Part boxing game, part wrestling game, and part Chris Farley slapstick, EA Sports’ upcoming FaceBreaker is a decidedly different take on boxing for which the company has come to be known. After all, the crown jewels in EA’s boxing stable are the old Knockout Kings games and the more modern Fight Night series (for which, a fourth game was just recently announced). While those games focused on the mechanics and strategy of boxing, FaceBreaker has its sights set on the more theatrical side of the sweet science. We had a chance to see the game in action a few weeks ago during EA’s spring press event to see where this arcade boxing game is heading.
As any Ready to Rumble fan will tell you, the cast of characters you’ll be playing as “makes or breaks” any arcade boxing game. FaceBreaker won’t lack for variety here: It showed 12 fighters during the demo of the game, ranging from Kekoa the tatted-up surfer dude to the formidable witch doctor Voodoo. When you add to the roster the created players you can whip up using a face-importing feature similar to last year’s Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08, you’ve got a cast of ridiculous-looking boxers whose faces are begging to be broken.
The gameplay in FaceBreaker looks to be a fairly simple affair: When in the ring, you’ll have light and strong attacks you can use to build up your FaceBreaker meter. Each punch you land will add some energy to the meter. How full the meter gets will determine what kind of special attacks (known as “breakers”) you have available to you. The base level is the bone breaker; next, the sky breaker (which tosses your opponent into the air); and next, the ground breaker (basically a crushing blow while your opponent is on the ground). The final special attack level is the FaceBreaker, which is basically a finishing move. To win a match in the game, you can either knock your opponent down three times or, ideally, finish him off with a FaceBreaker.
The single-player core of FaceBreaker will be the “Brawl for it All” mode, where you can take y our character and fight a ladder tournaments against all of the other characters in the game. This mode will have four championship belts to fight for, with multiple matches per belt. The difficulty you choose will determine where you restart the game should you lose a match; on easy, you’ll start from the fight you just lost, while on the higher difficulty levels, losing will send you back to the beginning of that belt’s tournament.
Though it might sound like it, FaceBreaker won’t be a mindless punchfest. For one thing, you will have defensive abilities in the game, such as blocks, dodges, and parries, at your disposal. For another, every character will have the ability to stun an opponent briefly. Voodoo, for example, will be able to fire off green skulls at his opponent–the only way to escape this stunned state will be to punch yourself in the face (or, indeed, wait for Voodoo to do the honors for you). In addition, different characters will have other special abilities–the chubby kung-fu “expert” Steve will be able to throw smoke bombs periodically, disappearing in the ring only to appear in an entirely different spot and keep his opponent off guard.
Strategy aside, the surefire path to victory in FaceBreaker will be landing punches. Your FaceBreaker meter will fill up as long as you land punches–theoretically, you could get to the ultimate level on your FaceBreaker meter within a few seconds of the round beginning (assuming your opponent puts up next to no defense or counterattack). Still, as producers put it, the finishing moves will all depend on user input; they aren’t just animations you watch to complete but require timing and a modicum of skill on the part of the player.
Graphically, FaceBreaker is playing up its cartoon boxers to a great degree. The monstrous Voodoo, or his Russian counterpart Molotov, are hulking beasts, while the lithe, quicker boxers like Romeo and the female Tokushu will ensure you’ve got plenty of variety at your disposal. The environments are nicely detailed too, featuring everything from a trailer park and a futuristic-looking arcade to a more traditional gym setting.
While EA didn’t spend a great deal of time on the details, the player creator in FaceBreaker looks like it’s going to be good for a laugh or two. After importing your face via the camera, you can place it on the body of a boxer found in the game. The demo featured a particularly accurate rendition of EA Sports’ president Peter Moore’s bald head placed on top of the paunchy body of one of the game’s more flabby characters. You’ll be able to upload your created boxers for sharing with other players and download up to 30 boxers into your game. In addition, you can upload highlights or your fights for other people to check out.
FaceBreaker is the first game announced for the just-launched EA Freestyle brand, and it looks to be a fast-paced boxing game that seems to emphasize its sense of humor at least as much as its gameplay. We’ll see how funny–and how fun–the game is when we get our first hands-on with FaceBreaker later this year.