E3 Hands-On: Facebreaker

I don’t know why, but deep down in my heart I hold a special affinity for boxing games. I first got hooked with Mike Tyson’s Punch Out! on the NES, and I’ve continued dabbling in the genre all the way through Fight Night: Round 3. There’s just something about the sweet science that makes it so much fun to play; perhaps it’s the idea of stripping away all the pretension and laying humanity’s most base instincts bare. The will to survive, and to throttle those who threaten your existence, if even in a controlled manner, is one of our most innate and primal urges. Now, EA is taking that inherent craving for violence and cranking it up to eleven with Facebreaker, a true homage to arcade boxing games of years past.

When you try and remember arcade-style boxers your mind likely flows to either the Punch Out! or Ready 2 Rumble series. These two franchises have been about the only ones to make pugilism both fun and thrilling, and the eventual demise of both stands as one of gaming’s great travesties. Facebreaker attempts to raise the banner once again by offering a easy-to-learn experience, coupled with a deep rock-paper-scissors strategic sensibility that means this game will be about more than just button mashing.

Upon picking up the controller you’ll likely be refreshed by the simplicity of the action. You have a button for high and low attacks, as well as one for throws and another for “Breakers.” The triggers control blocking and dodging, and the left stick handles movement. Those playing on the Wii will get a motion-sensitive experience, with the Nunchuck and Wiimote handling full duties regarding all aspects of the fight. Regardless of platform, the control scheme is brilliantly uncomplicated, a welcome relief to those who found the analog punching controls of Fight Night to simply be too complex to be enjoyable.

The most unique of the punches are the “Breakers,” which can be triggered at any time and vary in intensity based on your combo meter. You see, for every successive punch, dodge, or counter you land, a meter on the right side of the screen fills up. As the meter rises, you can unleash larger and larger Breakers, which will dole out bigger heaps of punishment. This carnage goes all the way up to the “Facebreakers” the game is named after, blows so powerful that they completely wipe out your opponent.

Of course, such attacks could easily ruin the balance of the game and lead to controller-hurling rage, but thankfully, achieving a Facebreaker is appropriately difficult. If at any time while building the meter your opponent successfully attacks or dodges the energy built up will completely drain, meaning that you can’t rely on a flurry of punches and then a Facebreaker to end a match in mere seconds. Rather, these superpower moves are reserved for those who take a very tactical approach to fighting and learn how to effectively attack and counter using the punches, dodges and parries all vital to success. Just like a real boxing match, if you go in swinging blindly, it won’t be long before you’re put down by a technician who knows how to easily exploit your uncontrolled flailings.

The characters that make up the roster of Facebreaker are overly-caricatured pugilists who each have their own distinct flair and style. From girthy ninjas to crazy witch doctors, each fighter is appropriately cartoonish and over-the-top. It ultimately works though, as each battler’s personality directly feeds into his or her fighting style, meaning combat feels like a natural extension of the character. For a game that restricts you to four basic commands, each character still manages to be unique, no small feat indeed.

In the event you tire of pummeling these fighters or just want to make a (slightly) more realistic version of yourself for the game, Facebreaker is offering a wealth of opportunity for you to put your own face in the game. The team showed up their included version of EA Sports’ own Peter Moore, and they have just announced they’re including Kim Kardashian, the celebrity who’s famous for absolutely nothing, in on the fun. Alas, if the promise of radically deforming Kardashian’s face through a series of punches isn’t enough to make you buy this game, I don’t know what is.

Obviously, this treatment isn’t reserved simply for executives and “celebrities,” as you and your friends can use the same technology to map your faces onto characters and then slug it out for bragging rights. Ever wanted to see what your buddy would look like with a black eye but never had the guts to just punch him in the face? This game lets you do that and oh so much more. Not only can you give your best bud a shiner, you can also break his nose, cauliflower his ear, and knock out a few teeth while you’re at it!

If you’ve been waiting for a worthy successor to the arcade boxing throne, Facebreaker seems poised to deliver on all fronts. It’s silly, irreverent, and engaging while still managing to be complex and tactical. Also, you get to beat famous people and friends senseless, so what’s not to love? This is a title we’re definitely keeping our eyes on, and you should too.

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