In a gaming landscape completely dominated by Madden, any other football game must be absolutely flawless to gain a foothold on the market. Backbreaker, developed by Natural Motion Games, is the newest challenger to the throne. Despite fighting an uphill battle, Backbreaker managed to capture attention by introducing an overhauled running game and euphoria physics engine. While NMGames creation does bring something new to the table, its features don’t live up to the hype, and its vast array of gameplay issues ruin Backbreaker the moment you take the field.
From the moment of purchase, Backbreaker gives you the impression that it is going to be an over-the-top, silly game. The box art features a monstrous, tatted up linebacker looking down at you and yelling, presumably seconds after he rocked your weak ass. Every kickoff features the same rock riff (“Boom! Here comes the boom! Ready or not!”) no matter what the situation is. Even the team names are kind of bizarre; get ready to roll out as the D.C. Lawmakers. HOO-RAH!
Despite its trappings, Backbreaker might be the purest football sim out there. Gameplay is completely centered around bringing you to the players perspective; the camera is placed right over your shoulder. This makes for an intensely realistic experience. In the running game, you must be able to anticipate where holes will open up without the luxury of seeing the entire field. While passing, you will only be able to see one or two receivers at any given tine, forcing you to make defensive reads before the snap and check down options with split second efficiency. Once you have a few games under your belt, you will feel like a seasoned NFL veteran.
Unfortunately, Backbreaker fails to properly execute these gameplay features. While I have no problem with the low positioning of the camera, I do take issue with the shaking. Yes, in actual football, your point of view shakes, but in actual football, the camera is your eyes. From the over the shoulder perspective, the shaking often gets in the way of necessary actions (such as locating the ball carrier on defense, even though there is a button for that). The way it plays right now, Backbreaker makes it so hard for my eyes to focus that I was often feeling nauseous after only a half hour of play.
The running game really isn’t special. In my first shot review of Backbreaker, I lauded the running game as feeling fresh. However, with more time spent with it, I realized that Backbreaker’s running game is not only old hat, but worse off than Madden’s to boot. Madden featured gut reaction run moves (such as jukes) mapped to the right stick, with other moves mapped to the face buttons. This allowed easy access to each move. Backbreaker keeps everything tied to the right stick, forcing you to perform specific motions to execute moves. In the heat of the moment, executing a spin move should just be a flick or a button press, not a pull back and sweep forward. To top it off, perfect execution activates the desired result only half the time, leaving you to be tackled prematurely often. It appears as though Backbreaker wanted to break conventions merely to be different from Madden. Unfortunately, it has negative effect on the quality of play.
The left stick is far too overcompensating. While changing direction, Backbreaker will interpret a slight stick movement as a desire to RUN DIRECTLY AT THE #$!*%^@ SIDELINE, allowing you the pleasure to be gang tackled for a loss. It often feels like you are playing on ice, where your momentum will often send you flying in the wrong direction.
Playing defense is an absolute joke. Blitz. It will work, scouts honor. The computer never adjusts to your onslaught, and the relatively slow speed of switching targets in the passing game ensures that your friends wont be fast enough either.
There is very little to do in Backbreaker. The season mode is devoid of any sort of depth. You can’t simulate any games, so wannabe GMs should prepare for disappointment. There is a draft and you can scout players, but doing so is a total crapshoot; you pick a set amount of players to scout for any given week, and then find out if they are a gold, silver, or bronze star player. There are no practices, no interviews, no agents: season mode is bare bones in every sense of the phrase.
Outside of season mode is a vast wasteland. The “road to backbreaker” mode is merely the season mode played over and over again with different options each time. Why this was considered a new mode of play is beyond me. There is a fun mini game called “tackle alley” where you are a lone ball carrier who must score on every play up against a defense that grows in number as you progress, but it gets boring fast.
As a major football fan, I could have been able to enjoy Backbreaker a little bit despite these issues, but there is one absolutely crippling issue with the game: penalty calling. Backbreaker does call penalties, but its formula for deciding what is and isn’t a penalty is a mystery. I was able to be offside on defense, murder the quarterback long after the ball left his hands, and make illegal shifts to my heart’s content all without seeing a single flag. On the flipside, I could be an absolute rule abiding cherub and see flags all over the place. These seemingly random penalties break up the rhythm of the game and get in the way of the fun.
While those penalties are annoying, one officiating issue renders Backbreaker completely unplayable: defensive holding and pass interference. In football, a defender is allowed to jam a receiver from the line of scrimmage up until 5 yards downfield. Once the receiver is past 5 yards, he cannot be touched. In Backbreaker, defenders routinely bear-hugged receivers downfield, leaving no one open and causing sack after sack. If by miracle someone is open, you can bet that your receiver will be tackled while the ball is in the air. It is absolutely mind-blowing that Backbreaker was released with this glaring problem.
It sucks too, because otherwise, Backbreaker has some nice stuff to look at. Stadium design is absolutely beautiful, featuring architecture that places necessities such as hang time clocks right in your line of sight during kickoffs. The euphoria tackling system creates very unique tackles, and should definitely be used in future sports games.
However, when it comes to challenging Madden, Backbreaker performs miserably. With half the offensive side of the ball broken, and the defensive side completely in shambles, there is no way I could in good conscience recommend Backbreaker. Avoid it at all costs, especially with better alternatives available.