previews\ Aug 15, 2005 at 8:00 pm

The Con - PSP - Preview 2

I first saw it at E3. We danced that silly dance that lovers do, acting like we didn't want each other as badly as we did. I pressed a few buttons; the game reacted accordingly. It was love at first sight and gaming lust at first touch. I couldn't keep my hands off it...till the security guard kindly told me it was time to go, then strapped me in a straightjacket and threw me out the door. (I don't know why they took such extreme measures. It's not like I was going to stay all night.)

Three months later and we're finally reunited. I knew it was going to be a big moment for us so I had my butler (all GameZone writers have one, didn't you know?) set a candlelight dinner. Not that we needed it with PSP's ultra-bright screen. But it helped get us in the mood for some hot and heavy hand-to-hand combat.

No one could have prepared us for the night we were about to have.

The Con is, in nearly every shape and form, one of the most unique fighting games released in the past five years. It takes elements from the finest street fighters and several arcade classics to create an experience that is unusually different. The over-the-shoulder view wouldn't mean much if that was the only thing that stood out about the game, but that's not even half of it. It's not even a fourth, or an eighth. The developers went all out to bring us a game that will make us shout, "We need a more powerful battery!"

Designed exclusively for PSP, The Con features a solid cast of hard-hitting combatants. It also includes an enormous cast of clones that borrow a mixture of moves, stances and techniques that the main fighters use. These cloned fighters can be edited to look like yourself, your friend, whoever. Simply take a photo, load it onto your PSP and you're on your way to transforming yourself into polygons.

As exciting as that feature is, it's the combat that made me weak in the thumbs. The combo system is what I refer to as Virtua Fighter Plus. Plus automatic attacks. Plus counterattacks. Plus evasive moves that are comparable to the best boxing games. And since your fighter is controlled from a unique view, the playing field changes in ways you wouldn't have imagined. All the standard fighting game actions are available (except jumping, which wouldn't have been appropriate here). But now you have to almost re-learn them in order to conquer each opponent. No matter what, you can be certain that the most fun you will have with this game will be the time between your first match and the moment when you become a master. Gaining experience, learning all the nuances and new techniques (like when and how to dodge a punch) make this the most exciting fighting game I've played since Soul Calibur II.

In addition to the mental and physical experience gained (physical meaning your thumbs -- they can only move so fast at first!), players also acquire experience for winning fights that raises your characters' overall potential. And no that wasn't a typing error. I did say "characters." In The Con's story mode, you pick one of the main fighters to lead the way to victory, but must also acquire two tough guys (or tough gals) to stand by your side.

Each of your team's three characters are fully playable. An interesting twist is that you only have one match per character. Therefore if the game rules are best two out of three, all of your fighters may battle (one per round).

Matches are listed with a number of weeks that you have to train, rest or heal yourself before the next battle begins. These features occur automatically. (Smart move, developers! No soporific mini-games to put us to sleep.) Select the attribute that you want to raise and it's done. Unfortunately, raising one attribute drops another. The dropped attribute loses fewer points than the raised attribute gains, but its purpose is to remind you to create a well-rounded character. By raising all attributes you won't lose anything.

Healing is a necessary task if your fighter is injured. It'll cost you some dough, but that shouldn't be a problem as long as you don't waste too much of your cash on fancy haircuts, among other costly services that can be purchased. There are items to nab as well, like hats and clothes to make your character look as hot as a street thug can look. Customization enthusiasts are going to flip over these features, especially when they import their face into the game. "Look guys, that's me! Look at my threads!"

As with any fighting game, The Con has an arcade mode (complete with a boss at the end called Mask. You can buy his mask at the shop, but is he playable? If other fighting games are an indication, the answer is probably yes). It also features an endurance mode, and a time attack mode that measures how fast you really are. (At beating the game, not at how fast you can drive to the store to buy it.)

Last but certainly not least is The Con's original "con" feature. Almost every fight is accompanied with a bet. You win money if you bet on the winner, which means you'll probably want to spend most of your time betting on yourself. But if you lose the fight, you not only walk away with a decreased rank, you also walk away with less cash.

That's why it's good to bet on your opponent, and if you're beating him or her, let the con man in you kick in and start fooling the crowd. Hold the L button and your fighter will take punches and die pretty quickly. A crowd meter judges the believability of the fight - if the crowd thinks the fight is fixed everyone walks away a loser. Fool the crowd and take the cash. Go home a champ whether you're a winner or a loser. But pick your bets wisely. It's not always easy to judge who the real champ is.

I'm stoked, ecstatic and extremely enthused. All those words and more could be used to describe what I'm feeling for this game (love. Pure love). Start training now. It launches in October.



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