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Backbreaker

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Backbreaker Vengeance announced for Xbox Live Arcade


Apr 14
// Samit Sarkar
NaturalMotion's long-awaited Euphoria-engine-powered football game, Backbreaker, debuted last June to harsh reviews; it remained a bad game until a major title update in August fixed numerous issues. On the other hand, the d...

Review: Backbreaker

Jun 11 // Samit Sarkar
Backbreaker (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed]) Developer: NaturalMotion Publisher: 505 Games Released: June 1, 2010 (NA) To be released: June 25, 2010 (EU) MSRP: $49.99 The Euphoria part of the gameplay equation in Backbreaker doesn’t fail to impress, producing moments of brilliance that you’ve heretofore only seen on a real-life football field. The visual component of the marvelously rendered collisions serves to enhance the feeling of accomplishment that you get when you succeed in Backbreaker: the most satisfying part of one of my long touchdown runs was seeing three straight defenders crumple to the field and reach futilely for my ankles after I greeted each of them with a stiff-arm. Sadly, those kinds of beautiful demonstrations of the laws of physics are one of the only redeeming qualities of Backbreaker, a frustrating mess of poor design decisions and awful AI. NaturalMotion had a vision for this game: they wanted to provide the most realistic simulation of football ever seen in a videogame, while making it accessible to audiences of all kinds. On the accessibility front, the game employs a simplified control scheme. As the quarterback, you switch between receivers by flicking the right stick to the left or right, and you throw by flicking upward (or down, then up, for a lob instead of a bullet pass). An alternate scheme has you switch receivers with X/B and throw with A. Yes, these controls are technically more realistic, since a real quarterback has to look at the receiver to whom he is throwing. But coupled with NaturalMotion’s presentation philosophy, passing becomes an exercise in frustration. The idea of the game’s camera angle -- which sits directly behind the player you are controlling -- is to put you in the shoes of a player on the field. So the quarterback has a very limited field of vision, unlike in most other football games, which offer a wide-angle perspective that provides a view of the entire field. Is it more true-to-life to let you see only what a quarterback sees? Sure. However, there’s a fine line between simulating a sport and taking all the fun out of it, and Backbreaker crosses that line. The close camera angle and the requirement of switching receivers combine to produce too many sacks and interceptions; this is exacerbated by the high game speed, which means that plays develop too quickly at the line of scrimmage. In many cases, you’ll drop back and a defender will be in your face before your receivers even have a chance to get open. (It doesn’t help that the simplified controls have no provision for throwing the ball away when you’re under pressure outside of the pocket.) Passing became so problematic that I simply stuck to the running game for almost all of my plays. But it’s not just you who will suffer too many sacks and throw too many interceptions. The CPU offense in Backbreaker is inept -- even when I was playing against the highest-rated teams, I had no trouble stopping the CPU’s pitiful running game, and if you let them run enough plays, they’ll turn the ball over to you at some point. The CPU quarterback doesn’t seem to know when to take a sack, so he’ll often throw picks because your defense was about to take him down. And you’ll force a lot of fumbles if you get to him in time, since Backbreaker doesn’t know what a forward pass is. (Here’s a hint: if the quarterback’s arm was moving forward when he got hit and the ball came out, that’s an incomplete pass, not a fumble!) The game also doesn’t know how to call penalties properly. I’ve seen instances in which a defender literally tackled my receiver before the ball got there and another defender picked off the pass, yet there wasn’t a flag in sight. I haven’t seen a single holding penalty called, and holding is one of the most common penalties in football. It’s not calling penalties, either; my CPU teammates often committed repeated fouls, and there’s nothing more infuriating than having two straight roughing the kicker