Backbreaker: Vengeance Review (PS3)

Backbreaker Vengeance is stupid. You look at it and wonder where it’s come from. You also question why you’re having so much fun playing it. You shouldn’t like Backbreaker Vengeance. After all, marketing departments are constantly preaching how we should be playing games that are cinematically explosive. They should be in 3D, have Willy Wonka-esque graphics features, and make you feel as though you’re living the game you’re playing.


The market is awash with titles that take themselves so seriously that they’d make Gordon Brown look like a clown, and not the politically inept kind. They’re too busy trying to emulate cinema that they’ve forgotten what made gaming great in the first place – that twinge of excitement when you’re experiencing an outlandish situation. Vengeance is ground in reality, but takes its source material and slaps it across the face.

American Football is hardly the most widespread of sports. Regardless of what the United States thinks, its appeal worldwide is far from huge. It could be the complicated rules, the slow pace or the fact everyone wears pads. The world already has Rugby for its hand-egg-ball sport, so piling on the foam for protection in a physically-focussed sport seems counterproductive.

Alas, this isn’t a tirade against the NFL, but rather the fact American Football’s struggled to penetrate the minds of anyone outside of the US. FIFA’s the globe’s largest sporting brand and rightfully so. Madden has its fans, but a steep learning curve prevents interested parties from getting involved. Backbreaker however, does the opposite.

In fact, getting past its name will be the biggest issue for most players. It doesn’t really tell the gamer what Vengeance is about. It’s only once you begin to play that you understand. Neanderthal stupidity.

Backbreaker takes the sport of American Football and guts all the dull parts. It cuts out the tactics, the restarts, the snail’s pace. Instead it focuses on one thing – getting the ball to the end while avoiding what’s in your way. There’s no team – you’re one man against a horde of aggressive opposing men.

They want you and your ball. You want to get to the end. It’s deliciously simple. It’s up to you to dodge, jump, slide, juke (feint in a direction), spin and barge your way through obstacles. Doing so is achieved via a well laid out set of controls. Once you’ve got your head around the layout, and the timing that’s required, you move from being insta-tackled to gallivanting around the stadium like an eloquent ballet dancer. Except you have massive muscles and can knock opponents to the ground with your head.

At the heart of the above is a combo system that has you racking up as many points as possible. With online leaderboards driving you on, you get a multiplier for ever successful action you do. Dodge a flying enemy, x2. Slide under an opponent, x3. Jump a barrier x4. Hit some points pads, get the corresponding score times your bonus.

It’s all about risk and reward. With 5 lives per wave, and 5 waves per challenge, if you spend too long wasting time or taking a difficult route, you’ll have to start all over again. You could go for the 500 pad with a bonus of x6, but two people stand in your way. You have the ability to showboat to the crowd for excess points, but it leaves you open to attack and failure. There’s no dodging when you’re dancing around the ground. All this means the game is surprisingly complex – it creatively uses out-of-bounds barriers to keep you in tight areas. Think of it as Fun House meets Wipeout, without the gunge.

It’s not lacking in content either – there are three modes to play with, online and off. Tackle Alley is the core concept where you’re faced with increasingly complex waves, obstacles and opponent types (colouring indicates whether you should jump, slide or barge your way through). Reversing the role is Vengeance where you play the tackler and have to chase down a glowing ball-carrier as defenders try and stop you.

Supremacy is a combination of the two. Four players race against each other before the loser takes the position of tackler. It’s best played online, against real players who provide a more unexpected experience. The AI’s not bad, but with the banter available over VoIP, it’s a mode that comes into its own when you’re sharing the fun.

However, Backbreaker’s strongest feature is its two player splitscreen. It’s a feature that games have sadly abandoned since the introduction of broadband. It’s back with a vengeance here. Sitting with a likeminded friend, battling against each other, laughing at the crunching tackles, the fluffed jumps, the silly mistakes, is multiplayer gaming at its finest. Sure, it’s just as enjoyable over online multiplayer, but hearing the shouts and taunts in person isn’t something that’ll ever be replaced with online interaction.

Those without friends in close proximity will find the standard multiplayer more than enough and with 20 singleplayer challenges, per mode and 10, per coop, there’s plenty here for 1,200 Microsoft Points. Obviously you have to be one for silly, unpretentious games, but Backbreaker’s got a strong enough concept to keep you coming back in short bursts.

It’s the perfect arcade title – quick gameplay, insta-restarts and fun multiplayer. When it’s showing you failure in slow motion, you can’t help but laugh. Squeezing through a gap, dodging multiple people only to showboat across the line, is a fantastic feeling. It really does nail the sense of accomplishment. Go break some backs.

Top Gaming Moment: Rag Dolls.