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The Con (PSP)


By Michael Palisano

While there haven't been many fighting games on the PSP to date, this is about to change with The Con. It focuses on underground street fighting but isn't a traditional fighting game in many aspects. The Con's close-range camera system and story driven matches give it a different feel. In addition, the object isn't just to win fights but to con the attendees into betting on your character, or to believe a faked fall, a phony comeback and more. Players also have the ability to train and build up their characters stats over time. This isn't the deepest fighting game ever made, but The Con is solidly entertaining and challenging, making it it an excellent companion for short bursts of mobile action.

The Con takes an interesting approach to the fighting genre. Here, you aren't playing for respect, or the beat your opponents, instead you are playing for cash in a series of underground battles against not just the other players. You also need to perform a bit to fool the audience, in order to increase your winnings. This definitely gives The Con a distinct feel from other games, and helps to make the bouts much more interesting than they otherwise would be. One of the cool aspects of the game is how many options it gives you in how your fighter progresses, you can play it safe and slowly build up a cash reserve, or take some chances and try to pull of cons to make the crowd bet against itself without giving away your tricks. It's this aspect of The Con that makes it so exciting. Playing through the Con in its single player mode reveals an interesting fighting game with engaging mechanics - but not much else. The moves lists are decent, though the game isn't as complex or elaborate as in more traditional fighters. The Con's fighting system is also surprisingly robust, with an array of kicks and punches available for each character, along with combos, special attacks and throws. Adding to the depth is the fact that each of the nine characters has a unique fighting style that gives each one a unique set of moves. These features are standard for fighting games, but controlling what's going on behind the scenes, and deciding your character's motivations and tactics plays a big role in the gameplay, and this aspect is where The Con sets itself up as more than a traditional fighting game.

The Con's most exciting aspects is the innovative istory mode, where you can bet for or against yourself while work your way up through the ranks, earning respect and cash while trying to pull off a 'perfect con' - the trick is not to get caught doing it. If the crowd finds out they've been had, your bet and money is lost, and your character gets a beatdown, causing them injury and precious money. You start off at the bottom of the ranks and need to go through several early bouts before you enter the real matches. Players have a great deal of freedom to customize their characters, and call have up to three different fighters in their gang, each one of which has their own unique fighting style. There are five different fighting styles including Wrestling, Street Boxing, Tae Kwon Do, Kick Boxing and Jeet June do. Within these fighting methods, you can create a fighter that has a unique style by training and resting them up. Between rounds, players have the opportunity to train for several weeks, and can choose to different aspects of their fighter - from health to stamina to strength to focus on during specific weeks. After you have set up your training regimen, you can make wagers on the outcome of each match. You can see the odds on your character before each round. These change depending on how the bout is going - and rise and fall depending on your progress. You can mess with these on purpose to increase your odds and winnings by setting the timer for the last bet, purposely taking dives or setting things up so the fight goes down to the wire.

In order to perform a con effectively, the object is to make the audience think something is happening when its really not. For example, you can fool the audience into thinking your character is taking a beating by taking punches and leaning into attacks by pressing the Left shift button. However, if you take too many hits without fighting back, the audience will quickly sense something is amiss. You can see the fight's overall ranking (thumbs up or down) with the crowd using an indicator at the top of the screen. If you end the fight with a thumbs-down rating, your con will come undone and you'll lose your wager and cash. This interesting approach works well and gives the fights an invigorating strategic element where you have to keep the overall strategy in mind before each bout. In order to succeed, you have to keep an eye on the indicators and time your moves and strategies to maximize your odds. The twist means that instead of merely punching and kicking mindlessly, you need to keep your eye on the bigger picture and the role you're playing at all times. Winning a match outright is much simpler than trying to pull off a convincing fall - try too little and the crowds catch on, work too hard and you reduce your odds and payout. You also have to consider other factors when you're trying to pull off a con. If you decide to take hits, this can injure your fighter - which will cost you precious training time while you recover or enter the hospital. Entering the Hospital costs money, and doing so on purpose will cut into your winnings, so you need to balance the risks and rewards. Additionally, if your con is uncovered, you'll also face a beatdown, which can further add to your character's injuries. As you can see, the betting system adds another dimension to the gameplay, adding strategy and risk if you decide to go for bigger payoffs by pulling cons.

These single player modes are enjoyable, but you can also enjoy The Con with friends via ad-hoc mode using the PSP's wireless functions. Players can choose to battle another player head to head, and their opponents won't necessarily need an actual disc to play thanks to the game sharing feature. In addition to standard fighting modes, you can also choose to put items you've earned on the line, increasing the stakes and the excitement of each game. From an aesthetic standpoint, the game looks fairly decent, and uses a behind the fighters perspective to give you a good view of the action from all angles. The Con's in-game music fits the gameplay's mood perfectly, offering up a funky, sophisticated soundtrack. Each character looks decent and animate nicely, giving each character a gritty, realistic appeareance. An effective camera system works well within to give you a good view of the action, and you don't have to worry about changing angles in the middle of a brawl. Controlling the characters is fairly simple, and the accessible button configuration makes it easy to perform multiple hit combos and special moves. Adding to this depth, players can learn and unlock additional moves throughout their career, helping to decrease any monotony. Unfortunately, the Con suffers from some fairly long load-screens, some of which seem to last much longer than the actual fights themselves. This definitely hurts the game's momentum, and is a probably the game's biggest issue. While the game is well constructed, It also suffers from somewhat predictable AI, and even some non-existent AI early in, where the opposing fighter can be beaten with almost no effort.

However, these problems are mitigated somewhat by the extensive customization features and innovative gambling aspect to the game, which definitely gives The Con a unique feel that helps it stand out from the pack. While there have been many 'street' combat tiles made over the years, adding the gambling aspect definitely adds to the excitement and strategy of each fight. The system gives you different motivations, and keeping these motivations straight, learning the timing and maximizing your odds during each bout helps to make for a compelling fighter. While this isn't the deepest or most intense fighting game, The Con definitely stands out from the pack thanks to its unique approach to the genre. These innovative features are implemented nicely, and enhance the gameplay. Any level of change is definitely welcome in what has become a somewhat predictable genre, and the Con integrates these ideas effectively to create one of the more original PSP titles to date. This isn't a perfect game by any means, the load times can become oppressive and the battles don't seem to last as long as they should thanks to the predictable AI. However, The Con is an entertaining and challenging game with enough innovation, accessible controls and strategic elements that make it a notably unique title in the genre.

Grade: B

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