penalties on punts turn a 4th-and-27 situation into a first down. Backbreaker also suffers because it lacks features that have been standard in football videogames for years. I have fond memories of Pat Summerall going, “Oh, no. There’s a man down,” when a player got hurt in Madden NFL ’96. But there are no injuries in Backbreaker; there’s also no fatigue, no replay challenges, no hot routes (or pre-snap adjustments of any kind except audibles), no sliders, and no commentary. When you look at a replay, the only camera angle available is what you saw when you ran the play. For example, if you threw the ball to your tight end, the replay would show the play from your quarterback’s point of view until the TE caught the ball; then you’d see the rest of the play through his eyes. There’s no free-roaming camera in replay, and the game doesn’t let you save replays, either. The game does have an exceptionally robust create-a-team feature: you can create up to 32 teams from scratch or modify any of the existing 50+ teams, and the deep, Forza-like logo editor offers endless possibilities. (In fact, the logos for each of the teams in the game were created using the in-game editor.) I was able to craft a near-perfect recreation of the New York Giants’ logo and uniform, although I had to call them the “G-Men” (you can use the names of real NFL teams, but you can’t take those teams online). It’s a lot of fun to mess around with the editor to get everything just right, and it’s relatively easy to use. But in another critical omission of a feature that’s expected in 2010, there’s no way to share your created teams with the world. Backbreaker has two main league modes: Season and Road to Backbreaker. In Season, you put a team in an 8-, 16-, or 32-team league and play for multiple seasons (you can play this mode with friends, but not online). Road to Backbreaker has you take a created team from a small league to a big league; you play games to earn credits that you can spend on free agents to improve your team. The structure here works just fine, and both modes have enough to do even though Season has no trades or anything (instead, you scout up-and-coming athletes) -- but frankly, I had no desire to keep playing them because the gameplay is so flawed (and you can’t simulate games). Perhaps the most fun mode in Backbreaker is Tackle Alley, a minigame in which you have to elude a field of defenders on the way to the end zone. It’s essentially identical to the very successful Backbreaker iPhone game; you have to plow through increasingly difficult waves of tacklers. The best way to rack up a high score is to string together moves such as jukes and spins. Tackle Alley offers a great diversion to let off some steam after you’ve been victimized by the inadequate AI of the 11-on-11 full game. You’d think that the CPU AI issues would be rendered irrelevant when playing against another human online, but my experience was often filled with so much lag that I had to press the D-pad repeatedly just to move around in the playbook. I didn’t seem to get nearly as much slowdown when I hosted games, so playing as a “guest” might be the problem. And even if you’re not playing against the computer, problems such as the game speed and penalty calling don’t go away. Football is a complex, multifaceted sport; perhaps it’s unfair to ask that NaturalMotion have all the kinks worked out when Madden still can’t get it completely right after more than twenty years of iteration. That said, Backbreaker just isn’t a competent simulation of football. I give NaturalMotion credit for their uncompromising vision -- they stuck to their guns and didn’t include things like a standard football game camera angle, which would probably have felt like a cop-out to them. But any game that makes me listen to P.O.D.’s “Boom” every damn time someone kicks off (and Refused’s “New Noise” at the beginning of every game) is going to draw my ire. For all its lifelike hits, Backbreaker simply isn’t fun to play. Score: 3.5 -- Poor (3s went wrong somewhere along the line. The original idea might have promise, but in practice the game has failed. Threatens to be interesting sometimes, but rarely.)
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“You come at the king, you best not miss,” says stick-up man Omar Little in The Wire, when he retaliates against the Barksdale organization after they put a bounty on his head and tried to take him out. Madden is ...

