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Backbreaker [Review]

Overall Feeling: 

Backbreaker may not be a perfect football game but it isn’t far from becoming one. While it may not have the finesse of EA’s Madden, Backbreaker is still an enjoyable game that tries its best at offering a simulation based football experience.

The Pros: 

Nice control scheme that is relatively easy to get into. Most of the animations are nice and have that natural feel thanks to using the Euphoria tech. The custom team, jersey, and logo options are really deep and will hook those who wish to recreate their favorite team in the game. It may not push out an incredible amount of detail but the game does look nice visually even if some aspects are missing character to them.

The Cons: 

The presentation could use a bit of work. At times it seems like the A.I. can intercept the ball too often. It would’ve been nice if the player models were more varied as there aren’t any 330 pound behemoths on the field. The playbooks aren’t necessarily deep. POD’s “Here Comes the Boom” needs to go away. Rating : 

One of the most popular sports in the world is football. And by football I mean the football that’s popular in North America where players throw around a ball and try their best to tackle one another without causing life changing injuries.  Football is a major part of the American culture and surprisingly its video game counterpart has also been a huge staple as well. For the past fifteen years Electronic Arts’ Madden franchise has been the top football game amongst gamers and the mainstream press. EA’s depiction of the gridiron battle has been so popular that when a new Madden game comes out thousands of people take the day off from work so they can purchase and play the game. So yeah, over here in the U.S. Madden is the king.  But not everyone is a fan of Madden and some people simply detest what the franchise has become in the past few years.  Now Backbreaker, a brand new football IP has entered the fray ready to take Madden head-on.  Even though it might not have the might of EA behind it, Backbreaker does some good things but it also does some things that are akin to doing a fumble on an important play.

First off it needs to be said that Backbreaker is 100% a football simulation game.  All of the rules of the NFL are intact, there aren’t any crazy uber brutal tackles and the game doesn’t channel “Any Given Sunday” and have gouged eyes lying on the field.  So if you were expecting a game similar to NFL Blitz or just a slightly arcade football game then Backbreaker isn’t it.  Instead Backbreaker offers a pretty good representation of football that is a bit rough around the edges but it gets the job done in the important aspects of the classic pigskin throwing sport.

Backbreaker does a few things different from Madden and other football games the most notable of which are the controls and the camera.  Instead of using the standard camera which overlooks the entire field, Backbreaker places the camera right behind the QB, receiver or defensive lineman with a 3rd person camera.  The camera does take awhile to get used to but it’s not something that will handicap the player due to a limited field of vision.  It’s definitely going to be odd for gamers out there to not know how close the defensive line is behind them as they make the touchdown attempt but if anything that simply makes the game more exciting and in a way realistic. 

When it comes to throwing the football or making the important tackle most football games have followed a basic control scheme that is probably ingrained into most football gamers.  Backbreaker changes things up a bit as the game only uses the left and right shoulder buttons and both analog sticks for all of the action.  Yup, there’s not a single moment where you’ll need to press either the Square or B button to pass the ball to a receiver. I know, it probably sounds like a strange foreign concept but it works rather nicely. 

By simply flicking the right analog stick back and forward you can throw the ball to your intended receiver.  I didn’t encounter any problems using this newfound control method and it felt rather nice most of the time.  The only main issues I had was that switching between receivers pre-snap via the right analog stick was a bit touchy and the camera itself didn’t do as good a job illustrating the receiver as it could’ve. Once you’ve successfully made a pass to a receiver you once again use the right analog stick to perform both stiff arms and spins to avoid any defensive linemen coming your way.  But by holding RT/R2, you can enter aggressive mode in which your receiver will run fast and put a little extra power onto their evasive maneuvers.  

