The world of sport is full of well-known faces that have, over the course of a reckless career, been battered, bent, chipped, chinned, mashed and mangled well beyond Mother Nature's original design. Footy defenders, rugger buggers and, of course, boxers all proudly wear their disfigurements as if they'd wandered into a plastic surgeon's office clutching a photo of Sloth out of The Goonies.
The rest of the world, meanwhile, is full of distinctly unmolested visages that have somehow survived the swings and elbows of outrageous fortune, even when all the available evidence suggests they are more than deserving of a slap. FaceBreaker, from the team behind the disfiguringly meaty Fight Night series, aims to change all that.
We'll get onto that in due course. First, the basics. Unlike the realistic simulation of its stablemate, FaceBreaker is 'arcade boxing', following in the tradition of stylised fighters like Nintendo's Punch Out and, more relevantly, Midway's Ready 2 Rumble. EGTV has the trailer for you, so check that out.
It's seven and a half years since the release of Ready 2 Rumble: Round 2, a series which sold pretty well back in the day, and EA freely admits it is exploiting a cartoon boxer-shaped gap in the market. (Incidentally, 10Tacle Studios now owns the rights to Ready 2 Rumble and is supposed to be working on a new instalment).
"It's really about bringing the old-school gaming experience with the new-gen look and feel," reckons senior producer Dean Richards, who's demoing us the PS3 version in a faceless room deep inside EA Canada.
And by old-school he means a balanced line-up of fighters sporting a range of styles to suit players' tastes; offering a classic one-on-one fighting experience, as the team sees it, certainly without any of the stat-honing and (frankly, tedious) training rituals of Fight Night. "It's very balanced gameplay - you have to learn what all the characters are about," Richards chips in.
This clearly isn't Virtua Fighter 4, however. FaceBreaker will be the first title to release under EA's new Freestyle label, announced just over a week ago by our old friend Peter Moore. Freestyle replaces the equally cheesy 'BIG' brand, casting the net wider to target the equally elusive and terrifying Casual Gamer.
But don't you dare say "dumbed down!" - it upsets Peter, for one thing. Rather, Richards claims it's a "simplified, easy to pick-up-and-play gameplay experience that really allows the chance for discovery and to get into more depth of how you fight".
On PS3 and 360, face buttons are used to administer light and strong attacks, with the shoulders employed for defence and combos. The game uses a "rock, paper, scissors mechanic" to even out the odds, where "light beats strong beats defence beats light". You can also dash, parry, throw and dodge.
Tactical depth is introduced via the Breaker Meter. Tucked into the bottom-left of the screen, this has four segments, each of which you can fill for increasingly devastating and outrageous attacks. Fill one for a Bonebreaker, two for a Groundbreaker, three for a Skybreaker and, finally, the full four bars for Facebreaker: "the ultimate finishing move!" enthuses Richards. Pull off a Facebreaker and you'll win the fight instantly (it's three knockdowns otherwise); but fully charging your Breaker Meter is tough, we're assured.
The only way to build it is through landing consecutive hits. "We want you to be constantly on the offensive. If I start to build up this meter and stop - it immediately goes away," explains Richards. That also happens if you get smacked back in the midst of your onslaught. "It becomes a risk/reward mechanic. Do I get to the first level and cash it in?"
Being a heavily-stylised cartoon boxing game, the team has spent a lot of time creating a line-up of distinctive characters it reckons could stand alone as "action figures". (You can check out a video montage on EGTV.) We're treated to tasting menu of pop-eyed pugilists, including: a raver who dances on opponents' heads; Romeo the dancing matador, whose back-handed slaps are accompanied by a shower of roses; Ice, who's a "bus driver by day, radio DJ by night"; Red Army demolitions expert Molotov; a spell-casting witch doctor called - wait for it! - Voodoo; and Steve, who's a bit like Jack Black. And in case you were wondering: "We do have a monkey in the game," adds Richards.
Each character has their own fighting style and moves, including a unique FaceBreaker. Ice, for instance, upon the game's charming instruction to "BREAK HIS FACE!", does one-armed press-ups on his foe's mug. As demonstrated by Rangers fans in Manchester city centre last week, FaceBreaker also uses real-time deformation for its scraps, and as a bonus you get to keep the brutalised bonce of your vanquished opponent mounted on a shield to store in your personal trophy room.
So far, so straightforward. And while we remember with fondness picking up Ready 2 Rumble on Dreamcast launch day, that was rather a long time ago and one suspects many now demand more than simply an accessible arcade boxer. So, EA is embracing the current trend for user-generated content in what could prove to be the game's knockout blow.
Going back to where we started, Boxer Factory is where you can put the great unmutilated into the ring for a thorough pasting. You can turn anybody you like into a fighter just by uploading a front and side-on pic of their chops. The game generates this as a 3D head in the art style of the game and plonks it on the fighter's body of your choosing. Use a USB cam for yourself and chums, or simply grab some snaps off the web of anyone you particularly want to smash the teeth out of. (Hello, Ashley Cole!)
For his here's-one-we-prepared-earlier moment, Richards uses ubiquitous EA Sports pres Peter Moore. "I love doing this to Peter," he confides. "See what he looks like as a female!" Ooh. "What does he look like as a big, fat guy?" Uh-huh. And then on the monkey. "He loves that one." We don't doubt it for a second.
What's more, this feature will be thrown open to the entire FaceBreaker community online. Using a "YouTube-like interface" you can upload your creations to EA's servers and download everyone else's. And you can also do this on a PC, checking out thumbnails and bookmarking your favourites so you can download them onto your console later.
"Think of the presidential campaign: you could have Barack Obama versus Hillary Clinton," Richards muses. "Or you could have the cast of Lost - you can have up to 30 boxers in your game." Or Cheryl Cole versus Gemma Atkinson. In short, even if you can't be bothered to do it yourself, someone else probably will be, so you can still download and disfigure at your leisure.
And, as with the main game, you'll get to keep the crumpled remains of all beaten heads in your trophy room. For added bragging rights, the game automatically records highlight of your bouts, which can also be uploaded to the community for posterity. It's like happy slapping without the Asbo.
Other stuff? Well there is a Wii version in the works, but that's still hiding in the dressing room. "The Wii will have differences obviously," Richards states. "It's more pick-up-and-punch, so you've got the controllers and it's very intuitive. You're out there and you're throwing rights and lefts and uppercuts." And there's also a licensed soundtrack; the only thing we picked out from the demo session was Wolfmother.
FaceBreaker is visually slick, humorous and very possibly lots of fun. Whether there's any real substance behind the novelty is impossible to say until we get the gloves on for ourselves, but for now at the very least we're looking forward to a trophy cabinet crammed with the savaged skulls of Team Eurogamer.
FaceBreaker is scheduled to release on 360, PS3 and Wii in the autumn.