GC 2008: Backbreaker Hands-On

Who dares challenge Madden in the console football genre? NaturalMotion, that's who...

You've got to hand it to the folks at NaturalMotion, developers of the new football game Backbreaker: They've got stones. After all, with EA Sports having wrapped up the NFL license for the foreseeable future, there doesn't seem to be much room in the market for a relative unknown, much less an unknown, with no previous track record for sports game development. However, you won't be so quick to write off Backbreaker's chances once you see the game in action, as we did yesterday during a meeting with company reps.

The game is being developed jointly in Oxford, UK, and San Francisco, California. While we still don't know a lot about the nitty gritty X's and O's of the game's football gameplay, we do know that, once in motion, Backbreaker is different from any other football game you've ever played. The secret is in the Euphoria engine that's powering the game--technology that basically simulates the human body and its motion from the skeletal system outward. The result is that, when two bodies collide in Backbreaker, they react just as real bodies do--these aren't the canned animations you'd find in Madden, NCAA, or Blitz: The League, for that matter. These are procedurally generated, physics-based tackles that manage to rarely repeat themselves and also look great at the same time.

Consider Tackle Alley, a small feature that was the only playable part of Backbreaker today. Initially meant to be a simple tech demo, the feature grew in popularity and now will be included in the final game as an additional minigame. The idea is that you play as a lone runner, whose goal is to make it from one end of the field to the other while avoiding a host of psychotic defenders looking to cripple you at every turn. The running controls in the game are simple as can be--left stick moves the player and right trigger controls turbo. Juke moves and jumps are controlled by moving the right stick left, right, and up.

Throughout our time with Tackle Alley, we tried every juke move we could think of to get away from the defenders, from sidesteps and running backward to trying to leap over them. While we managed to avoid a few, it wasn't long before we were leveled by one or more defenders. It was impressive that no two tackles ever seemed the same. We saw a full-on blast that would knock the helmet off a real NFL running back and two-man tackles that sent our runner's body twisting at painful angles. We even managed to elude a few tackles or step out of a few ankle grabs to continue our march upfield. We never found the end zone, mind you, but we enjoyed trying.

Unfortunately, beyond that next-generation animation engine, we don't know a lot more about Backbreaker. A lack of a proper NFL license means that the dev team can take liberties with such things as team names, color schemes, and stadiums (indeed the huge stadium showed off during the demo held approximately 90,000 and looked like no other stadium you'd find in real life). We also know that the team is aiming for a "you are there" feel to playing football--evident in the Gears of War-like "roadie run" camera that is shown when you run while holding the turbo button down. Whether that immersive focus on the single-player will continue in the final game--as opposed to Madden's more elevated camera--remains to be seen.

Game modes, number of teams, playbooks, offensive/defensive control schemes, and even online plans were all subjects that NaturalMotion wasn't ready to talk about during today's demo, though we hope to learn more about all of these aspects of the game in the near future. While the technology behind the game is quite obviously impressive, it's in those other details that the commercial success of Backbreaker will be measured, especially in today's highly competitive sports gaming market. The game is currently on track for a 2008 release, and we'll be bringing you more on Backbreaker's progress in the coming weeks.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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30 comments
ryanballsack
ryanballsack

this game seems like its going to be great if it comes out but i heard it got cancelled. BALLSACK!!!!

REAL_BALLER_69
REAL_BALLER_69

And Dude why hasnt this come out yet they've been working on it for like 3 years now. I bet none of y'all can think of a game that took this long. With this much time they've had to work on a game i better be damn good

REAL_BALLER_69
REAL_BALLER_69

i would recomened buying madden 10 over this but this does look like a contender. like i have both blitz the league games and they were both fun but between madden and playing blitz i play madden any day and madden is the biggest sports game you can buy theres tv shows just showing dudes play each other in a madden competion however theres alot of stuff on tv in the united states that give away money:)

weezyindamuluva
weezyindamuluva

bull...im not sure...all hype...distinct possiblity...should they work with ea (or 2k if they could pry the lisence away from ea)...hell yea

Ocho8_5cinco
Ocho8_5cinco

I thought this game looked so amazing and was ready to pay to play even tackle alley, but your right Tuckergoulart im having my doubts and it really shouldnt take this long to finish a game....

tuckergoulart
tuckergoulart

This is Hype...no game takes this long. We still don't know simple details to this game 3 years into its inception. Why even give this title any ink is beyond me...

