Backbreaker Xbox 360 review
Publisher – 505 Games – Developer – NaturalMotion Games – Genre – Sports – Players – 1-4 – Age Rating – 3+ – Version tested – Xbox 360 – Other console/handheld formats – PS3
For a long time there has been only one benchmark for American Football games – the Madden series from Electronic Arts, brainchild of its founder Trip Hawkins. But much in the same way Skate challenged Tony Hawk, Backbreaker and NaturalMotion Games have stepped onto the gridiron to bring a different approach.
The first step will be to play through the Training Camp mode, introducing the player to the movements and button presses. This is split into several sections representing the different phases of the game, with drills for blitzing, kicking and passing, for example. Once the basic skills have been learnt, it is time to jump into an Exhibition Game. For longer term play, there are the League modes. You can play an 8 or 16 team league, or the larger Road to Backbreaker mode.
The in-game menus for selecting plays are relatively simple compared to Madden. On offence, there is a choice of Pass, Run, Special (for punting or field goals) and Ask the Coach. This last one will give you a good recommendation in most situations, and also offers some good alternative plays to mix things up. On Defence the four main options are Coverage (for dropping back to stop the pass), Blitz (for attacking the quarterback/running back), Balance (for short passes and running plays) and Special (for returning punts or blocking field goals). It does help to have some knowledge of how the various formations (a nickel defence or a shotgun offence) work. Once the play commences, the attacking side can be controlled as the quarterback, or attention shifted to the running back or receiver to run their route. On defence any player can be selected, letting you defend the pass or rush the quarterback as you see fit.
The Tackle Alley game, originating in the mobile phone arena, is a lot of fun and a nice addition to the package. Players attempt to sprint downfield to the endzone, evading tacklers and pulling off special moves to earn big points. Showboating, spinning and juking can be pulled off in combo, and later waves add extra point zones on the field and more tacklers to dodge. This mode can also be played online with the added competitive edge of leaderboards.
There are good and bad points about the game, the most notable being the lack of an official NFL license. The end result is a group of teams and players that sound like the real thing, but clearly aren’t. The team editor is however very comprehensive. A simple logo and kit layout can be quickly put together, or time can be spent tweaking every letter and symbol to produce a complex multi-layer team symbol with lettering. Teams can be played online or off in any mode, with extra teams unlocked for completing parts of the game.
Graphically, the menus are polished and the stadiums look equally good in daytime or at night. Initially the instant replays look the part, with a clever filter to make them appear as if on a giant stadium screen. However, being unable to change the camera angle and not being able to fast forward/rewind soon grate. Sound design is poor, with an overused snippet of P.O.D.’s “Here Comes The Boom” and a stadium announcer that can be difficult to decipher.
Much of the hype has been around the use of the Euphoria engine (and nvidia’s Physix middleware) to give realistic tackling and computer AI. And the tackles can be spectacular, from a last-gasp grab to the arm to a full-on frontal hit. There is even the occasional funny moment when players collide accidentally. But what pulls it back is that the different players do not handle differently, all of them moving with the same weight. There is very little difference in the player models either, with only small variations in size and height. Again this detracts from the realism. The simplified playbooks on both offence and defence are a pity, because the actual mechanics of making a play are pretty sound. It does take some getting used to passing the ball accurately, and at times there seems to be too many interceptions and misses. What does work well are the guidelines showing the planned routes and where the defenders are heading.
This is a very solid base to start what could hopefully be a long-running franchise. The NFL Blitz series tried the “thrills and spills” approach but fell by the wayside. With more polish and depth, future Backbreaker games will spend a lot of time in the American Football fan’s drive.