Ow, My Back

NaturalMotion's first game shows promise, but Backbreaker still has a ways to go.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: July 7, 2010
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Good lord do I suck at sports games. I'm not just bad, I'm cripplingly terrible the second I try to play any of the major sims out there. Sometimes I can have fun, but for the most part it's just frustration and tears. There is one exception, however: arcade sports games I can absolutely kill in. NFL Blitz? I was a beast. NBA Street? Bring on all comers. The BIGS? I'm the Home Run Pinball king. When the rules are relaxed and things are simplified, I'm able to process things far more quickly, apparently.

That's partially why I'm so conflicted about Backbreaker. It's pretty obvious that this isn't a sim. It's also obvious that it couldn't be a sim in the same way even All-Pro Football was. There are no real players, no real team, no real playbooks... and as a result things are kept intentionally nebulous. Sure you can make something that looks like a major team -- the creation tools for making a logo or painting up players is potentially hours-deep. Likewise, NaturalMotion Games tried to build in a fairly deep Career Mode, offered online play and stripped things down to the basics.

Pre-play, you can pick whatever position on the field you want and you have dedicated look-at-the-QB and sprint buttons, meaning you just have to hit your path if you're a receiver and somehow bust through the line if you're running. Or you can simply play QB the entire time and pitch, lob and fake your way through things with incredibly simple plays. The individual options may change a little depending on your position, but generally speaking you're either trying to get the ball too someone, get it from someone or taking care of the guy that has it at the moment. Easy, right?

And it is -- for the most part -- even for someone like me. Part of that is because so much of the game has been moved to the right analog stick. So long as you're not holding R2 to go into Aggressive Mode (you'll sprint a bit faster and can stiffarm opponents), nearly everything you do that's not moving around with the left stick is done with the right. Jukes, backsteps, shoulder charges, tackle breaks, scooting around a blocker, spinning, throwing a hail mary bomb, lobbing a pass and firing a bullet all centers around pressing perhaps a shoulder button and just using the right stick in quick swirls or down/up actions or just pushing in a direction. That's it.

This works well for the most part as a kind of risk/reward setup, allowing you to, say, focus your passes on receivers while losing your awareness in the pocket. When in possession of the ball, you can sacrifice speed for more juke/spin actions, or you can lower your shoulder and have access only stiffarms and charges. Here's the problem, though: none of these are as fun as the one-off side mode that is Tackle Alley, which I'll get to in a second. Because of the limited playbooks, your options are fairly limited or tucked under other menus that don't quite seem logical. They do follow a kind of logic, of course; when you create a team, you're able to essentially "lock in" certain kinds of plays like passing or blitzing, but it does feel a little convoluted.
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