Backbreaker Review (Xbox360)

American Football is traditionally dominated by one franchise – Madden NFL. Other franchises have come and gone but nobody has ever come close to denting the ironclad grip that EA Sports has on the world of American football games.

Naturalmotion’s Backbreaker is the latest game to tackle EA Sport’s hegemony over the sub-genre. Instead of trying to take the sporting titan on headlong, Naturalmotion has decided to build a more arcade-oriented experience that allows players to create their own sporting legends. Taking a lead from other recent titles like ModNation Racers and APB, Backbreaker aims to create a fresh and exciting take on the American football sims by giving players the creative tools to build their own teams and compete against the computer and other players online to become a dominant sporting franchise in their own right within the Backbreaker world.

Outta my way!

With 505 Games being the publisher attached to Backbreaker there has been a bit of anxiety surrounding the game. Many of 505’s titles of late have been a bit hit-or-miss and it would be all too easy to tar Backbreaker with the same brush, but that would be a mistake.

Backbreaker brings its own style of play to American football departing from Madden’s endless playbooks and ESPN-sponsored commentary to try and put players into the heart of the game combining a more accessible arcade style of gameplay with a curiously immersive atmosphere.

There is a gentle introduction to the bone-crushing action in Backbreaker with an easy set of tutorial set pieces designed to introduce you to the basics of how to play Backbreaker without overwhelming you with the kind of detailed information that the Madden series is known for. The tutorials slowly reveal what is a very intuitive control system that creates a more instinctive style of play than the chess-like playbook mentality that Madden enforces upon its players.

Backbreaker is almost completely controlled with the analogue controls of the joypad. The left and right triggers allow you to toggle different play modes for the player you are controlling and the thumbsticks combine to give you access to all your passing, running, dodging and tackling options. The left stick controls movement, the right stick controls passing, sidesteps and spins when running and the passing when you are controlling the quarterback. The left trigger engages focus mode. This allows you to switch between pass targets as the quarterback or follow the player with the ball in defensive situations. The right trigger engages aggressive mode making your chosen team member knuckle down and giving you access to stiff arms and dives when your player has the ball and tackles, blocks and wrestling opposing players out of the way when you don’t have the ball. This all works fairly tightly and the tutorial modes explain the control methods very clearly so that, when you finally play a game you will be equipped with the basic skills to win a match without knowing much about American football.

For those that do know much more about American football the game does allow an impressive amount of flexibility over previous incarnations of Madden NFL. The control system feels very natural and gives you a surprising amount of influence over the game. There is also a fairly extensive playbook built into the game so players that enjoy the strategic element of American football can indulge themselves in shotgun passing and nickel-and-dime defences to their heart's content.

Picking up and playing an Exhibition Game is easy and it gives you a good introduction to the game without you having to spend the time creating a team. Naturalmotion has gone to the trouble of creating a huge range of fictional teams from all over the US allowing you to test your mettle against some of your prospective opponents before you dive into team creation and a full season. As well as a great range of teams, there is a superb selection of stadiums based on real-life arenas like the New Amsterdam Arena, which is clearly based on the Meadowlands in New Jersey. There is also the option to play in day, night and even wet conditions.

This is gonna hurt

In game, the play moves very smoothly and Naturalmotion really live up to their name with some impeccably animated players. Even the crowds move fairly realistically. The one thing that you notice very quickly is the lack of commentary, but this is actually quite refreshing. All there is, is the noise of the two teams and the crowd and if you are the away team there is a lot of booing going on when you are winning. It all adds authenticity and it’s nice not to have the irritation of having to hear the same old commentary clichés regurgitated ad-nauseum throughout the match.

Moving onto the career mode gives you your first taste of the other big draw of Backbreaker – the team creator. This is a very impressive tool that seems to take its leads from APB’s logo creator. First you name your team, pick your home stadium and colour scheme for the uniforms and then it’s into creating the team’s logos. Here you need to create four logos for the team: the main logo, a logo for each side of the helmet and an endzone logo. This is actually as flexible as the tools created by Realtime Worlds for APB without the added hassle of having to unlock any of the image elements. Whilst it may not be the most comprehensive selection of image elements there is enough there to allow you to put together some really imaginative team logos with the endzone logo proving the most fun to put together.

Once your team is created you can choose to play a season in a league of your choice or go on the road to Backbreaker, which puts you in the lowest league and invites you to play your way to the top and become the ultimate football team in the Backbreaker leagues. This is where the real meat of the game is and it is a lot of fun bringing your creation to life and taking it to the top. The one downside is that the lack of real-world references means that Backbreaker’s career mode may lack the draw of Madden’s drive to the Super Bowl.

Does he really want to catch this?

Backbreaker also has a neat little mode that allows you to hone your running skills and show them off to others online. This is called the Tackle Alley. Tackle Alley pits on player against an increasing number of tacklers with the objective being to dodge the tackler and run the length of the pitch to score a touch down. Points are awarded for style, showboating, aggression and scoring in specific areas of the endzone, which change with every level. This is a lot of fun and it really allows you to build on the dodging skills that you will need in the career mode and online exhibition play. You can also play Tackle Alley online allowing you to show off your mad touchdown skills to the Backbreaker-playing world.

To be honest there is very little that Backbreaker does wrong. Its only real drawback is that it is not an official NFL licensed game and misses out on the major draw of taking a team to the Super Bowl. It does well to create a bruising, action-packed take on the American football sim genre and any fans of the sport would do well to give it a try. You many not have the opportunity to win the Super Bowl but the opportunity to immerse yourself in the game with a team of your own creation is one that you should not pass up and it’ll save you a few million dollars in the process.

Top Game Moment: Winning your first game with your own team is really special, especially if you do it in your home stadium with the crowd behind you.



By Kiam99 (SI Veteran Member) on Jul 22, 2010
I like the game, but it is kinda hard to pass sometimes in it and to easy for the defence to make interception...