At the beginning of this generation, with the technological advances in physics, many craved an authentic football game focusing on realistic movement and tackles. Backbreaker sets out to meet those expectations, claiming unprecedented realism in regards to physics. Does Backbreaker live up to its lofty expectations or choke under the pressure.
The technology behind Backbreaker is truly astonishing. From a technological stand-point Backbreaker slaughters Madden in almost every category. Running animations, tackles and kick-offs are incredibly realistic, providing an experience that no other football game has matched. I have never used instant replay as much as I have in Backbreaker and this is due to the brutal tackles the game has. Every animation has a particular attention to detail that I have never seen in any other football game. The way players shed blocks, or spin away from would-be tacklers is so authentic that I wonder what Madden has been doing all these years. The graphics are certainly no slouch either. Character models are well done and most importantly are incredibly believable. The lighting and stadium models also stand out. The technology is fantastic, but how does the gameplay match up?
This is where Backbreaker begins to take a dive. Backbreaker is played with an on-field camera and while I agree with this decision, it’s not without some issues. There’s a lack of precision with this system that can often become frustrating. Switching between players is quick but it’s also very hectic. For instance, if you blitz and miss the Quarterback or Running Back and want to switch to another defender this creates problems. Often times, your player gets cluttered up in a group of players and cannot break free, which in turn, make it very difficult to tackle the opposing player. Another issue with the on-field camera is the amount of yards gained. Several times, I found myself criticizing the amount of yards that I gained, thinking I got more. Penalties’ are another issue, which are poorly executed. They are random and even when they are called, they usually are completely wrong. On the bright side the camera does shine in some spots, especially when controlling the RB. It’s very rewarding to break a long run and the camera helps reinforce that, giving you the illusion that you’re the player.
Given how developer 505 Games hyped the controls it’s also worth mentioning those, which are a mixed bag. The initial reception is negative given how steep the learning curve is, especially for a more casual player. Most of the actions are used via the right analog stick, which include tackling, diving, throwing, stiff-arms, jukes, covering pretty much the essentials. Sometimes this can be a blessing in disguise, especially when using the running back. Other times, especially with the quarterback, the lack of precision can become so frustrating you want to smash your controller. Needless to say, you will throw a lot of interceptions when you first start playing. For those wondering, there is an option to switch controls to a more traditional style which uses the face buttons.
Feature wise, Backbreaker has both an online Exhibition mode and Tackle-Alley. Tackle-Alley pits the player against waves of would-be tacklers. The objective is to get as many points as possible by using the different evasion techniques and by celebrating. It’s simple and fun, overall fitting well into the Backbreaker package. Backbreaker also features a full-fledged team customization option. It’s a powerful tool even though the interface can be clunky at times. With enough persistence you can recreate the entire NFL roster. After building an ideal team you can take them into a mode called Road to Backbreaker which is a way of building your teams stats up. Other than customizing appearance, Backbreaker’s options are restrictive. Stats cannot be tweaked they have to be built, which can be time consuming. Player appearance is surprising basic and typical things like height and weight cannot be edited.
Overall, the most disappointing feature in the game is the poor instant replay. The camera cannot be moved, rotated, skewed or anything of that sort. Worst than that, is the lack of an instant replay save feature. Given the emphasis on physics, this exclusion is mind-boggling. I would have loved to save my greatest moments on the gridiron.
The sound design is very underwhelming, there’s very little commentary and the same song is replayed every time you kick-off. At first, it gets you pumped up, but after a while becomes repetitive. Everything on the field seems a bit to quiet and if they work on a sequel, the sound design needs a huge overhaul.
Despite these shortcomings Backbreaker defines itself as a next generation football title. It’s frustrating at some points, but overall, the enjoyment far exceeds it. Backbreaker delivers on the promises it made years ago. Madden can step off his high horse; there’s a legitimate contender in this genre.