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Backbreaker is out today, so learn about its modes


Jun 01
// Samit Sarkar
At long last, Backbreaker is here -- NaturalMotion's Euphoria-engine-powered football game is in stores today, and it offers some pretty deep modes. Check out the video above, the last one in a series of tutorials, to f...

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How to play defense in Backbreaker


May 24
// Samit Sarkar
Backbreaker is a football game, but it doesn't play like most football games you might be used to. That's why NaturalMotion is producing all these tutorial videos -- to give players a heads-up so that they don't complai...
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PSA: Backbreaker demo available now for XBL Gold members


May 21
// Samit Sarkar
NaturalMotion's Backbreaker isn't only special because it's the first sports videogame ever to use the Euphoria engine. Its simplified, pick-up-and-play control scheme is also notable, and in the tutorial above, yo...
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Learn about Backbreaker's running game in this tutorial


May 10
// Samit Sarkar
Backbreaker, the long-awaited football game from NaturalMotion, is almost here. Set for release on June 1st, it's promising a completely physics-based game experience unlike anything you've ever seen before in a football vid...
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This Backbreaker ad is coming to a TV near you


Apr 23
// Samit Sarkar
I haven't played NaturalMotion's Backbreaker since E3 2009, and while I liked what I saw, I feel like the game is going to need a major marketing campaign if it wants to avoid getting lost in the shuffle of big-name rel...
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Get introduced to Backbreaker with a trailer and images


Mar 22
// Samit Sarkar
At Destructoid, we've been keeping our eyes on NaturalMotion's Backbreaker for quite some time. The game promises a hard-hitting, more-realistic-than-ever football simulation, and it still looks pretty damn impressive i...

Going onto the field with Backbreaker

Mar 02 // Ben Perlee
Backbreaker (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) Developer: NaturalMotion Publisher: 505 Games To be released: May 18, 2010 The most important element of Backbreaker is the inclusion of the Euphoria Engine. Famous for its application in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and Grand Theft Auto IV, the Euphoria Engine was built by NaturalMotion, so if there is a company that could make a football game that rocked this tech, it would certainly be them. So what do you get with this? Well, Euphoria renders collisions in real time, so there are absolutely no pre-canned tackles and animations. Everything is built on the fly, so every tackle is going to look and feel different from the one before. In practice, it looks pretty cool, with guys falling on top of each other just as you would expect according to the laws of physics. Beside Euphoria, what will immediately catch gamers off guard will be the camera. Instead of using the typical wide-angle camera above the field, the camera is right above the shoulder of the player you are controlling. When they run, there is the camera wobble many players of over-the-shoulder third-person shooters would recognize, and being on the field is a intense as you would expect. It's fast and heavy, and it is pretty cool to have such an in-depth perspective on the field. Those worried that this perspective will make the game unplayable should not be. The AI is designed to place you in control of the appropriate player in a particular situation. Controls, too, are streamlined. The right stick controls many of the actions of the players. A flick up, for example, will throw a pass to a highlighted player, and you'll take over from there. A quick tap of the R-trigger will send the player into a much more aggressive rush. It's a pretty streamlined system for the player, and button presses will be minimized with everything much more contextualized. Defense, too, has been simplified: players will be in control of setting up defensive teammates to cover as much of the field as possible. For those with a very hands-off approach, Coach Cam will let the game play itself as you pick plays. This streamlined approach applies to the difficulty modes. For everyone new to the way Backbreaker plays, Arcade Mode is the way to go. Plays are reduced to four: Pass, Run, Special, and Ask Coach; characters to whom the ball can be thrown are highlighted; and gamers can focus on just enjoying the game. Pro Mode, in contrast, lets you pick and choose specific plays, and the highlighting system will no longer be on the field.  Now the big elephant in the room, like you would expect, is the lack of an NFL license. That, unfortunately, has not changed, so what you can expect here are 60 unique teams designed from the ground up, with 13 stadiums to choose from. While the teams themselves are fine, it is the stadiums that are much more interesting. San Francisco's stadium, for example, is a bestial arena with gigantic towers representing the Golden Gate Bridge. The teams themselves were designed with the same creation tool that is in the game. This is pretty impressive, as many of the teams have very detailed and unique logos, mascots, uniforms and end zones, all of which can be built in the game. With up to 500 layers to be applied to these teams, there is a lot of flexibility for those willing to invest the time in creating their own teams. As far as single-player goes, there are a few different options. You can enter into a basic season mode, with options to choose 8, 16, or 32 teams in a league. This is all fine and good, but more interesting is the "Road to Backbreaker" mode. Here is where you will build your custom team and really make things your own. Finally, there are some minigames that should help break up the main game itself, such as "Tackle Alley," from the studio's highly successful iPhone app. Coming away from Backbreaker, I have to say that it is fairly impressive. It's a good looking game, and with the addition of the Euphoria Engine, the animations are truly lifelike. Nothing feels canned, and every hit has solid weight behind it. While the lack of official teams and rosters is always going to be a drag, I have to say that the fairly powerful creation tool means it will be easy enough to recreate your favorite teams and players. Also, there is something cool about having the game be made by a team that has a bit of an outsider's perspective. Sure, it's surprising that NaturalMotion is the team behind an American football game, but they just might be onto something in mixing things up.
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Things have not been great for fans of football videogames, and that is the American kind I'm talking about. Throwing the ol' digital pigskin around hasn't been bad, per se, for EA has done a fine job of recreating the Americ...

