Version tested Xbox 360
In a fight to be the most irritating game of the year, FaceBreaker would undoubtedly box its way hyperactively onto the podium. Far from being part of EA's great new era of 'no more crappy games', it's a prime example of how to miss the point with game mechanics so ill-conceived you'll wonder how they ever made it past the design stage, never mind EA's apparently harsh new quality control process.
The first questionable decision is to reduce boxing to a basic fighting game with stripped-down controls. Opting to reject the refined, logical brilliance of the Fight Night control set, EA has instead mapped most of the controls to a pair of face buttons and the right trigger. There's a high punch, a low punch and a block, and blocking allows you to pull off high and low parries with the punch buttons.
They can also be held down to charge up punches, but obviously at the risk of taking one on the chin. On top of that, you've got the option of throwing your opponent with another button and landing a powerful Breaker punch with the fourth. Left stick, meanwhile, handles movement, with the added option to dash by flicking left or right at the appropriate moment.
On paper it sounds refreshingly straightforward, but in reality it's a Tartrazine-fuelled game of rock-paper-scissors, where proceedings degenerate into wild flurries of cheap attacks and flashy jaw-wobbling animation. If you're ten and wired on Sunny Delight, FaceBreaker probably makes perfect sense, and maybe that's the point. But we're not.
As ever, EA nails the presentation and front end in such a way that it's hard to see how it can't be fun. Viewed from the sidelines it looks irresistible, and comes rammed with boxers. It's Punch-Out brought bang up to date: crazy, exaggerated cartoon boxing with wild signature attacks and bags of personality. How could you screw that up?
It starts off innocuous enough, with an approachable array of simple gameplay modes like Brawl For It All, where you get to fight through four tiers of three boxers in sequence. At this point you can either dive straight in and choose one of the preset fighters or go off and create your own. The options here are excellent, with the facility to put your own ugly mug in the game via the Xbox Live Vision Camera or a photo uploaded to an EA website. Although your mileage may vary, it's always fun to mess around with these sorts of features - especially as you can actually upload and share your creations with the rest of the world.
Sadly, boxer-customisation was about the peak of our enjoyment. Diving into the ring with pad in hand, it completely unravels. We pine for Ready 2 Rumble. FaceBreaker is just too damned eager, and way too excitable to be fun for more than a few bouts. Look at me! Look how fast I can go! Look how many times I can repeatedly spam you with an array of unbalanced attacks! Wheee! It makes Dragon Ball Z look sedate.