Well with the summer beginning to wind down the best sport this side of poker is upon us, NFL Football. Lacing up the boots and grabbing pigskin on the gridiron is perhaps one of the last bastions’ of balls-breaking manliness people can see in a sport today. Even soccer, with all of it’s vuvuzelas, can’t touch the sport.
But when it comes to video games, Football, and most sports in general, have been mediocre at best. Streamlined, corporatized releases by EA when it comes to games like Madden every year kind of get boring and, honestly, repetitive. I have no played a Madden Game since 2004, because it has been for the most part unchanged, with minor tweaks to the formula. Hell, the last great football game I actually played was "NFL 2k2," which to me is perhaps the best football game ever made, at least on what I have played.
But why the long opening into a review of a more obscure title? Well, to be honest, it is important to see where I am coming from when I begin talking about "Backbreaker". "Backbreaker" has been out since at least June of this year, and has recently gotten some press since "Madden 2011" came out. What is interesting about the game is the small fan base and a recent patch of the game, nicknamed Greathouse, that actually fixed up the game a bit. This honestly intrigued me, so I picked up a copy.
And, it is not too bad. It still has a lot of work before it can be a so called Madden Killer, but it is a fresh start, like the massive underdog in every 90’s sport movie who has just enough to take down the big man.
For starters, "Backbreaker" is mostly about the customization and creation of teams. The 50 plus teams packaged into the game are demos of what can be made in the creation mode, and since you can’t use licensed NFL teams in your game, you might as well create your own. The creation options are impressive, and the toolsets are really deep and complex, if you invest in the time to learn them. These customization options are the best part of Backbreaker, which is telling about the game overall, but a good start to something great.
Once you have your little giants ready, you can play in standard exhibition or online modes, and a season and the Road to Backbreaker mode. For the most part, the season is creating your own custom leagues, while Road to Backbreaker is taking your team through pre-set leagues of increasing difficulty, winning games and signing free agents to improve your teams effectiveness and talent on the field. There is few, if any, coaching options in the game, you can basically flip plays but you can’t make your own. You also have the choice of either an arcade mode, which gives you a few random plays per round to follow, or a pro mode, which lets you pick your options in a more Madden like fashion.
The options here are actually welcome, because they can cater to your play style. I personally never cared for the constant options and audible plays that experienced Madden fans can probably do on the fly before the snap of the football. In all honesty, I always enjoyed the more arcade style of the Midway version of "NFL Blitz," faster paced, simpler to control, and somewhat predictable as to what happens. And this is what "Backbreaker" reminds me of, it can be more hardcore for the hardcore, but it can also be simple and sweet if you want it to be, something that, from my recollection at least, Madden did not have, or has just recently added.
There is also a pretty cool mini-game called tackle alley, which has you running through 100 different scrimmages of varying difficulty to score as many points as possible. At first it seems really easy to accomplish, but by the 70th and 80th run mark, it becomes a extremely difficult, navigating through a maze while avoiding and fending off defenders just to reach the end-zone. It is a nice diversion, but overall nothing too special.
The controls in the game are a bit loose. Almost all of the plays, passes, runs, and so forth, use a total of two buttons and the joysticks on the controllers to do. To pass you need to flick up, to change your man flick left and right, to stiff arm or juke, move right or left. It does take some time to get used to the controls, and it is too sensitive sometimes, so I feel like the buttons not used could be hot keyed to make offense and defense a lot easier.
I also want to point out I played this post the Greathouse patch, which fixed a lot of the complaints about passing and not seeing your man on the field. They did fix it, but it is still tough to control.
It also doesn’t help that the camera tries to get in on the action as much as possible, but it also affects the controls in a poor way. For example, doing a run with a blocker to sack the QB is difficult to do because once the ball snaps, the camera zooms in as soon as you go into an aggressive run. Now granted it is optional to do aggressive runs, but you lose control of the camera when doing so. It is so hard to maneuver at times it becomes a major distraction.
The game is also a mixed bag with it’s presentation. The graphics are ok, rich in color and nicely detailed, but the models used are all stock models. There is no variation to the players on the field, except their names, team colors, numbers and skin color. The euphoria engine, which is also rightfully praised, adds a lot of crazy physics into the game, but other than that the world of" Backbreaker" is basically dead. The crowd is pretty good, but there are no referees, no coaches, no outside world other than the sprites in the stands. The sound is also pretty weak. Generic music and sound effects plus a song by the band P.O.D don’t mask the weaker presentation.
So where does this rank "Backbreaker" in the realm of football greatness? For a first time effort, developer Natural Motion has done something more so of a tech demo than a full fledged game. However, it is the first game in a long while that has been given just enough support and respect to hopefully warrant a sequel which will definitely turn it into a fuller, more fleshed out game. I do recommend a play of the game, the customization is really good and the controls, while a bit loose, are something different. Plus with the arcade mode, it can lead to a more fun and frantic time than going full pro on people online. As it stands though, it is still 4th and long against the giant that is "Madden 2011", but that is what hail mary passes are for.
Final Score- C