“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 the king when it comes to football videogames -- if by default -- and threats to its throne so far, such as 2K Sports’ All-Pro Football 2K8, have failed to capture an audience.
Backbreaker (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [reviewed])
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.
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.
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.
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