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Backbreaker dev diary 2 tells you why Euphoria is awesome


Feb 22
// Samit Sarkar
NaturalMotion believes that its Euphoria engine is a groundbreaking bit of technology. But in case its use in Grand Theft Auto IV and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed didn't blow you away, the studio has filmed ...
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NaturalMotion guys explain Backbreaker in developer diary


Feb 09
// Samit Sarkar
In case you're unfamiliar with Backbreaker, a bunch of folks from the game's developer, NaturalMotion, are here to tell you all about it. The video above is a three-and-a-half-minute developer diary in which they explain why...
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New Backbreaker trailer brings the pain


Jan 07
// Samit Sarkar
Details on NaturalMotion’s Backbreaker have been scarce since I played the game back at E3, but once the game found a publisher in 505 Games last month, I figured we’d be seeing something new relatively soon. Wel...

Preview: Backbreaker

Jun 23 // Samit Sarkar
Backbreaker (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)Developer: NaturalMotionPublisher: To be announcedTo be released: “When it’s done” NaturalMotion isn’t naïve. The 20- to 25-person team, based in Oxford, England, is aware that Backbreaker can’t be a true competitor to EA Sports’ venerated Madden NFL franchise -- and that’s not what they’re trying to do. As Associate Producer Rob Donald explained it, “To sit and play a Madden game now, without [...] ten years’ experience, can sometimes feel a bit daunting,” since -- in the twenty-odd years since the series’ inception -- it’s grown increasingly more complex as consoles have increased their horsepower and controllers have gained buttons.The focus behind Backbreaker is twofold: the game aims to provide a more realistic simulation of football than has ever been seen before, but it’s also being designed to be immediately accessible to as many people as possible. While longtime football gamers are already familiar with a “language,” so to speak, that most football sims have shared -- controls, presentation, etc. -- all of that can be overwhelming for newcomers, and as NaturalMotion sees it, that’s a huge turn-off to people who don’t already know what they’re doing on the virtual gridiron. Accordingly, you won’t need a decade’s worth of football videogame knowledge to grasp the basics of Backbreaker.Whereas most simulation football games have aimed for a broadcast television-style look, everything in Backbreaker, presentation-wise, is designed to make you feel as if you’re one of the 22 players on the field. Instead of the wide-angle, all-encompassing view that football games typically provide, the camera in Backbreaker sits low behind the player you’re controlling at that moment. It’s similar to the angle in Madden’s Superstar mode, or the Be A Pro mode in NHL 09. If you’re the quarterback, you’ll see what he’s looking at, and if you’re executing a running play, the camera will be situated behind the running back. Because the aim here is to offer a “pick-up-and-play” experience, the controls are simplified (and are arguably more intuitive). When you’re the ball carrier, the left stick moves your player. The standard configuration is called “evasive mode” -- here, the right stick offers “agile, get-out-of-jail” moves such as jukes and hurdles. It works how you’d expect it to work: flicking to the right or left has your player sidestep in those directions; down does a stutter step (or “back juke”); and up hurdles.Holding the right trigger activates “aggressive mode,” which provides your power -- stiff arms and trucking (pressing A [X on PS3] switches your ball hand -- you can’t stick out your left arm if it’s holding the ball!). In aggressive mode, the camera shifts down a bit and gets closer to your player, and the audio changes as well: it’s given the classic “underwater” effect, like in a slow-motion scene in a movie, and you can hear your player panting as he sprints. Donald told me that the idea behind these changes was to make it seem as if you were wearing the helmet yourself, with your mind focused squarely on the opposing players ahead of you. I must say, it feels undeniably awesome to build up a full head of steam, activate aggressive mode, and then flick the right stick upwards to simply run over a defender, Brandon