Does this game rise up to the challenge and face EA's football series? (via img.photobucket.com)
Electronic Arts (EA) and their sports division (EA Sports) has not had any real, serious competition in the world of American gridiron football since 2005 when the last edition of 2K's "NFL" series was released to the public. It was widely regarded as the best sports game released at the time, however, money issues on Sega's end as well as the NFL deciding to give their licensing rights exclusively to EA for the Madden series quickly brought an end to the franchise. It attempted a come back in 2008 with backing from a few ex-NFL celebs like Barry Sanders, Jerry Rice (yay!) and John Elway (BOO!), and it was called All-Pro Football 2K8. While it wasn't Madden or NCAA, it also wasn't widely regarded as better than the former.
Quite the interesting mix we got there... (via upload.wikimedia.org)
Let's fast-forward to May 29, 2010. A gridiron football game has been released to the public. It is the first game of its kind: using an in-game physics engine for all of the player tackle animations instead of pre-recorded animations using motion capture. While it successfully accomplishes this task, does it outplay and outshine EA's series? Let's find out after the jump.
Backbreaker - Trailer - PS3/Xbox360 (via YouTube)
Backbreaker is developed by NaturalMotion, the same creators of the Euphoria physics engine, which the game uses for all of its tackle animations. It is published by 505 Games, who is notable for also publishing IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey.
I will say this right off the bat. If you do pick this game up, do NOT go into this thinking it plays like Madden or NCAA, because I will tell you this right now: It does not.
Imagine it as a cross between a football game and "Gears of War." The camera, which is normally placed twenty feet above the field, is actually a few feet above the ground, and a few feet behind your assigned player. This can be very disorienting at first, however, the game is prepared with several tutorials right out of the gate in the main menu that will introduce you fully to the world of Backbreaker. It takes about the length of just a few of the beginning tutorials to get fully used to the camera angle. Also in the tutorials, you learn how to run, throw and play defense in Backbreaker as well. Running is rather straight forward: you use the left stick to move your character and you flick your right stick in certain motions to perform spin and juke moves (rather reminiscent of the flick stick controls of the "Skate" series).
The same goes for throwing, and this is where the differences between Backbreaker and Madden really start to show up. To throw a quick, no frills pass, you flick the right stick forward. For a bomb, you move the right stick in a u-motion, and so-on and so-forth. There's no "Press button A to throw to receiver A" here, as you look across the screen moving the right stick either left or right across to your different receivers. So in a way, the "vision cone" from Madden makes an unwelcome return here, and this is where some users might start to have negative feelings towards the game. But let's not pass judgment too quickly here. It is something that can be quite frustrating at first to get used to, but with a little practice anyone can be a master at it.
Fast-forward to 1:30 to get a view of what playing offense is like in Backbreaker (via pastapadre)
Starting a game is easy with Backbreaker. If you want a quick, traditional exhibition match, it's there in the menu as well as the regular forms of single-player gameplay: Franchise and Season mode. These modes all come with what's expected: play your team through a regular season and manage it while getting to the championship game and win the big one. Realistic stat-tracking is present for these as well, so if your running back had a career day it shows up as having the best day out of the rest of the computer-controlled league.
Once again, this is where the differences between NCAA and Madden show up. NCAA and Madden have play-by-play and color-commentators giving background info and other information on either your players or your opposition during play. In Backbreaker, all you have is your PA announcer in the stadium giving stats before and after each down. Also, while NCAA and Madden have a variety of songs and licensed music in both the menus and in the game, the only licensed song I have yet to hear in Backbreaker is P.O.D.s "Boom," which only plays during every kickoff... and I do mean EVERY kickoff.
While it does lack in the voice and music department, Backbreaker is NOT lacking in the sound effect and visuals department. The player models and stadiums are very detailed and realistic, then you get tackled by a big defensive lineman and you can just feel the sound of that tackle in you. Also, while you're running on a 60-yard touchdown run getting away from the defense, everything goes quiet until you ease up on your aggression trigger (the game's "speed" button) and then you hear your fans screaming for you to score.
However, one thing I have noticed when the visiting team is pretty much killing the home team, the home crowd always stays to the end of the game (while in NCAA or Madden, the stadium can be seen visually more empty in the later stages of a blowout win/loss). I am not sure why all of 65,000+ would want to stay for their team's 68-0 loss. I guess they're just very loyal to their new local team.
Everything you learned in the tutorials plays out very naturally when you're playing an actual football game in Backreaker. The controls are very responsive and you will find yourself scoring touchdowns in no time flat.
However, there are a few interesting flaws I have found:
One, is that no one will never be flagged for pass interference as it is known by us. I'm not sure if the game has changed the rules for it's own benefit or it's just a bug caused by the physics engine, but I have seen several instances where a cornerback runs into a receiver, causing the receiver to fall down and the cornerback to pick off the incoming pass.
Another is that the computer LOVES to rough the kicker for some reason. Most of the time it is one of your down linemen on a punt, they get out of their stance, heads toward the punter and instead of trying to block the punt, they just tackle the punter. I had a drive where it happened three times in a row, by the same player. On the fourth punt, I took control of the player instead of the return man, and the punter was able to get his kick off.
It's those two issues which really shake you out of your game-zone and remind you that you're playing a football game, however it's only those two issues which are really a fail on the game's interpretation of football. The game does a really damn good job with the rest.
A case of your receivers not being on the same page (via Afrikanxl)
Backbreaker should be interesting for those who are looking for an alternative for Madden or NCAA. For the long-term Madden or NCAA fan, there's a definite period of re-learning video game football to play Backbreaker, but when you do, you will find one of the most interesting and entertaining football game experiences out there right now.
+ The visual and audio presentation. It makes you feel like you're really out on the football field.
+ The physics engine. Seeing realistic tackles as well as ones that can scare the socks off you sell what the developers are trying to show gamers.
+ Create-a-Team. This is one of the best create-a-team systems out there. If you played the car racers Forza 2 or 3 and are used to that style of in-depth customization, you will be right at home with Backbreaker.
+ The run game. There's nothing like the thrill of the chase from 11 guys wanting your hide for their mantelpiece.
+The passing game. Completing a pass in Backbreaker feels like a real accomplishment instead of a commodity like in Madden or NCAA.
- The passing game. I know I just said I liked it, but weird, rare bits like your receiver not attempting to catch a thrown ball or the aforementioned missing pass interference make the passing game something to despise as well.
- Special Teams mishaps. Roughing the Kicker will happen by your AI teammates. If it happens more than once, take control of that player on the next fourth down. If not, it may spell doom to your team in that game.
- The PA announcer. Mister Stocky McGeneric can get monotonous and bland (but only if you really pay attention to him).
- "Boom" by P.O.D. This song will get on your nerves sooner or later (every kickoff it plays and there's no way to turn it off).
- The crowd. Seriously... who sticks around to see their team losing by fifty points? In the third quarter?