It's gotta be difficult coming up with anything new in an area that already has a dominant presence. I mean how difficult do you think it must be to introduce a new cola in a world that already has the perfect soda in Coca-Cola? But sometimes a newcomer can shock the world and make its mark like Apple did with the iPhone several years ago. Well that brings us to NaturalMotion Games and Backbreaker, their version on American football. How does this turn out for the new kids on the block? Let's see, shall we...
Backbreaker has been a long time coming. I can remember several years ago the first demos that showed a dude running down the field and getting tackled. They would then show the same scene again and again and each tackle would be unique, the big deal being that there were no canned tackle animations; each tackle was physics based and reflected real physical attributes. This is due in part to the Euphoria engine (at least I think it's an engine, maybe it's more of a technology within an engine) that allows for this more realistic human reactions. I also remember around that time this technology was demoed in an Indian Jones game but don't recall it ever being released. Anyway, it seemed pretty cool and all but that was all that the demo showed. Two dudes running into each other again and again, no actual football. Nevertheless it was intriguing enough to want to see more. Now we finally get to see it in all of its glory and we can decide if it was worth the wait and if it fulfilled all those hopes. Not wanting to keep you in suspense any longer I will say that it still needs a lot of work, which is odd to say about a game that has been in development for several years.
Backbreaker is not a terrible game, it does have some near brilliant moments, but overall it's frustrating and disappointing. The Euphoria engine does create some very cool tackles no doubt about that. But tackles are only a small part of football and Backbreaker seems to have overlooked the beauty of the game in its laser- like focus of getting the tackling correct. There will be two major things you notice about Backbreaker. The first is that there is no NFL license. Now this does hurt the game in the big picture but if the game was solid it wouldn't matter quite as much. The game does have kind of a work around in that you can create your own team and do a lot of customizing. However, the lack of license will stop you from renaming players to current NFL player names. For example, if you wanted a quarterback named Manning, you're out of luck. You can get around it by creating a first name initial like “P. Manning”, but it's still a little feeble. I didn't try every NFL name so there are probably some that you can use and I'm not sure if it was by position. But like I said, if the overall game was strong enough then not having the actual NFL players and teams wouldn't have felt so disappointing.
The second thing you'll notice is that the game is played from a rather unique camera angle, well maybe not unique for a third person shooter but certainly something different for football. The game is played from a rather low behind the shoulder view. Think along the lines of Gears of War and you'll understand what I mean. I like that NaturalMotion is trying something new here and with some slight adjustments they just might be on to something. However the way it is now makes certain parts of the game wildly irritating. This is most evident when playing as the quarterback and trying to look down the field. It's very difficult to spot your receivers and nearly impossible to pick up blitzes. I get the idea of being scared of a blind side blitz and everything but there really is no way to see what's happening. While this might make it more realistic it doesn't make it necessarily more fun.