Who says you have to grow up? Here at SI.com's Game Room, our staffers review the latest sports video game titles to hit the market and welcome your feedback.
9/04/2008 03:59:00 PM
Review: Facebreakers (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii)
Reviewed By Paul Ulane
Image Credit: EA Sports
Things We Like
Mashing Success: The most accomplished professional boxers possess a rare blend of speed, power, and agility. The most accomplished Facebreaker boxers prefer to rely on their ability to distort your facial features beyond dental record recognition. It's relatively simple: mash buttons, mash faces. The goal of EA's sub-brand Freestyle was to make sports games more accessible to a wider audience and Facebreaker, Freestyle's first release, will appeal to everyone with thumbs.
Kombat Ready: This game is not lacking in cartoonish brutality. The last step would be to add a "Finish him" voiceover and the ability to remove spinal chords. (Oh well, there's always the sequel.) The secret lies in the Breaker Meter. Pull off two consecutive jabs or body blows and your Meter will fill one level. Depending on how long your flurry of punches lasts, your Breaker Meter will help you unleash anything from a Haybreaker (a standard uppercut) to a FaceBreaker (a match-ending vulgar display of power). Just be sure to time your attacks accordingly. If you get hit before you release your breaker, you'll be caught on the wrong end of a beat down with your meter on empty.
X's and Blows: Boxing is still called the Sweet Science for a reason, and amidst all of the broken ribs and bloody noses you'll need to employ some strategy to get past the preliminary title belts. Dodging your opponent's punches is almost as vital as landing yours. The best way to turn the momentum of a bout is to parry. Catch your opponent's glove with one hand and smash his exposed chin with your free fist. The knockout blows provide the excitement, but you can't get to the final punch without a plan.
Sofa King: According to the instruction booklet, the "Couch Royale" mode will "ruin all of your friendships." Anywhere from two to six players can enter a tournament and face off for living room supremacy. Once you've created a character to compete in "Couch Royale," you can track vanity stats, like fastest knockout, amongst your group of friends. If you pull off a FaceBreaker against one of your buddies, you get to mount his character's head like a game hunter. And that's about the time the friendship ends.
Take It Online: While "Brawl For It All," the game's primary single player mode, is lacking in replay value, you can keep the game fresh online. Set up a league to run tournaments or pad your stats to so you can take on similarly skilled pugilists in a ranked match.
Check out Kimbo Slice's Facebreaker ad:
Things We'd Change
Uncle!: Nothing feels better than jumping all over your rival with flying fists until they're practically begging for the bell to ring. But when you're on the receiving end of such a beat down, it grows increasingly frustrating. Like, scream-obscenities-at-the-TV-and-throw-your-controller-down-in-disgust frustrating. The fact is, no matter how much you play this game, you'll regularly run into a Breaker Meter-sapping combo from your opponent, and all the button mashing in the world won't get you out of it. Just be prepared to dust off the ol' "This controller needs to be charged" excuse.
Cramping Our Style: If you're lucky enough to make all that mashing count for something, it won't be without its punishment. After about three bouts, you'll find yourself feeling some ill-effects in your hand muscles. Make it past the first two belts in "Brawl For It All" mode, and you'll need someone to tie your shoes for a week. Most new boxing games rely on the toggle sticks these days, and it would've been nice to see a little variety in the control set-up.
Looks Can Kill: We judge our video games the same way we judge our Maxim cover models, and unfortunately, Facebreaker has some blemishes. The gameplay is clearly the focus here, but the looks should keep up with the next-generation systems. Unfortunately, the boxers look like they were plucked from a PlayStation 2 title right before they jumped into the ring.
Face Off: Not sure if you've noticed yet, but a big part of this game revolves around your face, and the various degrees to which it's been broken. EA wanted to take it a step further and let you import your own face into the game, either by downloading pictures or by using the USB camera. A nice idea, but the face builder's mechanics come up short. The system asks you to click on various areas on your face to identify them, and when the final results appear, your mother would have a hard time identifying your mug, let alone loving it.
This hyper-violent rock 'em sock 'em title will rope you in immediately with simple controls and embellished fisticuffs. The game's biggest strike is depth, so if you want to combat boredom, invite friends over for mini-tournaments or go online for challenges. Outlandish and cartoony, Facebreaker is everything it wants to be.
