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Tubatic avatar 1:18 AM on 06.12.2010  (server time)
A Different Opinion on Backbreaker

In Destructoid's recent review of Backbreaker, Samit Sarkar makes a fair and accurate review of Backbreaker as a football video game that is not Madden in a Madden dominated landscape. While he briefly lauds the game's presentation and use of physics modeling in the times that he enjoyed the game, the many differences from the finely crafted presentation and overall gameplay scheme of Madden (or other modern football offerings) made this game frustrating and, in essence, an un-fun experience.

Backbreaker is by no means a perfectly executed venture, and Mr. Sarkar is most certainly of a reasonable mind in the evaluation of sports video games. He'll call a dog a dog when he sees it (See NBA Ballers: Chosen One , a 3.5 stinker of a title), and in Backbreaker, he's seen a dog. Kudos to him for holding true to Destructoid's Brutally Honest review practices.

And yet, I disagree... or maybe more appropriately, I am at odds... with this review and its verdict. If you take nothing away from this article, please at least realize that there's most certainly different ways to process the factual meat of what a game gives you, and, as always, different ways to approach a game as complex as a sports title.

Its in the game?

To start with the obvious, it bears stating: Backbreaker is not Madden football. While not a full re-invention of football gaming (You're still picking plays from horizontal panels, you still open up an audible menu by a key trigger, there's still a meter for kicking, etc), there's alot that has been thrown out in favor of new or otherwise different systems. Where Madden is a game squarely about controlling the team as a functional unit, Backbreaker is a game about individual control. In Madden, you're controlling the action from on high, with a "full court" view, while in Backbreaker, the emphasis is on the execution of the individual. In taking on Backbreaker, half of what you know is wrong, regarding how video game football is played. Or, at least, how you play has been changed.

Spending a few minutes with the tutorial mode, you start to get a feel for what's important here: controlling the individual. On running plays, the pre-snap view is skewed to set you on your play path. To start a run is to launch your halfback forward on that path, with the expectation that you'll be responding to the onslaught of defenders by following successful blocks, or dealing with successful defensive penetration. However, the nature of what's going around you is all chaos and noise. You're on the field now, kid. Deal with it.

Sure, NFL2K tried first person football a number of years ago, and it was an utter mess. absolutely no field awareness what so ever, and the bobble and view change on that mode was enough to make you sick. This is absolutely not the case in Backbreakers pretty smart execution. What you're not hearing about this pulled in viewpoint is the ability to glean a wealth of info from the on field action.

You can't coach that

Take the position of quarterback. While your passer does have to scan the field with the right analog, precision in passing comes from your left trigger: your "focus" button. With focus, your over the shoulder view homes in on your receiver, and you're given an increased chance at pass completion. What you lose, though, is the mobility and field view in unfocused mode. Thanks to physics modeling, your QB does actually have a chance of shaking off or otherwise evading oncoming tacklers. You want to actually sidestep a defender barreling in from your side, step into the pocket, set and throw? It could work, and I've seen it work! The view is tight, the challenge is present, but the snap-on-by-proximity-tackle is not.

Consider also ball carriers. While for sure, you cannot swivel your camera view around or out to look down an incoming threat as you make your sprint for the endzone, you don't really need to. Subtle enough, the ball carrier will turn his head, while in stride, toward an incoming tackler that is still off screen. While you can't plan for the exact move, you know there's danger about, and that you need to have you man react soon. The pulled in view is different, yes. But, for all the fun I've managed to have in it, I can't take it as a full on negative.

Lack of field view, I feel, has been a fair trade for greater control of your ball carrier. Now that the actual movement and momentum of your player matters, the results of your control mean so much more. I was sprinting full ahead, but did I get jostled by a diving CB, or was I rocked by a very large linebacker? At the end of my run, did I lower my shoulder and rattle into the endzone or did I change direction just enough to twist my way to a touchdown? There's a reason that Backbreaker potentially shows you a replay after every play. When the rules are agreeable to your play, the result of your yardage is determined by realistic placement. Every play is just a little different, and that keeps things interesting!

We must protect this hoouuuse!

Does Backbreaker require some suspension of disbelief and NFL/NCAA football rule and play conventions? A little, sure. No normal league play that I know of has this many sacks or interceptions, doesn't have play challenging at any level, or no injuries what so ever. Fine, concession granted. Beyond the ample room for rule deviation niggling, there's a fine and fun football game running on the fields of Backbreaker.

I haven't even mentioned the really savvy work in the defensive game. Playing defensively as an individual player has never been this fun or viable. With a combination of a focus mechanic (like the QB focus trigger, but on the ball for defenders) and arcade mode's highlighting and play overlays, the actual roles of defense start to make even more sense than they may have in other football games. Despite its specific penalty issues, as noted in the Destructoid review, this is an excellent way for football novices to start to understand how the game works on a strategic level. What may have taken me years of Madden play to really functionally understand, a new-to-football Backbreaker player can probably assimilate in just a few games.

If you're approaching Backbreaker for the full on, authentic NFL experience, I'm sorry to say, you can't quite find it here. The world of Backbreaker builds on an implied lore and alternate world, where players wear what looks like spaceage-hard shell vests instead of jerseys, and everyone wears a visor helmet. Honolulu might actually have a team and California could very well have about 8 different teams. There are no superstars and no legacies until you make them. If you're the type of football fan that can sit down and enjoy a good game of football (like the last few Super Bowls) without following a season's worth of drama or caring about the teams, Backbreaker could very well be just the game you're looking for.

And from there, I really have to recommend that everyone even remotely curious about football as a game should try to get their hands on Backbreaker. While its admittedly hard to recommend at full price to anyone but a die-hard game-of-football fan, its a game that should be tried as a rental, or otherwise snatched up when it inevitably hits under $20 status. Save for the most unwavering of committed NFL league fans, Backbreaker is in no way a "Forget it" title, and deserves at least a rental status on any core gamer's play-list.

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