Jacobs-style.Passing in Backbreaker is completely different from what you might be accustomed to from years of Madden. Again, simplicity and immersion are paramount; the face buttons aren’t assigned to various receivers, because NaturalMotion feels that that scheme “takes you out” of the experience. The way passing works is that you snap the ball with A/X and use the right analog stick to scan the field with your quarterback’s eyes. It’s an analog to the infamous Vision Cone that EA Tiburon implemented in Madden NFL 06, but it’s less gamey; without the yellow flashlight-like beam on the field, it feels more realistic. You can also look around before the snap with the right stick. Your primary receiver glows orange, but if he looks like he’s covered, you can use “focus” mode (hold the left trigger) to switch to another receiver. Once the ball is snapped, using focus will automatically follow your primary receiver, and in focus mode, passes will be more accurate. But since the camera will be closer to the QB -- like in aggressive mode with a ball carrier -- it’ll be tougher to see defenders coming for you. To throw the ball, you flick the right stick forward. In the build I saw, all the throws were simple on-a-wire bullet passes, but Donald assured me that there would be variety in the final release. They were still tweaking it, but he suggested that a long bomb would require you to pull back on the right stick and then flick upwards.It’s a similar story on defense, though Donald admitted that the team was currently further with the offense than they were with the defense. Again, he drew a contrast between Backbreaker and the way things have been done in most football games to this point. Generally, players will sit back and let the AI do most of the work before switching to the defender closest to the ball carrier to make the tackle. Here, though, you’ll pick a player on the play select screen (you’ll be able to change, of course), and he’ll have an assignment that’s highlighted in orange. For example, in the instance I saw, Donald played as the linebacker, and his target (the quarterback) showed up in orange. So your defense’s success -- or failure -- will be on you.If that sounds frightening, don’t worry. The game offers some optional AI assists -- for example, the linebacker was “guided” toward the quarterback -- but if you’re an experienced player, you can turn off those assists. (They’re on by default in “Arcade” difficulty and off in “Pro.”) Focus mode on defense will, again, have you follow your target automatically. Of course, the behind-the-shoulder camera in the game presents a new wrinkle; NaturalMotion is still working on ensuring that camera shifts (when you change players on defense) aren’t jarring or disorienting. But why would a British developer decide to make an American football game? Donald noted that “football is a perfect playground for Euphoria,” since the collision-based sport is a physics geek’s dream. In the game, movement comprises simple motion-captured animation -- technology that’s been in use for over a decade. However, “as soon as there’s any degree of contact, Euphoria takes over.” In other words, no collisions are canned; they’re all procedurally generated by Euphoria. So at any given moment, Euphoria is doing physics calculations for up to 22 players’ muscles, nerves, and bones.In all other games, collisions are determined by so-called rolls of the dice -- when players come together, the game takes their ratings into account and figures out what will happen. But in Backbreaker, collisions are “real” -- the players’ arms and bodies, as well as the ball, are all objects with real physical properties, and the game calculates an outcome of a collision based on factors like the speed and angle at which the players crashed into each other, as well as their bodies (height, weight, etc.). There’s no such thing as a “fumble animation” in this game; if, for example, the ball carrier is switching his ball hand as he gets hit, the chances of a fumble will be much higher than normal.As you can imagine, Euphoria also produces incredibly varied tackles, and as NaturalMotion likes to say, no two plays will look exactly the same. Players literally have “intelligence,” too. Just like someone whose car you’re stealing in GTA IV will hang onto the door for dear life, defenders are “actual physical beings trying to tackle” you. The animation blending -- the transitions from