Monday, August 09, 2010

Backbreaker (Greathouse #3) Impressions (360)

The Backbreaker patch isn't good.

It's great.

Remember how we all wanted to like this game, and then it actually came out and we played it and said "Oh crap, this game has cancer"? And remember how 505 Games said they were working on a patch, and then they came out with a patch list that basically shat rainbows, and we all said there was no way they could pull it off?

Well, they pulled it off.

This may be the most dramatic improvement I've ever seen in a game via patch. All the possibilities that Backbreaker represented, all the unique qualities that were designed to capture the intensity of being on the field--they nailed it.

When this game was originally released, the average Metacritic score was 54. I wrote this:
"This game is a 90 that was released in 65 condition."

I also listed these problems with the game:
--the CPU A.I. was utterly incompetent on offense, both passing and running.
--sacks and interceptions were far too high.
--incorrect rules interpretations.
--no accelerated clock.

There was actually quite a bit more than that, but by then I felt like I was piling on.

So what is the game like post-patch?
--the CPU offense is entirely competent
--sacks and interceptions are within normal range.
--rules errors have been corrected.

There's still no accelerated clock. Hey, so Santa only left a dozen presents. I can deal with that.

The CPU A.I. is occasionally a bit baffling in the last two minutes (particularly regarding the use of defensive timeouts), and sometimes the safeties are too passive on pass plays, but otherwise, the gameplay is entirely stellar. It's a 90 game in 90 condition now.

Let me be clear about this. It's not just that the broken parts of the game have been fixed. It's that this game absolutely soars, in a way that I don't remember seeing since ESPN NFL2K5.

Yes, I thought Madden was a better game last year, but I still remember how blown away I was the first time I saw NFL2K5 in 480P on the Xbox. It was incredibly vibrant and totally breathtaking.

In 2010, so it is with Backbreaker.

How much fun have I been having? I stopped trying to score an early copy of Madden. I'm still doing a slider project, but it just didn't seem nearly as important after a few hours of playing Backbreaker post-patch.

This game is obviously competing in the same demographic space as Madden, but it's important to understand that it offers an entirely different experience, because the camera is so close that it offers a significantly more authentic experience than the "God cam" of other football games. In Backbreaker, even with the slightly elevated passing camera post-patch, you learn to read receivers as they pass in-between other players. You learn to study the defense with extreme scrutiny pre-snap, because you can't see everyone post-snap--players will be blocked by other players, and you can't see the whole field in one glance. On defense, you learn to identify and remember how many receivers are on each side of the field, and on what side the tight end is lining up. You can get away with not doing that particularly well in Madden, because with one glance during the play, you can see everything.

In Backbreaker, you can't really get away with anything. Not anymore, anyway.

It's really impossible for me to describe how dynamic the action feels. The animation is just so convincing, and seems so unscripted, that it feels almost entirely real. In one play last night, I played as a middle linebacker, then fought through three players for an eventual quarterback sack. It was a coverage sack, really, but it was a huge rush to watch the replay and see my player fighting through those blockers in an extremely realistic manner.

It's also a huge rush to see receivers stretching the ball out on their way to the ground in an attempt to get a first down. There are so many little moments like this, and they all combine to create a terrifically immersive experience.

This is also the first game I've ever seen that truly captures the brutality of professional football without turning it into a cartoon. Hits in this game will make you wince because they look so real.

There are many examples of how Backbreaker makes you experience football in a different way, but here's one excellent example. It's always said that on offense, the left tackle may be the most important player on the field, because he protects the quarterback's blindside.

In Madden or NCAA, that doesn't mean anything, because there IS no blindside. There's no camera where you can't see trouble coming.

In Backbreaker, there damn sure is a blindside, and you better watch out. A button was added in the patch that lets you glance to the side away from your primary receiver, but believe me, it can only help so much.

The defense means to harm you.

This is why, as I played in Road To Backbreaker Mode, that when I accumulated enough credits to buy a free agent, I didn't look at a better quarterback or a skill position player.

I looked, first, at left tackle.

Now, if you want to play the game, listen to this next section carefully. First, you need to do the tutorials. Don't even think about skipping them--the controls are extremely intuitive, but practice is definitely needed. On defense, it will take time for you to feel comfortable swinging the camera with the right stick when the ball goes past you. I'm doing it quite easily now, though, and you will be as well. On offense, it will take time to be comfortable switching receivers during a play. Again, though, that will come with a little practice, and it is a far more satisfying feeling to complete passes in this challenging environment.

In short, a sensational effort.

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