Gamers have come to expect quite a bit from their $60 investment. We’ve learned to expect a fully fledged single-player experience, a multiplayer mode, and possibly even options for customization. A game is rarely worthy of our hard-earned cash if it doesn’t have all of these features, especially a sports title. But though Backbreaker has all of these obligatory features, that fact alone still doesn’t guarantee worthiness.
[image1]Backbreaker is the football sim, developed by Natural Motion, that doesn’t need the licensed teams of the NFL. You might recognize Natural Motion as the developers of the Euphoria physics engine that powers games like Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption and the flailing limbs of Stormtroopers in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. This engine is Backbreaker‘s biggest shot at a favorable comparison to EA’s Madden franchise.
It’s pretty much impossible to review Backbreaker without mentioning Madden, so I’ve pretty much given up on that endeavor. Natural Motion’s Euphoria engine allows tackles to be animated on the fly. Madden’s use of "canned" animations can look awkward at times, while Backbreaker‘s tackles may never look the same twice. This is actually totally true. Pile-ups, fumbles, tackles, and stiff arms all look great and that actually makes successful plays really empowering, not to mention fresh.
Backbreaker also utilizes a wealth of customization options. Being able to alter every single team in the game and create your own teams can be fun, if you have the time. In fact, you could even create the NFL teams (don’t sue me)! Let’s be honest with ourselves, though. The first thing I did when I started forging my own team was calling my hometown a vulgar word. Next, I named the team itself a vulgar word. If I had the energy, I probably would have named each and every player, including the benchwarmers, a different curse word. A mind bending exercise if there ever was one.
So cursing is fun, but what about the game itself? Things don’t look good when simple curse words are this high on the list.
[image2]Backbreaker makes some other choice changes to Madden‘s proven, and admittedly tired, formula. The first thing players will notice is the camera angle. Instead of a wide-angled, overhead view, a close third-person perspective is employed to give the game a more action-oriented slant. This can be one of two things: entertaining or infuriating. At first glance, this perspective is kind of neat, especially when you’re running the ball aggressively causing the camera to shake back and forth. Unfortunately, in the passing game, this camera can be extremely frustrating and limiting. The player has to push the right stick to select receivers before chancing a pass.
Problems with passing don’t end there. I don’t pretend to be a football fanatic, but after spending hours upon hours with the game, I would still consistently throw interceptions every other play. Luckily, the computer is always throwing interceptions as well. This kind of action fumbles the successful feeling the tackling system left me with.
But among the worst of it all is the lack of presentation. Nearly every football player looks the same. Their uniforms look like they’re made from plastic. Referees have been transformed into Jumbotron cut-scenes. There are no coaches or players on the sidelines. And the crowds are comprised of the same four people copied a million times over.
Backbreaker would be better served as a title for a wrestling game. Having all the modes gamers expect is a good maneuver, but without the proper backfield, it’s a move that fails to reach the end-zone. I can’t imagine Backbreaker really taking any players away from the Madden franchise. If you’re desperate to play some video game football, Backbreaker will briefly satisfy those cravings, though it won’t keep them at bay for long.