundbreaker (which flattens your opponent). These moves are meant to decimate you or your opponent respectively. They also look incredibly cool to watch regardless of who is taking the beat down. Once you are knocked down, there is no count whatsoever, you get back up and the fight resumes. The first fighter to be felled three times over three rounds is the loser.
Going for the knockout is the name of the game in FaceBreaker, and the best way to go about doing this usually consists of mashing buttons. While the simplified control scheme makes it easy to get adjusted to punching your opponent into unconsciousness, learning defense will actually help you advance through the later bouts as the difficulty gets amped up fairly quickly. There is quite a bit of depth to defending yourself; blocking, dodging, and the most useful mechanism in parrying. You can come out fists blazing for a few fights, but as you move up the rankings, you'll come to realize that it might be a good idea to figure out how to parry because the computer becomes quite proficient at it.
The game's career mode is straightforward. You start out at the bottom and through successive fights win belts and ascend the ladder facing stiffer and more challenging competition. Those hoping for an expansive career mode ala Fight Night will not be all that impressed. There are no training sessions, no attributes to calibrate, and nothing else to really speak of outside of moving from fight to fight. It wouldn't take long for a skilled gamer to get through the career mode but with many characters to choose from, it'll keep you busy mastering each one of them.
As for the cast of pugilistic characters, they are at an eccentric albeit stereotypical bunch. From the voodoo looking tribesman aptly called Voodoo, the chiseled, cold as ice ruffian known as Ice. The Latin lover wannabe Romeo, the Chris Farley-esque homage to Beverly Hills Ninja karate expert simply known as Steve are among some of the fighters at your disposal. What's more Freestyle has also given gamers the opportunity to play as; or preferably beat the stuffing out of some C-list celebrities in the form of socialite Kim Kardashian, and that incredibly annoying couple from that incredibly annoying MTV show the Hills in Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt. If none of these characters tickle your fancy then you have the option to create your own fighter from scratch in the handy create-a-boxer mode. The characters look fantastic and along wish visual facial damage show that no one is safe from a profound beating. What's more the characters are bursting with personality and their pre and post fight promos are hilarious. The humour also carries over into the NPCs such as the bikini clad wearing round card girls whose zany antics include holding the cards upside down or just outright dropping them.
FaceBreaker is not the second coming of the Fight Night series. What you get is a boxing title that is easy to pick up and play, but much more of a challenge to master. Solid controls well animated characters and environments, and a respectable amount of multiplayer options makes FaceBreaker a worthwhile title for fighting and boxing fans alike when it ships in September.