IZZO71
IZZO71

Madden 09 is probably the worst football simulation of all time, a good game, but a horrible simulation. Have you seen the way they run and cut? O GOD

patriots2871
patriots2871

I can't wait for this game it's going to be awesome

ebookerd1
ebookerd1

Good!! because Madden suck!! There I said it hate me if you want but it sucks!! Holding the NFL licence blows and mean they don't have to put out quality any more! a game like this should turn some heads.

LorenaLarue
LorenaLarue

Sounds great this new Euphoria engine.

Cabose12
Cabose12

I really hope they take this game and make a great football experience. I play madden a bit but after awhile it gets kinda boring, especially knowing that next year, you'll be playing almost the exact same game, and then the next year, and the next year. almost like brett favres retirement, same thing over and over and over.

rock_on__
rock_on__

looks well gd.......anyone know if its coming out in the uk ?

sniperhare
sniperhare

This game is gonna be fun, I just paid off Backbreaker, Blitz 2, Spore and Fallout 3 at my local gamespot. I can't wait to play them all.

otanikun
otanikun

Somebody challenges the almighty EA licence? Woah, they are right, takes "stones" to attempt something like this. But the game it's self, and I'm not a huge console sports game fan, looks promising, just like Madden '09 did, cept slightly better. The thing that hooks me in is physics based tackles and not scripted animations like you see in madden? Sounds like fun.

DirtyAl
DirtyAl

I have been following this game for a while and I just hope this game sees the light of day... Providing EA doesn't offer them a Trillion dollars for the technology behind it to use it for madden 10 and then hinder the possibilities and jack us for more money on the marketing schemes and fancy names for features that 2K had for years...

mrklorox
mrklorox

At first I chastised NaturalMotion for developing a game... a football game of all games. How could a middlewear technology company make anything more than a tech-demo, especially something that would rival the most constant selling franchise in history? Then I saw the videos online and immediately changed point of view. I'm interested to see how Backbreaker ends up... it might actually interest me in the US Football genre. Here's an analogy for you: THPS:Skate::Madden:Backbreaker Will EA choose to skip a turn on Madden 10 and reformulate their plans like Activision is doing with Tony Hawk?

smith447
smith447

this is exactly how i've always wanted a football game to be like. madden is so boring after awhile.

Hicks_1
Hicks_1

This one looks good, like as in revolutionizing good.

BigDaveyDogz
BigDaveyDogz

I hope this game does well enough to squeeze the NFL license out of EA's hands. Its about time they share the wealth again.

jedikevin2
jedikevin2

I hope this company takes a page from the new techmo bowl coming out. Release with random teams etc but allow you to customize team names, team colors, uniform numbers lol. Bam then you got a weird loophole version of NFL w00t.

KwasiAsiedu
KwasiAsiedu

I have been waiting on Backbreaker news for a while no, I thought it might be canceled or something. I have been looking for another football title. I have already got Blitz the league (Xbox) and Madden 08 (360). I like them both in their own ways but it is great to have another game in the mix with it's own unique features.

lendrahcir
lendrahcir

Competition is ALWAYS a good thing, especially against EA. Hopefully this will sproose up the market a bit. I can't stand Madden myself.

fox3586
fox3586

Exciting, but I think it is obvious that Natural Motion wants to sell Euphoria to EA. Having their engine running on the biggest perennial game ever is a pretty sweet score.

dark_being
dark_being

I dont play American football games, thank you.

jimbo7up
jimbo7up

I hope that the Euphoria engine turns heads at EA and they implement it in future Madden series.

4esth
4esth

I'm interested in checking out the animation. I'm not so concerned with the NFL licensing anyway. I'm more of a blitz/arcade guy anyway.

terry_tate
terry_tate

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

terry_tate
terry_tate

could be interesting, even if it only drives the madden series to up the ante far more than they did with '09.