There is something refreshing about a game that keeps things as simple as FaceBreaker. It's like a fighter who knows how to take a punch, knows how to hit hard, and cares about little else. EA Sports' latest offering FaceBreaker keeps it that simple. It drops you straight into the middle of a boxing ring. It gives you two buttons to jab with, a button to block with, a button for your finishing move and that's about it. It asks little more from a player then to square up and start pounding. It is an unabashed, unashamed button masher that leaves concepts like subtlety, technique and realism at ringside holding the spit bucket, a jar of Vaseline and a sweaty, blood soaked towel.
From the moment you switch the game on it seems like all the frills have been discarded in favour of getting you into the ring as quickly as possible. There is barely a cut scene to be seen before you are presented with the game's simple and straightforward menu. There are four fight modes, a couple of online options, a trophy room, some tutorial videos and the boxer factory where you can edit your fighter. While at the top of the menu, begging to be clicked, is the self-explanatory Fight option.
Click on Fight and you can instantly choose from half of the game's dozen main fighters. They are all stylishly exaggerated cartoon characters, every one of them over proportioned and familiar. From the leather clad, blonde Sparrow to the dreadlocked surfer Kekoa, the game doesn't bother with back-stories or motivations, you just need to choose one and start fighting.
The fight mechanics are as simple as the opening menu. The face buttons control a low jab, a high jab, a strong attack and a throw. The right trigger allows you to block and the left trigger lets you taunt your opponent. There are no combination strings to memorise. The only variation being tapping a button to punch as opposed to holding it slightly longer to dodge, or holding both block and jab buttons to parry and counter your enemy's strike.
Initiating finishing moves is also a fairly simple mechanic. Each fighter has a four part Breaker Meter. Land jabs and your meter fills. Get hit, or even just step back, and the meter empties. So you have the choice. Unleash a power strike with the meter half fill and you will do some decent damage. But, fill the meter to the top and you can hit your opponent with a FaceBreaker. Each character has a unique FaceBreaker that will instantly end a match.
This however, leads into a problem with the game's simplicity. While each character's FaceBreaker looks different, essentially they are all initiated the exact same way. So every fight can be boiled down to jab-jab-dodge, repeat a few times, FaceBreaker.
If it all sounds simple - it is. Find a friend or go online and within seconds you can be pounding seven kinds of crap out of them. The graphics are big, colourful and fun. Land a few HayBreakers, SkyBreakers or GroundBreakers (the lesser Breakers) and your opponent will stagger into their corner between rounds. After taking a few big hits their eyes will be blood shot and bulging and their nose will be smeared across their face. It's over the top, but still pretty funny.
Alternatively, you can take the time to make your own fighter. By using a USB camera or uploading pictures to the net you can map your own face, or anyone else's, onto a fighter. The game even has a few examples, with the likenesses of Kim Kardashian or Spencer from The Hills available to have their faces bashed in. All in the name of good, clean fun, of course.
Yes the game is fun. It is an old-school party game, that like most of the offerings from EA Sports is at its best when playing against real opponents. However, playing against the cpu can be an exercise in frustration. Health regenerates quickly, so wearing your opposition down doesn't really work. And while some opponent's defenses are virtually impregnable, other's can be beaten within seconds. Usually, both difficult and easy fights end with the FaceBreaker.
Unfortunately, everything in FaceBreaker has a relatively limited feel compared to the detailed and complex fight-sims of recent times. There are twelve main fighters with only a few special moves each. Unlockable costumes are simple colour variations. Locations are pretty but just backdrops to the same squared circle and while the sound and sound-track are fine, that's pretty much it.
However, if there was ever a game that could be summed up in a title - then FaceBreaker is it. Your thumbs will ache in the morning and you may need to fork out a hundred dollars on a new controller but sometimes we all need a bit of cartoonish mayhem in our lives. If you get the feeling that finesse and realism are over-rated and you and your mates need a break from Guitar Hero-ing then you could do worse than breaking a few faces.