In today’s market, it is pretty commonplace for a big budget console game to end up on the iPhone / iPod platform. Rarely is the case the exact opposite; where the game hits to iPhone first and then lands on the current generation consoles. Such is the case of Backbreaker (football) from 505 Games. Backbreaker hit the iPhone as a mini-game first, early in the console verion's development. The portable game consisted solely of an arcade-style running game; the thing that blew people away were the tackle physics and the running mechanics that it utilized. I was only one of many who played the original game and said “I can't wait to see what they would do with a full football game”. It appears as though we don't have to wait any longer as Backbreaker has launched on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.
On its surface, Backbreaker offers the expected football package. Gamers have all of the usual and expected modes such as exhibition, league(s) / season, and online versus (ranked and unranked). The game also includes a 25 mission training mode that shows you the ins and outs of the game’s control scheme as well as the mode that started the entire franchise: Tackle Alley. Tackle Alley serves as both a mini-game and an advanced tutorial to the running mechanics of Backbreaker. It proves to be a fun diversion both online and off as you can track your high score through the 120 waves you will progress through.
The package sounds like a typical run of the mill football package, and it is on the surface, but let’s get into the things that I feel truly set this game apart from the competition. First and foremost, it should be noted that as with any football game outside of the Madden series, Backbreaker lacks the official NFL license. You will not find any teams or players that you are familiar with here. The game provides players with around 60 custom teams of all different skill sets to use both online and off, but you won’t be spending much time with them. Instead, players will likely use the fully customizable team builder in order to craft their own franchise. The game allows you to build a team from the ground up, selecting everything from the city, name, player roster, strategic focus, and especially the colors and logo design.
Backbreaker has a full-fledged logo and customization tool that is very similar to the one that has become famous in the Forza series of racing games... and I am sure that we have all seen the works of art that have come from that community. The game allows you to create logos for your team that can be used on your uniforms, helmets, and even your stadium fields and end zones. The system consists of using layers (up to 500 for uniform logos and 1000 for endzone) of various shapes that can be rotated, resized, colored and combined to create your masterpiece. It may take some work, but you can create some pretty amazing designs using the system. All of the base teams included in the game were designed using the game’s team builder by the staff at 505. I have already run into numerous players online who have recreated their favorite NFL teams with some incredible accuracy. There are 32 slots for saved teams on the game, so theoretically you could recreate the entire NFL as I am sure many players will do.
Once you actually get on to the field, a few other things will become apparent about Backbreaker that will make it stand out from the competition. The biggest marketing focus of the game is on the physics engine used. The character physics and animations are spot on with realistic football. There are zero canned animations used during gameplay. Every tackle, run, and collision animation is based on the physics engine and ensures that you will see something different every time. This really adds to the experience for the game as you feel like you are watching an actual football game rather than playing it. It looks that good in motion. The look that it maintains in motion can also be credited to the camera system used by the game.
The point of view and camera system used in Backbreaker is light years ahead of any sports game I've seen. The camera focuses from a third person perspective on the selected player rather than giving you a complete view of the field. While it takes a little bit of getting used to, it serves to create a far more immersive football experience than any other game released to date. This new perspective for the player provides the game with a different feel than you are used to and will force you to play the game differently than Madden or the 2K series. You no longer have the full view of the field; you are limited to the point of view of the character which you control, just like in the real game of football. You will not see that defender storming behind you, preparing for a devastating sack unless you move the camera view around and focus your characters vision in that direction. The same feeling is had with runners and receivers... and by defenders as well. When you are on the line, on defense, you sort of get tunnel vision on the opposing quarterback, again just like in real life. The experience provided is much more realistic than other football video games.
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