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TVG mopes in the corner with cotton wool in its nose after going toe-to-toe with EA's latest arcade brawler...
First off, let's deal with the foremost question on your mind when it comes to Facebreaker: Will I get to deliver Peter Moore a KO punch? Or, more importantly, will I be able to do that right out of the box? The answers to these questions are yes, and yes. EA Sports' head honcho is one of the stock characters in the game's Create a Boxer mode, which pilfers EA Tiburon's Game Face technology from Tiger Woods 08 so that you can upload your face or pretty much anyone else's that you know into the game using a webcam.
Once uploaded, this face can then be edited in ways that are as comical as they are detailed. We saw Peter Moore morphed into a green skinned guy with alien-like eyes and the body of a monkey. User generated downloadable content will also play a part, so you can upload your creations with the editor onto Xbox Live/PSN for others to download. As if that wasn't enough fun, the development team at EA Canada has made sure that the main cast of characters in the game are a barrel of laughs as well.
Cream of the Fight
We went hands on with three of these boxers: Socks, Molotov, and Voodoo. Socks is a straight jacketed mental patient with sock puppets for boxing gloves, Molotov is an incredibly wide Soviet bloke whose strapped with munitions, while Voodoo is a heavy-set African tribesmen. And it's not just the character models that are entertaining because EA Canada has built this game more towards the traditional fighting game archetype than the style of EA's other major boxing IP, Fight Night.
In other words, Facebreaker features combos that have to be built up and special moves that are character specific. The game's characters are far from re-skinned versions of the same model with varying basic stats (e.g. strength, reach, and speed) for each boxer. Instead, powerful Haybreaker combos and Facebreaker finishing moves are often unique to a character (although not always) thereby avoiding repetitive and tedious gameplay.
Before you can perform these sorts of rewarding combos though, you'll have to get used to the basic control setup. We went hands on with an Xbox 360 build where the A and X buttons formed your basic low and high punches respectively. However, if you hold onto these buttons then you charge up a punch. While charging the punch, your boxer will also dodge all of the opponent's lunges, as long as they are the same type of attack. So, for example, if you're charging a high punch and your opponent keeps throwing high punches, then your boxer will successfully dodge all the oncoming attacks. If, however, the opponent throws a low punch, then your boxer will take a painful blow below the belt. This forms a basic blocking and parry system for Facebreaker which is simple, but well balanced nonetheless and makes for an exhilaratingly fast pace to the fighting.
The Y button commands your boxer's Haybreaker move, which is the big daddy of all your attack options. Unleash the fury of this bad boy and you're sure to do some damage, but if you hold off and build up some high and low punches first, then you can use the Haybreaker attack to let some fearsome combos loose. The combo system is represented by four small blocks on the HUD and the more punches you string together, the more boxes you fill up, allowing you to perform larger Haybreaker combos. Two filled boxes (achieved by landing four straight punches) results in a two hit combo where your boxer will launch the opponent into the air with their first Haybreaker hit. Players then have to match the second hit to the last punch they made before instigating the Haybreaker. So, if you performed a low punch (A) before pressing Y, then you have to press A again to complete the two-hit combo.
These combos ramp up in difficulty until you reach four filled boxes (10 straight hits), where you can launch a Facebreaker finishing move by hitting the Haybreaker button three times in succession. This has the effect of finishing the match there and then, while it takes three knockdowns to win a game otherwise. The health meter has been crafted in a way that makes sure these knockdowns are by no means a rare occurrence. A preliminary green health bar soon erodes to reveal a red bar that drops rapidly, but also replenishes fairly quickly. The effects of this are twofold: firstly, it means that knockdowns are an ever-present threat and secondly, it makes beating that last bit of health out of your opponent quite a feverish task.
It's No Slouch In The Ring
As you can clearly see, Facebreaker is not a brainless arcade brawler that will require the attention span of a dust mite. Its combo and parry systems may be simpler than others, but they're also well built and in keeping with a game that's aimed at quick pick-up and play sessions. Other features such as the health meter also maintain a high tempo to the action that doesn't waiver. As we mentioned earlier, the character specific moves are another key factor that won't fail to lighten up your day. For example, Socks has a head-butting Haybreaker move while he's restrained by a straight jacket and he'll evade opponents (using the B button) by doing a swift 180 and appearing behind them, resulting in a distinctly panto 'He's behind you!' moment.
Evasive moves aren't the only commands that the B button is responsible for, as you can also startle opponents if they're far enough away from you. Our chubby African Tribesmen friend called Voodoo does this pretty well by blowing a strange green gas into the face of his rival. The effects are swift and brutal, as the other boxer will proceed to repeatedly hit them self in the face - this is more like those times in school when the class bully did the old 'Stop hitting yourself!' trick. Socks will electrocute opponents to startle them, while other boxers just make stars appear above their challenger's head (which can then be cancelled out if the opponent repeatedly taps the controller's face buttons).
Each boxer's characteristics also flow into their appearance and animations. All have an element of slapstick comedy as they successfully pull-off massive combos or get nailed by their challenger's devilish southpaw. Their looks are also fairly comical and certainly varied; from a tall and lanky British DJ to a fat and nerdy looking ninja, all of the characters have their charm. One thing we weren't so wowed by was the "real-time facial deformation" that EA touted in Facebreaker's initial press release. The screens that came alongside the announcement appeared to show faces that rippled like ocean waves with the force of an outgoing Haybreaker. This wasn't so much the case on the preview build we played. Faces did deform over time (particularly when a finishing move was successfully deployed), but it wasn't quite as active as we'd imagined. It simply looked like their faces had been put in a vice by the end of it all.
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