The Defensive game follows a similar pattern as pushing the right analog stick forward will execute a diving tackle which can be enhanced by entering aggressive or focus mode (press LT/L2).  Maybe it was just me but performing tackles just didn’t feel right as it’s literally “if you dive and mess you’re probably done.”  It’s nice that the defensive game requires some true timing and skill but it’s too much of a 1 chance or you’re screwed type thing.  It would’ve been nice if pushing the analog stick in different directions would’ve executed different types of tackles instead of a simple dive.  And trust me when I say that when you do a dive tackle and it totally misses the mark you’re going to feel like a total chump. But there are a few additional problems with the defensive game besides the tackling issues.  When you’re in the middle of the action and you’re trying to pin down the QB or receiver it’s very easy to get totally lost and not know what the hell is going on.  It’s not entirely a fault of the camera as sometimes the action can just go so fast that by the time you switch players it may be too late to foil the touchdown attempt.  This isn’t a major issue in the game as it’s something that I got used to the more I played and I’m sure the other football gamers will get used to it as well. But it would be nice if developer Natural Motion perhaps fine-tunes things a bit for a patch or a potential sequel.

One part of Backbreaker that is lagging a bit behind is the presentation.  Not every football game needs the ESPN license or various commentators to make things feel unique but Backbreaker really could use some help.  The various menus and the design of the playbooks aren’t ugly as it’s just kind of minimalistic and slightly barren.  This is apparent in the automatic replays which really don’t put you on the edge of your seat nor do they do an excellent job of showing the action.  It may also be odd for some that during the game there’s absolutely no commentator at all. The only sounds you’ll hear as you play come from the grunts of the players and the cheer of the audience.  Personally I didn’t think it was that much of an issue but when you hear POD’s “Here Comes the Boom” for the 15th time you may wish the game had a horrific one-liner commentator instead.

Thankfully the graphics aren’t as dull as some of the presentation in the game.  The character models may not boast an insane amount of polygons or personality since they all wear the same armor-esque football gear.  But in motion the players look good save for a few robotic looking running motions. That’s something I found odd considering the game uses the Euphoria animation engine which works when it comes to portraying what happens when a 280 pound man tackles a quarterback.  I must say that I did like the designs of the various stadiums as they had a nice Greek coliseum style feel to them. But it would’ve been nice if there was some sort of pre-game fly over cam to further highlight the stadium and personality of the different teams. Again this is a minor presentation quibble that isn’t a huge issue since this is merely the first installment of what could be a long running series.

Content wise Backbreaker doesn’t disappoint as it has a nice career style mode dubbed Road to Backbreaker. In the mode you can take a team through a season, pick up new players and ultimately try to become the Backbreaker champion.  There’s also a straightforward Exhibition mode if you wish to have a one-off game of football on a lazy day. That isn’t all Backbreaker has to offer as the game also has a mode called Tackle Alley.  As hinted by the name, Tackle Alley has you on an empty field as you try to survive waves of guys trying to tackle your ass to the next dimension. Tackle Alley may not be the deepest mode out there but it’s a nice one-off thing to play in between matches.  

If you’re turned off by the lack of NFL teams in Backbreaker then you shouldn’t be as the game boasts a very, very robust Create-a-Team mode.  Similar to Forza Motorsport, gamers can layer different shapes on top of one another to virtually create anything.  Creating a team, player, uniform and logo may take awhile but if you’re aching to have the Chicago Bears, the New England Patriots or the San Francisco Demons (XFL throwback) then it’s definitely worth investing the time since you can create a 1:1 match of your favorite football team.  As always I have a gripe about something and I just wished selecting colors for the various creation modes was a bit more intuitive compared to constantly moving the color wheel to your desired color option.

Backbreaker isn’t just at the level of greatness as Madden as a few presentation and gameplay issues prevent it from reaching the goal line.  As a first effort Backbreaker is a solid effort that isn’t hampered by any horrific game design issues or an attempt to match Madden 1:1 feature wise.  Given how Backbreaker succeeds at the core football experience aside from a few camera problems and A.I. that is too prone at intercepting the ball, Backbreaker should please those who are tired of Madden’s almost stagnant status.  With a little room for improvement on the presentation side of things and some fine tuning to a few mechanics Backbreaker could be a game that in 2-3 years becomes a serious competitor to Madden. But as of now Backbreaker is a game that makes the wild card but doesn't reach the championship game.