Backbreaker Review: It’s No Madden, But Maybe That’s Okay

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Backbreaker
505 Games
Developer: NaturalMotion
PS3, Xbox 360
ESRB rating: E for Everyone
System reviewed on: Xbox 360

Console-based football games are in a tough position. EA Sports has the NFL license all locked up until 2012 so for any would-be competitor to attempt to compete with the Madden series, it needs to be radically different or radically better (preferably both) than Madden to stand a chance.

(More on Techland: Free Online Football Simulator QUICKHIT Grabs NFL License)

I’ll go on record and say that I’m a fan of Madden in that I buy the new version every year, but I don’t think it’s perfect by any means and I certainly think the series could use some healthy competition. Backbreaker finds itself hovering somewhere in between an all-out, over-the-top hit fest like Blitz: The League II and the balance of realism and playability that Madden has become.

On paper, it’s an idea that just might work. However, as with any underdog, often times it takes perfect execution on all fronts to take down the champ.

Presentation

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NaturalMotion’s physics-based “Euphoria” engine is put to excellent use with Backbreaker. Bodies never seem to move or collide the same way twice. It’s a very natural-looking style of motion that’s a far cry from the days of scenario-based animations. I’d venture to say that Backbreaker’s been able to top Madden in this department, though we’ll see what EA has in store this year.

What Backbreaker is also able to do better than Madden or any other football game, for that matter, is replicate the feeling of actually being on the field during a game. The camera system consists of a single camera that floats closely behind the player you’re controlling at all times and intelligently shifts, shakes, and wobbles based on what’s going on around you.

It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s an impressive way to feel like you’re truly part of the on-field action. That being said, if you’ve ever played in a real-life football game, you’ll know that most plays consist of a few seconds of adrenaline-fueled confusion until someone gets tackled or breaks into the open field. Backbreaker’s no different. On defense, especially, you’ll find yourself blitzing the QB, for instance, only to witness him throw the ball downfield, at which point the camera view doesn’t change unless you switch to the nearest defender. And switching to the nearest defender can get mighty disorienting when your previously-controlled player is 20 yards away.

This on-the-field feel that the game touts means that certain other presentation elements are pretty much non-existent. There’s no witty banter between a play-by-play announcer and color commentator (although some would argue that Madden’s audio presentation’s been seriously lacking the past few iterations), there’s no stadium music aside from “Boom” by P.O.D. being played during kick-offs (it gets old pretty fast), and the stadium crowds are basically an afterthought, though you don’t have much time to enjoy the crowd when you’ve broken into the open field and the camera’s wobbling along behind you to signify the chaotic motion of a big play.

(More on Techland: Believe You Can Fly: Michael Jordan to Appear in NBA 2K11)

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