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As EA Sports launches its new 'Freestyle' sub-brand with the arcade boxing offering FaceBreaker, I find beating on the game too easy and would rather go toe-to-toe with the series concept.
Let's get one thing straight up front: FaceBreaker is not a sports game. While EA might be marketing it as an arcade boxing game, it is, in reality, more Tekken than Punch Out!!
I'm not the world's biggest boxing fan, in fact in some ways I find it rather grotesque, but I do have a lingering respect for what is often described as its 'art'. Boxing is primarily about control and discipline, and that is the main reason why FaceBreaker cannot be called a boxing game. Yes, the characters wear boxing gloves and fight in a ring, but that is as far as the similarities stretch, and there is as little discipline required by the gameplay as the developers have shown in building the game. If boxing is, as people say, akin to chess, FaceBreaker is the equivalent of Buckaroo.
There are a lot of 'big' things about this game that trouble me.
What is more, the characters don't stand like boxers (orthodox stance, what's that?), they don't move like boxers (jumps, spins and slides ahoy!), they don't punch like boxers (there is no attempt to recreate known styles) - I could go on. While even the basic control options of 'high-punch', 'low punch', 'haymaker' and 'throw' (?) suggest a loose approach to the constraints of the squared circle, when it becomes clear than certain characters have kicks in their armoury, any remaining pretence melts away.
There are a lot of 'big' things about this game that trouble me, not least the fact that it's clearly part aimed at children and yet has a seeming obsession with breaking people's faces (which is literally how you are instructed to finish an opponent off). However, for me the straw that broke the camel's back is the smallest of things. If all three rounds pass with neither player managing to win (victory being achieved by knocking someone down three times - just like in boxing, right?), then the fight goes to 'Sudden Death'. As the bell rings for the start of this final round, the instruction "Next KO Wins" appears on the screen - any KO wins, you morons, that's the most basic concept of a knock-out. Sorry, but please?!
The fact that FaceBreaker plays fast and loose with its theme is far from my only gripe, it's more that its cavalier approach to the conventions of boxing is symptomatic of the whole game in general. Even though I concentrate on them here, I don't only play and enjoy sports games. The fact is, whether it's a sports game, a fighting game, a comic arcade game, whatever - amid all that it involves, it does nothing well. By trying to have a finger in every pie, it leaves all the pies looking fairly unappetising.
If you're looking for a more detailed run-down of FaceBreaker's failures than that, then I'm afraid you'll have to look elsewhere (any other review will do). All this talk of thumbs in multiple, spoiled pies makes me want to share some general reflections on the new sub-brand, EA Sports Freestyle, of which this is the inaugural offering.
The plan is that the games released under the sub-brand will be loosely based on sporting themes, but more relaxed, less demanding, more readily accessible.
The point is clearly to broaden the scope of the brand through diversification. The plan is that the games released under the sub-brand will be loosely based on sporting themes, but more relaxed, less demanding, more readily accessible and more widely appealing than core EA Sports titles. They are aimed, the blurb describes, at kids and parents, women and men, casual and hardcore sports fans of all ages. I just don't get it - who wants non-sporty sports games that involve several diverse elements all delivered poorly, require little investment, deliver even less reward and are aimed at everyone and no-one? I suppose we'll find out.
Unlike Snoop Dogg (the 'face' of FaceBreaker), I think every aspect of the game is irredeemably terrible (it's probably not our only area of disagreement), and perhaps that is what has got me so annoyed about 'Freestyle'. While I could be proven wrong, if the launch title is anything to go by, then games with this branding will be poorly stitched patchworks of everything that emerges from focus groups as 'popular'.
Others may disagree, but cynical is the best word I have to describe the 'Freestyle' concept, and, while perhaps this is just an outpouring of post-Olympic spirit, I think at its heart sport is fundamentally opposed to cynicism.
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