You'll never go back: Since Nintendo's action-play console first broke through in 2006, the idea of using the Wii Remote controller as a golf club has piqued the interest of gamers. After playing just a couple rounds of Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 09, I can't imagine playing a golf game using with a traditional controller ever again. The developers at Electronic Arts have worked wonders with the 1:1 swing mechanics in this year's edition, as the character on the screen mimics your exact movements with scary accuracy. Pull back slightly on your controller and your player does the same. To attempt a short chip shot, simply take a shorter three-quarters swing with the Wii-mote. If you're a golf lover, prepare to be swept away by an unprecedented level of touch and control.
Hank's helping hand: Lessons from Tiger's real-life coach Hank Haney provide helpful pointers for relative neophytes to the series and veterans looking to take their game to the next level. Hank is omnipresent in Tiger Woods, from inculcating the basic fundamentals and controls at the outset, to fine-tuning your clubs, to on-the-fly tips in your recurring problem areas based on the mistakes you're making. In the surprisingly helpful post-round debriefings, Haney turns the worst shots of your previous round into customized teaching moments.
Play it again, Sam: A lot of the less obvious details go a long way toward boosting the game's replay value. The robust My Career mode is comprised of three standalone modes: PGA Tour Season, the FedExCup and Tiger Challenge. (The Season mode itself involves 35 different 18-hole matches.) In addition to prize money, the acquisition of attribute points provides a major incentive for winning tournaments and moving forward in the game. You can allocate the points across nine different player traits like power, accuracy, putting or concentration, providing a pro-active, experience-based performance boost for your golfer as you move further into the game. Veterans of the Tiger Woods series will be excited to play five completely new courses, including the Gary Player Country Club in South Africa, Wolf Creek in Nevada and Florida's Bay Hill Country Club.
Party time: In following with the recent EA Sports trend, a healthy number of Wii-exclusive Golf Party games round out the package. Two to four players can take part in 15 different irreverent events like speed golf (a Houseguest reference?), golf cart racing and bouncing a ball on a golf club -- a not-so-subtle homage to Tiger's famous 1999 commercial.
Online: The flagship feature of PGA TOUR 09 is the simultaneous online mode, which enables four different users to play each hole at the same time. Watch for the color-corresponding ball trails from your playing partners to track their progress in real time. Unlike the real-life sport, you're playing at your own pace and seldom waiting for anybody to take their turn -- a truly groundbreaking innovation for expediting the previously tedious online mode. World rank leaderboards keep track of your wins, losses and dropped games in ranked matches.
Grip it and rip it: The general ethos of EA's All-Play movement is to cater to players of all skill levels and not to simply pander to novice users. In Tiger Woods, All-Play uses an on-screen arc (or line for putting) to show the precise location and trajectory of where the ball will travel. Beginners need only swing with the right power to place the ball right where it needs to go.
The nuts and bolts of Tiger Woods 09:
Things We'd Change
Got any good CDs?: EA Sports has pumped up the game's new announcer tandem of Sam Torrance and Kelly Tilghman. but the pair doesn't have much "new" to say beyond the first 15 minutes. It's not completely intolerable but their banal and repetitive chatter brings nothing new to the table. After my first half-hour with the game, I spent the rest of my Tiger Woods experience with the volume down listening to last week's new releases from the GZA and Of Montreal.
Picture imperfect: Even though I've learned to temper my graphical expectations with Wii releases, I've heard the graphics are a recurring complaint with the 360 and PS3 editions as well. This console isn't known for it's horsepower but Nintendo has certainly put out better-looking games this year.
A problem with putting: Where almost every other shot in the game is touch-dependent, each putt requires a full stroke regardless of distance. This means you must use the same full-swing motion for a tap-in or a 60-footer or you'll risk laying it short. It's the one area of the game which ranks inferior to last year's edition.
This year's addition to the long-running Tiger Woods series represents one of the better and more innovative golf games to be released in recent memory, thanks mostly to the greatly improved 1:1 swing mechanics which put the user right on the fairway. The graphics are decent enough by Wii standards, the gameplay is always engaging and the reworked presentation -- complete with point-and-click menus -- is sharp and efficient. One can only fantasize about the ways Electronic Arts will embrace Nintendo's upcoming Wii MotionPlus accessory, which promises more accurate reflection of real-life motions in a 3-D space. But until then, Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 09 All-Play makes the most out of the current hardware and represents a more-than-adequate holdover.