Marginally better than actually being punched in the face.
Facebreaker is a boxing themed fighting game, and to call it a boxing game would be absurd as beyond characters fighting in a boxing ring while wearing boxing gloves, all aspirations to the sport are purely cosmetic. Recharging health bars, a throw button and ranged attacks are just some of the features that place this game firmly in the fighting game genre, and while the aim was to create a lighthearted accessible alternative to the realistic, nuanced fight night series the game is mired by poor controls, lack of features and unnecessary difficulty.
The game originally offered; a basic pick your fighter and arena mode; a story mode of sorts which involved choosing a character and defeating a number of opponents in order to unlock a title fight against an unlockable fighter; an online component; "couch royale" a local tournament mode with a winner stays on criteria as well as the games centerpiece, boxer factory.
Boxer factory was intended as the main selling point of the game, a feature which allows players to use either the xbox live vision camera or the Facebreaker website, to import a picture which would then be integrated into the game to create an unique fighter. There are a decent range of options in this fighter creation (with regards to hairstyles and clothing) however the actual act of taking the picture is fairly clumsy. A front and side view of the face is required, after which the player must manually adjust the placement of a number of dots (e.g left eye, chin) after which the game will generate a face for your custom boxer. Unfortunately in my experience the game frequently stops this process with a vague instruction to reposition the face markers, and when the process does work correctly it usually takes an interminable 20 minutes at minimum, while the results are underwhelming at best. The real draw for this feature is probably in creating celebrities and uploading them, or downloading other player's creations, which at some point may well have been enjoyable but in the present day personifies one of Facebreaker's main issues.
As EA insists on using it's own servers for the online services in it's games, there no longer exists any online component in Facebreaker. As of February 2010, EA sports rescinded online support for Facebreaker and as such all online functionality is inaccessible. Obviously this means that there is no online multiplayer, however it also means that players can no longer upload/download boxers, download pictures from the EA servers or upload replays. My personal peeve about games which in one way or another have unattainable achievements (which is the case in a number of online enabled achievements here) aside, the fact that this entire issue goes unexplained in the game itself (other than a message stating that you have lost your connection to the EA servers which, confusingly, leaves responsibility for the issue on the players shoulders) is irritating and shows a real lack of respect for the player, who should not be expected to figure this out.
Surprisingly, this online snafu is not the games greatest shortcoming, it is the punishing difficulty which takes that honor. The learning curve here is stupendously steep, partly due to the fact that the game offers absolutely no kind of tutorial - opting instead to provide a few basic controller layout diagrams and a few lines explaining that a trigger blocks and to parry hold a face button, and partly due to indomitable ai. Even at the lowest difficulty setting, I struggled to progress through brawl for it all mode. The first two fights (which the first belt consists of) were actually pretty breezy, however as of the second belt's opponents the difficulty ramped up considerably to the point where I could not progress past the second title fight (which is the fifth opponent). This difficulty is confounded by the fact that after 3 consecutive losses, you are forced to re fight the previous opponent before you can progress, most likely causing you to forget all of the strategy you were working on in the first place by the time you regain your progress.
The controls themselves also cause problems, parrying requires holding the corresponding punch button (of which there are two, low and high) which means that countering varying flurries of punches is difficult due to the delay, and often the ai will parry your parry, resulting in a dizzying ballet which the human player will invariably lose. Blocking attacks is also fairly useless, as without any form of stamina meter, your opponent can unleash an unrelenting combo and considering that a long enough combo will activate a "facebreaker" (a special move which results in an instant victory) blocking becomes moot very quickly. While there is a satisfying selection of boxers to choose from, the gameplay implications are largely perfunctory with large boxers hitting slightly slower yet harder and vice versa. Special moves are available, but are usually a pretty standard haymaker heavy attack across all characters, although some fighters are capable of a frustrating and ridiculous ranged fireball attack. A number of "breaker" moves are activated across bouts, usually a fairly bombastic uppercutting of one player into the air and these are enjoyable for their ostentation at least.
Local player matches can be enjoyable, since the unrelenting ai will be removed from the equation but they will most likely descend into an orgy of button mashing mayhem which while fun for a time, will quickly become tiresome.
For these reasons, the game becomes borderline unplayable, and considering that difficulty has been a universal criticism, I am not at fault for a lack of ability. Currently, Facebreaker is a bargain bin title which may be alluring and it is true that there is some fun to be had amongst it's many shortcomings. However, even at a knockdown price, Facebreaker remains a frustrating experience which won't deliver the nuance of fight night or the levity of Marvel vs Capcom. With it's already inherent flaws, coupled with stripped down functionality this is a game which unequivocally deserves to stagnate at the bottom of a bargain bin somewhere, unwanted and out for the count.