The Con

The Con

You'd better believe the game's rigged, but that's the whole idea.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: May 27, 2005
These days, it's not exactly easy to build a new fighting game from the ground up that doesn't borrow liberally from existing ideas. You've got your 2D fighter with sprites, your 2D fighter with polygons, your 3D fighter with free movement, your 3D fighter with environmental interaction, and any number of combinations of the above. So when we say Sony Computer Entertainment America's Santa Monica studio is hard at work on a fighting game that doesn't easily fit into any one of those categories, yet doesn't explicitly steal from any of them, it should mean something.

The Con is a fighting game, sure, and it's one where you have limited mobility in a smallish ring surrounded by a crowd, so at a glance it looks like a very basic 3D fighter, and in some respects, it is. Creating a character is a simple affair, allowing you to pick a face (including your own if you have a picture on your memory stick), build and clothing, then your fighting style (street boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, tae kwon do or jeet kune do).

The story as it stands right now goes something like this: you play an ex-con who's just started tasting free air again, but the freedom comes with a price: a rather sizable debt that must be paid. Quickly. To do so, you enter into an underground fighting championship to win the funds back, rising in ranks while earning the cash to pay back your debtor. Sure, it sounds like a basic setup, and the controls, a Tekken 5-style mapping of left and right punches and kicks to the face buttons, make things seem awfully simple -- until you try to scoot around the arena and realize that over-the-should camera is there because most of the movement you'll be doing is dodging incoming blows, not skipping all over the place easily.

The combat, though, is only part of the equation, and some might say it's not even half of the game. The biggest component is The Con, where you plunk money down and bet on the outcome of your own matches. You can bet for or against yourself or your opponent, and then actively work to win or throw the fight. The key here is to play the odds, though, so if you can get the crowd into it, convincing them the fight is going to go one way, you can stack things one way or the other, and then swing it back at the last second to rake in big cash.

Too simple a description? Fair enough, we'll give you a specific scenario. Let's say you put a bet in to your bookie, saying you'll win the fight, but you instruct them to hold off on submitting the bet for 2 minutes. For those two minutes, you take a beating, making sure you throw in a couple of punches here and there, mounting a couple light comebacks as the clock ticks away.

To really push the odds in your favor, you can opt to intentionally open yourself up to a couple big hits with a tap of the L shoulder button as the blow comes in. Alternatively, you can make a show for the audience by tapping L as your punches are about to connect. They'll glance off the other guy, but it'll look like a solid hit to everyone watching.

Time's up, and the bet is in. Now, the only thing left to do, after appearing to have gotten the crap kicked out of you (and make no mistake, faking a losing fight isn't all acting; you're going to be taking a pounding here, and your life bar is finite), is to turn things around. No more love taps, it's time to unleash a massive combo string. The game will apparently let you map a full combo to your buttons, though we didn't get a chance to see this in the demonstration Sony gave us.

After you've slugged the crap out of your opponent enough times, he'll go down, and you'll pocket a boatload of cash. The gamble here is that you have to take some legit hits, and you have to make it look like a good fight. The audience either won't care if things are too obviously slanted towards one person, but they'll see right through a fight that doesn't see-saw a few times. You'll have to balance the risk of losing a big chunk of your life bar vs. taking the easy way out and just winning to boost your ranking.

Exactly how this will work in multi-player hasn't been worked out, but the development team was more than happy to let us know that game sharing will indeed be in effect, so only one copy of the game will be needed for multiplayer matches. The ad-hoc fights are something we have yet to get into (and, in all fairness, the mode is still being built), but the whole idea of two people placing bets one way or the other and then playing the other person on a couple different levels is a kind of bare knuckle chess that hasn't really been seen in games before.

The real-time risk vs. reward system seems incredibly deep if given enough time, and it could make for some of the most white knuckled fights ever seen in a brawler. The fact that this is a PSP game makes it all the better, because up until now, there's only been a 2D fighter. If things keep progressing as smoothly as we hope, this going end up being the game to bust out while commuting to work or on a plane for a quick and dirty multiplayer game. More when we get it.