There have been many great arcade-style boxing games over the years. FaceBreaker is not one of them. It looks pretty good, and the deep customization options mean you'll never want for new brawlers, but those two things are about all this game has going for it. The fighting mechanics are awful, the AI is cheap, it's light on game modes, and most of all, it's not any fun.
Creating a boxer using your own photos is easily the game's best feature. You can use an PlayStation Eye, Xbox Vision camera, or download pictures that you've uploaded to easportsworld.com. It takes 10 minutes or so to render your face, but the results are worth the wait. Male characters look fantastic and have a number of body types from which to choose. However, females aren't so lucky. There are only a few female body types and long-hair options available, so women typically end up looking pretty rough. If you're willing to put in the time, you can make some truly impressive boxers and share your handiwork online, too. You can also download others' creations--an excellent feature because some people out there have a knack for making cool brawlers--most of which are celebrities such as George Bush, Borat, The Joker, Macaulay Culkin, Austin Powers, and Jackie Chan.
Unfortunately, there's nothing fun to do with your boxer. The game's particularly light on play modes. The only offline single-player mode, other than a Quick Fight, is Brawl for It All mode, which couldn't be shallower. This is essentially a tournament where you work your way up the ladder, with the goal of winning all five belts. It only takes a long time because the AI is so cheap (more on that later). Couch Royale mode might sound intriguing, but it's nothing more than a round-robin tournament in which you try to collect the heads (a trophy head; you don't actually rip them off) of your foes. Online play does support leagues, but thanks to the extraordinary advantage gained by the person with the best connection (they seem almost impossible to stop), there's little reason to go online in the first place, much less join a league. A lack of game modes really doesn't matter much, though, because FaceBreaker's awful gameplay means you won't want to play long enough to finish Brawl for It All, much less want for more modes.
FaceBreaker is more of an ultrafast, very shallow button-mashing fighting game than it is a boxing game. Bouts are three rounds, and you need to knock your opponent down three times to win. If three rounds pass but nobody has been knocked down, the fight goes to sudden death overtime and the first person to be knocked down loses. Overtime is a quick way to end a fight, but it's frustrating to have dominated your opponent in the first three rounds only to go into overtime with basically a level playing field. Controls are simple but often unresponsive. You can unleash high or low punches, a haymaker, and a throw--that's it. Defensively, you can block and dodge, but you rarely need to do so. Rather, it's easier and more effective to parry punches. Just because a game has simple controls doesn't mean its gameplay can't have some depth, but you'd never know it from playing FaceBreaker. Each of the game's over-the-top fighters has his own style, but this is mostly irrelevant. All you do is mash the buttons to throw punches as fast as possible and mix in the occasional parry. Matches are typically determined by who hits buttons the fastest and who is able to stay out of the corner because once you're backed up against the ropes, you're hosed--unless you're the CPU.
FaceBreaker has some of the most infuriating AI you'll ever experience, and the game is far more frustrating than it is fun. When the CPU decides it's time for you to lose, it'll back you into a corner and absolutely pummel you. No combination of dodging, blocking, or parrying can stop the onslaught--all you can do is mash buttons and hope for the best. Even when you've managed to grasp the best cheap tactics to beat opponents (cheap moves are the only way to consistently beat many fighters), they can still crush you in seconds with overpowered facebreaker moves. These are earned by connecting punches in a series and filling a meter. When it's full, you can use a haymaker to send your foe right to the canvas. Once your opponent is down, the game tells you to break his or her face. Then, with the press of a button, you unleash a wild finishing move and essentially break the person's face. Not only does this come off as excessively brutal, but it's an aggravating way to lose a fight--especially when you're getting obliterated in less than 20 seconds by a monkey in consecutive bouts. The game warns you that you're going to lose a lot, but it's the cheap way in which you lose as well as the seemingly random trial and error nature of the gameplay that often make Facebreaker maddeningly difficult until you figure out some cheap tactic or exploit to use against the CPU.
The cartoonlike presentation of FaceBreaker is one of its better features. The large, mostly bizarre fighters are nicely animated. Although some pugilists share the same body types and/or fighting styles, there's quite a bit of variety to be found. Generally, they feel different from one another, even if a lot of the character designs are a bit unoriginal. Punches cause real-time damage when they land, but the game moves so quickly that you're not likely to have much time to admire the swollen cheeks and bruises you've caused until the fight is over, which is when a close-up of the vanquished brawler is shown. Audio doesn't fare as well as the visuals. Voice acting is nothing special, and outside the sound of punches landing, there's nothing to hear during a fight.
FaceBreaker fails to be engaging in any way. The boxer-customization options are nice, but there's little point in taking the time to create a fighter when the game is so bad that you won't actually want to use him or her in the ring. Don't let the commercials with Snoop Dogg talk you into going toe-to-toe with this stiff.