Realistic animations can only hide the sloppy foundation of this football game for so long.
- Player movement is startlingly realistic
- Tackle Alley mode is a blast.
- Passing game is way too inconsistent
- Running the ball is unpredictable
- Camera is zoomed in too close, with no option to adjust it
- Lackluster presentation highlighted by atrocious replays.
There's no question that football has a cerebral side, but much of the appeal of the sport comes from the explosive hits that happen on nearly every play. Backbreaker highlights these bone-jarring collisions like no other football game before it. The realistic manner in which players use their bodies as a weapon while on defense and crumple limply to the earth on the offensive side of the ball encourages the same sadistic yells the real sport so frequently elicits, but the rest of the experience falls far short of that Sunday-afternoon excitement. A frustrating passing system and an unpredictable running attack make marching down the field a chore, and the presentation leaves a lot to be desired. There are enough wow moments to make Backbreaker worth checking out for football fans looking for something other than the pervasive Madden series, but there are too many holes in this debut game to give it a starting spot in its rookie year.
The animation in Backbreaker is incredibly realistic and makes every action you take on the field pop off the screen. Players react like you would expect real people to, obeying the laws of physics so strictly that when their bodies contort and bend, you can imagine the pain these digital beings must be in. There has simply never been a sports game that so accurately reflects a player's movement and momentum. Get a clean shot on a quarterback, and watch the shock wave ripple through his body, forcing his head to snap back like a jack-in-the-box and his legs to lose the ability to support the weight above them. Running backs can be pulled down by just their arm or held in place by a falling lineman, while a surging linebacker rushes in to finish off the job. Although the animations are usually incredible, they are not without some faults. The throwing and kicking motions are a little off, and the lack of any injuries limits the ramifications of these punishing hits. But it's amazing how realistic Backbreaker looks.
Unfortunately, the actual football experience is not able to match this fantastic animation system. Much of the blame falls on the nonadjustable camera, which is set far too close to players. Because the camera places you right on the field, all of the hits carry even more weight than if you were zoomed farther back, but the positive aspects are overshadowed by an inability to see the entire field. As the quarterback, not only can you not see all of your receivers at one time, but you can barely see the pass rush barreling toward you, making it difficult to get the ball out of your hands before you find yourself flat on your back. On the defensive side of the ball, the extreme close-up makes it fun to claw your way past an offensive lineman, but you have no way to know what's happening on the other side of the field. And though you do have the ability to switch whom you're controlling midplay, you're liable to completely mess up a situation if you inhabit a new body without knowledge of your surroundings. Because of the claustrophobic camera angle, local matches against another player are handled with split-screen, although online play gives you the full screen to work with. The camera does a good job of putting you in the action, but it's so restrictive that it becomes a liability before long.
The suffocating camera is just the beginning of Backbreaker's problems. Just like the zoomed-in view tries to replicate the feeling of being on the field, the passing system puts you in the shoes of the quarterback like no other game, but it doesn't translate into a fun experience. When you snap the ball, you are locked on to just one receiver, and to switch to a different target you need to push a button or the right stick (depending on your control scheme) to toggle through your options. Although this is an interesting idea in theory, forcing you to read the defense and go through all your receivers to find someone who's open, in practice it just leads to a lot of sacks. It takes so long for QBs to release the ball after you hit the pass button that you have no time to cycle through your targets to find the best option. And even when you're just focusing on one receiver, you still find yourself on the wrong end of a sack far too often because the offensive line stinks, which strips away much of the appeal of playing as a gunslinger.
Backbreaker continues to frustrate even if you find an open receiver and successfully get off a pass before the defense flattens you. Quarterbacks are horrifically inaccurate. Even if your feet are set and you're throwing just a few yards down the field, the ball will still frequently sail far wide of your intended target. It's absolutely maddening when a routine play turns into an unforced incompletion. This issue is compounded by the defense's knack for picking off passes. If you build your offense around passing (which is advisable considering how awful the running game is), it's not surprising to find your interceptions creeping dangerously close to double digits, resulting in a disjointed game in which no lead is secure and clock-eating drives are a rarity. It's also impossible to know where the ball will end up once it's released. In the actual sport, quarterbacks lead receivers before they break on a route. But oftentimes in Backbreaker, the QB throws where the receiver is instead of where he's running to, which adds another hurdle to completing a pass.
As aggravating as the passing is, the running game is even worse. Your offensive line is a sieve during passing plays, but their inability to hold a block is even more glaring when you're trying to worm your way past the line of scrimmage. Whether you gain yardage or find yourself tackled for a loss is a crapshoot because the defense is so often able to blow past your blockers before you even have a chance to juke out of the way. And as amazing as the tackling animations are, your running back crumples to the turf far too easily. Linebackers frequently need only slap you on your thigh to make you fall to the ground, which is completely unrealistic. The average RB should laugh at such a weak attempt at being brought down, but a hand tackle far too often spells doom in Backbreaker. Also, the camera is troublesome during sweep plays. Your view adjusts so severely when changing direction that simply turning upfield is a challenge. The thrill of stiff-arming an oncoming defender and high-stepping your way to the end zone makes a successful attempt exciting, but the running game is far too unpredictable to be a legitimate offensive option.