It’s pretty apparent that Chuck Palahniuk’s seminal piece of work Fight Club has had a much larger impact on pop culture. Perhaps the most important standout of the piece is the club itself – that primal reconnection of two people pitting themselves against each other in brutal combat until one person comes out on top. Of course, while there’d be some honor in that, you know that someone would want to make some amount of profit off these two fighters, and the more clubs that get set up, the more money can be made. Sure, it might be a bit shady, and potentially unpredictable, but the benefits would far outweigh the losses. Welcome to the gritty world of SCEA’s latest fighting game, The Con.
The main thrust of the game lies in the Story Mode, which casts the player as an ex-con recently released from prison. Your release is extremely shifty though, as your character is left in the hands of a woman named Reina in the back of an alley. Reina happens to be a fight organizer who also fixes matches to her benefit in an illegal realm of street matches. Pretending to be your “benefactor,” Reina (or Momma, as she likes to call herself) shows you the ropes of the underground circuit, including how to fight your opponents, make some money and train your warrior. Of course, not wanting to be tied down to any particular person, your character double crosses Reina, creates a team of fighters and tries to gather enough respect and money to take on the kings of the fight clubs.
The story winds up fading in and out of the action, and isn’t actually that important, because it takes a backseat to the fighting and brawling team concept. What initially stands out is the character creator in the game. You can choose a pre-created fighter, or make your own brawler thanks to the basic or advanced character editors. The basic editor provides you a choice of one of the 5 fighting styles in the game: wrestling, Tae Kwon Do, street boxing, Jeet Kune Do and kickboxing, whereas the advanced editor lets you customize just about every facet of the character. This extends to the combos and moves that you can pull off in the middle of a fight as well. You won’t be completely confined to your initial choices, as you’ll be able to pick up additional clothes and accessories to distinguish your character from other warriors.
As the leader of your own team of fighters, you’ll have the option to pick and choose your teammates that will fight their way alongside you in any arranged matches you make. To be successful, you’ll need to take two out of three fights in the bout. Fortunately, you’ll get the chance to select who your squad goes up against, and how many weeks you’ll take to prepare, so you can pick and choose the level of difficulty that you’ll face. You’ll have the option in these moments in between fights to heal your characters, train them in a number of skills or give them a rest. After you’ve finished these preparations, you can outfit them with a number of items to boost their stats. To get your hands on these items, you’ll need money that you’ll acquire from winning fights and placing wagers on the outcome of matches.
Each character is given odds based on the strength of that fighter. You can actually bet against your character, throwing the bout before it begins. You pick an amount and a period of time to pass before the bet goes in, and then you attempt to bait the crowd into betting more as the fight progresses. You do this with the Con button, which literally lets you pull your punches and kicks to do much less damage to your opponent if you’re attacking them. If you’re being defensive, you’ll need to lean into your enemy’s strikes, taking more damage but making them look good. Once the bet has finally gone in, no additional money will be placed, so it’s then up to you to win or lose based on your initial decision. However, if you don’t make your win or loss believable, you’ll lose money and respect from the crowd.
For all of the creativity that was placed behind the betting system and the team concept, The Con winds up falling flat in a couple of significant ways. First of all, the battle system, while different than other games in the genre, is somewhat clunky in its execution. See, unlike other fighters, The Con isn’t a twitch game that requires a lot of fast directional moves or memorized button presses. You’re essentially given left and right punches and kicks that can be high or low, as well as a grab and a special attack that you can trigger at any time. These moves can be augmented by swaying and ducking from side to side, making the game come across more like a boxing game than a multiple discipline fighter.
In fact, a lot of the game is based around attacks and counters, using the attacks available to you to stun and punish your opponent. However, many of these moves are pretty much telegraphed by your rival, meaning that you won’t have too much trouble knowing what’s being thrown at your fighter most of the time to accurately respond. What’s more, the timing between pressing a button and having your character visually respond onscreen can be measured by literally counting, which is just way too long. In fact, this will become really apparent if you play against a friend using the game sharing feature of The Con. Playing against a human exposes the slowness of the game as both of you pound on buttons while you wait for your fighters to respond to you. However, the unpredictable nature of playing against someone else will extend the longevity of the game much farther than the story mode, survival or time attack mode will.
Setting the con in a match also becomes radically imbalanced. Is it necessary to do? No, not really, which harms the necessity of the concept being included in the game. But there isn’t a reason to throw fights either. In fact, you wind up potentially risking the health of your fighters by doing so, which doesn’t really make a lot of sense as you progress through the ranks. It’s much easier to bet on yourself and smash every opponent, even if you’re the hands on favorite, because it’ll get you into a much better fight later on. What’s more, ensuring the con is relatively easy, since you literally need to keep the believability at a decent level. However, setting the bet too long will usually result in a fight ending before it can go in, and too short isn’t really effective, nor will it matter as far as getting the crowd on your side.
Visually, the character models are large and decently muscled, which gives an impression of fighters that are skilled at their respective martial art. The game does do a good job of leaving your view of the other fighter unobstructed whenever you’re in front of them by making your character transparent. Some of the fighting animations are decent as well; a number of the punches and grabs aren’t bad, but the kicks could use some work, because they feel rather stiff and unrealistic compared to the other moves. The other thing that doesn’t make a lot of sense is the extreme load times of the game. The PSP isn’t loading a ton of graphics nor is it actively tracking a lot of motion, but the game is taking at least thirty seconds or more to load each fight, which is extremely tedious. Considering that it isn’t a situation of loading massive sound effects or vocals, which aren’t really present and the ones that are there are somewhat average, the slowness of the game is somewhat of a turnoff.
Conceptually, The Con seems like a strong game that would’ve been a unique twist on the fighting genre. Unfortunately, slow controls, even slower load times and somewhat ineffective features make it a game that just doesn’t work for most gamers. The hardcore brawler will probably want to take a look, but other players should stay out of this arena.