Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Backbreaker: Demo Impressions

I don't know if this is the future, but it should be.

Dynamic. Vibrant.

In two words, that's the Backbreaker demo. It looks and feels like real football more often than any other football game I've ever played. And when I say "real" I mean "exactly real."

NFL2K5, as wonderful as it was, looked like the 2K series. Madden 10, even though it was greatly improved, looked like Madden.

Backbreaker just looks like football.

Players aren't skating or sliding--they're running. Tackles aren't pre-triggered animations--they're organic. I've seen a greater variation in tackles in four hours with the demo than I've seen in twenty years of Madden. The speed and intensity on the field are something I've never experienced from a football game to this degree.

It's not just about the animation, though. The game felt highly polished in general, and it consistently surpassed my expectations. As an example, one thing I didn't expect was the intelligence of the control design. Moves are mapped to the analog sticks in very logical ways, and with the number of moves available, it's critical.

Here's the best way I can describe the demo in terms of how it feels: an accurate simulation of football with individual control options as diverse as a Street Fighter game. Football, as a sport, is a series of one-on-one confrontations toward a greater team goal, and the individual confrontations are modeled better here than ever before.

It's not perfect, of course. I think the passing animation looks a little off, although it still looks better than any other game. It's just not exactly right, and so many other things in the demo are so exactly right that it stands out in comparison.

Also, the punter's drop is wrong. The ball doesn't tumble on a drop--it's very precise. And the line of scrimmage and first down lines have some sort of diamond shape moving back and forth on them pre-snap, which is a bit too busy for me.

That's not much to complain about.

Look, this is a different game. I highly discourage you from jumping right into an exhibition game--you'll be completely overwhelmed because the camera angle is so close. Play through all the available tutorials, then play in Tackle Alley for a while, and the game will make sense.

I praised Madden highly last year, and it deserved the praise. And it may well be that Madden's full package is something that Backbreaker won't be able to match. But there is no question that Backbreaker has a kind of dynamic energy that we haven't seen before, and I can't wait for the full game to be released next week.

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