Backbreaker is the first offering from the new studio Natural Motion. While there are some unique ideas and fun game play aspects, the experience suffers from poor player immersion and critical bugs. Backbreaker is a good beginning for a football experience that differs from the standard Madden game, but still needs time to develop into a full-fledged football immersion.
When the game firsts boot up you will notice immediately how much different the presentation is from Madden. Gone is the over head look of the entire field. The replacement is a camera reminiscent of Skate, a perspective from the ground facing upwards. This does enable the player to get a sense of that sole position whether it is Defensive end or Running Back and can really make you feel the crushing hits and tackles. The camera view also impedes the player from seeing a critical part of the game, the field. In order to change views, you need to change player and when that happens it’s hard to tell what is going on. The camera will most of the time shift to the closest player on the field that is nearest the ball carrier (or the ball carrier himself) and does so in almost an “ok go” camera switch. Most of the time when you switch you end up going the wrong way towards the ball carrier and miss the tackle.
The controls don’t lend themselves well to the entire experience at all. Again, going back to the Skate reference, the majority of the actions are done with the right analogue stick. So in order to tackle you would push the stick towards the ball carrier to tackle high or back in order to go low on the carrier. That isn’t so bad; it gets really bad when the ball is snapped on a passing play. Once you hike the ball you are immediately focused on the receiver designated the focus of the play. In order to switch who you are looking at you need to hold the left trigger and press right, or left, on the right stick to go through your receivers. Most of the time you don’t have enough time to get through your receivers before you are sacked. Most of the time the passes are not on target, even when the quarterbacks feet are planted and the stick is perfectly moved, your guess is as good as mine as to where that ball is going. This will result in plenty of turnovers on either side, mostly interceptions, and lousy completion percentages. The AI is also terrible and will continuously throw terrible passes and drop fumbles left and right, I experienced this even on the hardest difficulty.
To say the experience is all bad is a little farfetched. There were some fun moments that I experienced in Backbreaker. The physics are very well done and the tackling is solid. At times you may cringe when hitting a player hard due to the “up close and personal” camera. The customization is also there when making your team. When designing my logo I couldn’t help but think of Forza’s logo creator where you stack layers to create a picture. I could see this becoming a standard in the customization of football teams in the near future for gaming. The one game type that I really enjoyed was some of the multiplayer mini games. When myself and a few others would play some of the mini games we would find ourselves really getting into the action and getting excited about juking out a few defenders and leaping into the endzone. In our favorite mini game you and a friend in split screen are set up to go from endzone to endzone spinning, juking, and doing anything you can to get through multiple defenders. Your points would add up and the player with the most points at the end of 5 rounds would win. If you have a few friends over fire up the mini games and you could be playing for a few hours.
Backbreaker does its best to be original and it’s hard to blame Natural Motion for attempting something new. I think Backbreaker is a fresh idea and has potential. Unfortunately the major flaws outweigh the excitement of the game quite drastically and we are left with a display of football and physics. Hopefully Natural Motion comes back with another football title after learning the pitfalls of Backbreaker, and who knows maybe then we’ll be dealing with some NFL teams.