Backbreaker Update

We take a look at what NaturalMotion has in store for its new take on football.

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We've already seen a good deal on NaturalMotion and publisher 505 Games' upcoming take on 11-on-11 football, but we have yet to get our hands on the full version of Backbreaker to play it ourselves. Still, we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from the final game when it ships in April 2010. Here's a quick breakdown:

- There's no NFL license, so customization will play a big part in the game. You can create your own players, teams (even their logo, using a logo editor), and seasons, but Backbreaker will have up to 32 premade teams to select from as well. We haven't seen the customization feature yet, but we're hoping the logo editor offers enough variety to really create what you want. The development team also hasn't quite figured out how to bring all of customization functionality online (referencing NCAA Football's deep online customization system), but it's working on it.

You don't want to be in his way.
You don't want to be in his way.

- While there's no hardcore franchise mode (NaturalMotion wants to keep the focus on playing football), Backbreaker offers a number of gameplay modes in addition to the typical season mode, which can last for as long as 32 games (or eight and 16 if you want shorter options). There's an Arcade mode that streamlines the play-calling interface down to four plays on both offense and defense, so if you're not familiar with the intricacies of the sport, you can jump right into a game. Backbreaker's Training mode will also help you get comfortable with the controls and the camera perspective via minigames. One such minigame puts you alone on the field with a series of pylons that you have to successfully navigate through to get a feel for running. Lastly, there's also an Exhibition mode if you want to play just a single game, as well as online multiplayer that supports up to four players, but it's worth noting that if you want to play against someone on the same console, the game uses a split-screen setup to accommodate the lower camera perspective.

- As far as actual gameplay is concerned, Backbreaker's camera perspective has a tremendous influence on how a play unfolds because your field of vision is more limited than it is in something like Madden. Before the snap on a passing play, the quarterback starts with a primary receiver (highlighted in orange). You can change your primary receiver before the snap, and the quarterback's vision seems to focus on the general area of the primary receiver you've selected. You can then pass the ball using the right analog stick. Additionally, it will be possible to cycle through receivers after the snap, but we have yet to see this feature in the game. The running game is a bit more straightforward because the camera takes a behind-the-running-back perspective before the snap, making it easier to spot gaps in the line and perform jukes, spins, or stiff arms. On defense, you automatically take the place as an outside linebacker, but you can change to other positions on the field. Once you've made a decision, you basically have to commit to your coverage on the field because the camera tends to focus on the offensive player involved. If you're a linebacker on a blitz, the camera tends to keep the quarterback in your field of view, whereas if you're in coverage as a defensive back, a receiver will be the primary focus.

Tackles look great so far.
Tackles look great so far.

- One of the main attractions of Backbreaker is that it also uses the Euphoria physics engine, which basically translates into some pretty cool-looking tackles (especially hard hits will be shown via replay). Indeed, even at this relatively early state, the hits do look pretty good and there's plenty of variety to them, but we're still wondering how much of an effect this has on the finer points of a play, such as line blocking or even receiver bumps. But there are plenty of other nice details in the game as well, such as the pregame run through the tunnel onto the field and the audible breaths of air your player makes when engaged in accelerated mode.

At this point, we're ready to get our hands on the full game. We've seen a good portion of how things work, but we'll be interested to see how long (or quickly) it takes to adapt to the camera perspective and the limited vision, particularly on defense. We'll have more on Backbreaker before its release in April.

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