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 to popular opinion, it isn’t vaporware. The game most definitely exists -- in fact, I spent about 45 minutes checking it out during E3, and boy, do I have a lot to tell you about it.
Backbreaker (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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