Backbreaker Review
Xbox 360 | PS3
Backbreaker box art
System: X360, PS3 Review Rating Legend
Dev: Natural Motion 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: 505 Games 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: June 1, 2010 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1-2 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Everyone 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
Valiant Effort. Unrealized Gameplay.
by Jonathan Marx

It seems the only decent competitor for EA SPORTS' Madden franchise has been their own NCAA college football franchise; ever since 2K Games bowed out, it's been a one-horse race. That's why when NaturalMotion and 505 Games decided to bring us a brand new, revolutionary take on the beloved sport, we got a little giddy.

Backbreaker screenshot

You see, as much as we love EA's sports titles, and are more or less satisfied with the amount of innovation they supply us year after year, we'd still like to see a genuine competitor arise from 2K's ashes. After all, a little stiff competition tends to breed excellence - just look at what Konami's PES has done for the FIFA franchise. Still, it's always going to be an uphill battle to try and hang with Madden, let alone unseat the juggernaut. Alas, Backbreaker, in spite of all of its originality, ends up being little more than a novelty.

Unfortunately, there's really not a whole lot here to keep savvy football gamers engaged, as the gameplay simply isn't good. Certainly the presentation, in general, gets high marks and should be experienced by anyone that's interested, but you can't polish… turf. In fact, it's the beautiful visual style that ends up killing the fun. Rather than viewing the action from the standard, withdrawn, isometric camera angle, NaturalMotion opted to bring gritty realism to the game by capturing the action from a third-person perspective. While this approach does a great job of immersing you in the play like no other, it also saps the game of its precision, eventually leading to a shallow gridiron experience.


What does Backbreaker get right? A fair amount actually. We loved that they ditched wasting money on an NFL license; leave that to EA, we're going to buy that game anyway. Also, a lot of effort went into creating dozens of fictitious teams that are actually interesting to play due to the fact they are backed by solid iconography (such as cool logos and uniforms) as well as varied team play styles. The inclusion of "Tackle Alley," a mini-game that pits a few defensive players against a running back in an attempt to make and break open-field tackles (depending on which side of the ball you're playing), was a great addition as well, as it is a good bit of arcade-style fun.

Backbreaker screenshot

They also succeeded in giving players comprehensive customization tools in order to make the game more personalized. For example, I created two teams, the Chi-town Bruise Bros. and the Midway Monsters, recreating the linebacker-friendly, running game-centric Bears teams of the 60's and 80's. There are also enough game modes outside of exhibition matchups, including two different league types and online play, for players to get some variation. Finally, as already mentioned, the game looks great; the physics on display are second to none, leading to bone-crunching tackles and slick grabs that never seem to repeat themselves.

All of that isn't enough to save the game from itself, however. Disappointingly, Backbreaker gets a lot more wrong than it does right. For instance, the game is absolutely riddled with silly little issues that haven't been present in the competition's offering since the 90's. Things like poor spots (forward progress is essentially non-existent), egregious, persistently uncalled offensive pass interference, missed tackles, poor time management (calling a timeout is like pulling teeth due to replay interference), and non-adaptive passing (quarterbacks seem to only be able to throw to predetermined spots) left me perplexed. The more you play, the more these little knives twist, fomenting frustration.

Backbreaker screenshot

Even seemingly mundane aspects, such as incorporating a novice-friendly Arcade control option, which streamlines play calling, ca be horrendous. Using the Arcade controls, you'll be at the mercy of overly-simplistic plays that are rarely appropriate for the situation at hand (forget about getting passing plays to the outside whilst approaching the end of the half or even getting a Hail Mary play until there are less than a few ticks on the clock). Likewise, even the Pro option is full of flaws. Most notably, the play selection layout is utterly inefficient and quite meager in terms of variation, and it doesn't lend itself particularly well to multiplayer competitive play.

Screenshots / Images
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