motion-captured animations to Euphoria-created collisions -- is being tweaked to be as smooth as possible, as a few hitches occur from time to time. But what I saw of Backbreaker was a pre-alpha build; there’s no firm release date yet. As Donald told me, the game will be out “when it’s done” -- since this is NaturalMotion’s debut game featuring their flagship technology, they want to make the best first impression they can. And they’ll need to stand out, since the competition is so overwhelming -- Madden is the only licensed football game around, thanks to EA’s exclusive contract with the NFL, so Backbreaker will have to offer a lot to catch the public’s eye. Because there are no real NFL teams or players involved in this game, NaturalMotion went to town; the full game will ship with over 50 teams, and each of their logos will be completely customizable through a deep editor that Donald likened to the one in Forza Motorsport 2.The teams hail from cities and regions that have real NFL teams, such as New York, Green Bay, Denver, and New England, but the stadiums -- which have fully animated crowds -- were designed to feel like massive arenas. To wit, they all include distinct influences of their respective cities, and that makes them larger-than-life superstructures -- almost caricatures, in a way -- of real-life venues. For example, the Denver stadium features a mountainous ring around its top, while the San Francisco arena has a prominent, red-orange Golden Gate Bridge column sticking out of it near the scoreboard.I first got to see the Tackle Alley mode, which is a minigame that was the original tech demo for Backbreaker. In it, you’re a ball carrier at one end of the field who’s tasked with getting to the end zone in front of you, and the mode gets increasingly more difficult as you progress. You start out having to elude one or two defenders, but on later levels, you’ll be limited to a certain section of the field, and you might have to power through seven or eight would-be tacklers. It’s a great sandbox to learn the game’s running controls, and when I tried it out myself, I got through four or five levels before quitting while I was ahead. Next, I got a look at Training Camp, which offers three offensive and three defensive plays for you to get acquainted with the basics. This was full 11-on-11 gameplay, and while most of the action was solid, what stuck out was the lack of blocking. Donald said that blocking hadn’t yet been implemented in the E3 build, but he also mentioned that the team back in Oxford was working furiously on it and that they’ve got a version up and running in less stable builds. I’m very interested to see how Euphoria handles the O-line/D-line battles in the trenches, but I guess I’ll have to wait. This mode was where Donald introduced me to the passing and defense.Finally, Donald loaded up an exhibition game in Denver. The foundations of gameplay -- blocking aside -- all seemed to be in place, and he even managed to break through the line for a touchdown. I was highly impressed by what I saw of Backbreaker, but there’s still a long way to go before the game’s done. When I asked about multiplayer and standard modes like franchise, NaturalMotion wouldn’t go into details, but they confirmed that there will be local (split-screen) and online multiplayer, as well as a franchise mode.So far, the team seems to be on the right track with realistic gameplay that’s immersive and eminently accessible, but I wonder if that’ll be enough to hold people’s interest. Again, NaturalMotion seemed to be of the opinion that Backbreaker could coexist with Madden, that it wouldn’t have to be a “one or the other” kind of situation. I hope they’re right, since Backbreaker certainly deserves everyone’s attention.
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Hey, remember Backbreaker? You know, that other football game that was announced forever ago -- the one that runs on the Euphoria engine, the one we’ve seen neither hide nor hair of in more than a year? Well, contrary ...

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New screens and first footage of NaturalMotion's Backbreaker


Apr 18
// Samit Sarkar
For those of you who are sick of the Madden monopoly on football games, here’s something that may pique your interest. Backbreaker is a football videogame under development by NaturalMotion. If that name sounds famili...

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