Facebreaker on Xbox 360 is a great example of EA’s new Freestyle message (aimed at a broader range of gamers) and delivers some impressive visuals and gameplay. However, its ‘one size fits all’ attempt to expand casual appeal while retaining the hardcore is in danger of falling between two stools.
Wii-Sports Boxing unavoidably comes to mind when you think of revolutionary boxing games, that and the recent Fight Night games. Whilst Wii-Sports introduced novel controls, EA’s Fight Night focused on graphical fidelity and boxing realism.
Facebreaker is EA’s attempt to create a casual boxing game without losing some of the finer graphical features of its hardcore boxing simulation. As part of its new Freestyle range, EA is pinning much of its casual gaming hopes on titles such as this. Although only a subtitle this time around, you can expect a fully-fledged Freestyle badged range of games hitting stores before too long. This approach mirrors the All Play series on the Wii, which also looks set to become a sub-brand in its own right.
But enough of the branding, what about the boxing? The game certainly delivers a control scheme that, while not as ambitious as Wii-Sports, is simple enough for most family members to pick up and play. Two buttons are used for punching (high and low) and can be held down to power-up the blow. When on the defence these same buttons double as dodging. Finally, combining them with the right-trigger provides a high or low block. Add to this the grab and smash buttons and you have the full set of controls.
While remaining simple enough for newcomers, more experienced players can take advantage of combination moves and super hits. It only takes a few rounds to realise that attention needs to be paid to your opponent’s movement animations. With a bit of practice you can start to pull out some perfectly timed blocks and dodges. These are essential if you are to avoid being hit and thereby charge up your Facebreaker meter, which enables you to deliver the eponymous killer move.
Visually, Facebreaker follows the ‘Team Fortress 2’ model. Much like Valve’s multiplayer game, Facebreaker favours movement and characterisation over polygon count. Accordingly, the characters are impressively rendered and convincingly animated. Testament to this is the fact that it is hard not to flinch when one of them delivers a final face-breaking blow.
Casual gamers may take more convincing and find the combination of cartoony graphics with such violence seems a little mismatched. However, provided they view the game’s violence as intentionally overblown (in a ‘Tom and Jerry’ sort of way) they can theoretically revel in its sheer bone-crunching nature.
While Facebreaker delivers in terms of its Freestyle moniker, it is less convincing as a full-on boxing simulator. The simplicity demanded by EA’s marketing means the game has considerably less nuance and depth than Fight Night. This is a real shame as there is gap in the market for a simplified boxing game that retains both depth and openness.
The game certainly achieves what you may imagine was the aim of the EA execs who commissioned the project. And as such it is likely to sell reasonably well – it is a marketing achievement. But as a game, it would have been much more interesting to see EA play directly to the casual market. An ‘All Play’ Wii boxing game with its intuitive controls in a full game environment is still a mouth watering idea.
As it stands, the Freestyle badged Facebreaker is wonderfully equipped to deliver between two markets. Casual gamers may find it a little too violent whilst the hardcore are more likely to wait for Fight Night 09 – the next proper Boxing game from EA.