Backbreaker Demo Impressions

Posted May 25th, 2010 at 10:41 am

After much recent anticipation, largely driven by the lack of gameplay videos and impressions so close its release date, the Backbreaker demo arrived for the Xbox 360. Reaction has been mixed with most gamers enjoying the Euphoria physics, polarization on the single camera angle, and the troubling CPU AI leading to the most concern. Continue on to read through my thoughts on the demo so far and leave yours in the comments!

The actual demo structure is fantastic. Natural Motion built a great demo by including drills, Tackle Alley, and six teams for exhibition. This was a great way to ease people into the game by helping to teach various aspects instead of just throwing everyone in cold. Having only the couple two minute quarters hampers the flow but there seems to be enough plays being called in each demo run-through to get a decent feel for things.

I have been caught off guard by how much of an impact the organic feel of the player interaction and tackling provides. The desire is there to watch the replay after every single event on the field because of it. The variety seen due to the physics system pretty incredible and refreshing. I’ve always enjoyed sports games it felt as though anything could happen at any moment and Backbreaker delivers in that area.

There is no doubt that Backbreaker will be popular with the crowd that creates highlight reels and posts videos. I’ve already watched many of them myself. Too bad we don’t know if they built in a way to easily save and share highlights which probably means they didn’t. Also, sadly, the instant replay functionality is terribly restricted locking in on the exact perspective that was witnessed during the play. There is no way to change the perspective so a lot will be missed.

At first I wanted to turn off the auto-replays but then decided to keep them on. The only way you can see what actually happened on half the plays because of camera positioning is to watch the replay. Unfortunately for some reason there don’t seem to be auto-replays on some first downs or touchdowns and those are instances where I’d likely want to see a replay. I also wish on kickoffs the auto-replays wouldn’t start from the very beginning because there is no way I’m sitting through the entirety of the play in order to see the end of it.

My favorite aspects of the game are kickoffs and kick returns, those are very exciting and usually end with cool looking hits. As much as everyone seems to enjoy Tackle Alley I think a mini-game involving returns would be just as fun if not more so. I also am really enjoying the run game which is a little surprising to me. The camera hasn’t been as much of a detriment there as I had expected. I’ve picked up good chunks of yardage while feeling as though I was being aided by great blocking. I’ve also gotten blown up or tripped up but haven’t gotten frustrated by those outcomes as the results felt justified based on how the plays developed. Overall it is a satisfying feeling that comes with picking up yardage on the ground.

Its a shame they didn’t include any option for different camera angles with at least one being of the more traditional sort. Understanding that the vision was for this to be an on-the-field experience I think the game would’ve played well even from a more standard camera angle. While it might lose some of the intensity it also would be without some of the frustrations and restrictions of using the current zoomed camera. Even though with the controls they wanted to push use of the right stick they still offered a different control scheme as an option. They should have done the same for camera angles. Offering options is always a good thing. This takes me back to how EA Sports had the “vision” of Fight Night Round 4 with only analog controls and they ended up regretting that decision and eventually patched in an option for button controls (but it was already too late).

Control wise there is just too much reliance on the right stick. Oftentimes it isn’t responsive or it registers it as something else because it is difficult to be precise when in pressure situations. The example I’ve experienced the most is when trying to scan receivers side to side with the stick and it throws a pass in thinking I pushed up. The lob pass often doesn’t work too using the stick. Needless to say when those things go wrong they usually doesn’t end well. Thankfully NM implemented a different control scheme that moves the right stick actions onto the buttons and that is much more user friendly.

The offensive output by the CPU has been pitiful. I’ve yet to give up more than a couple first downs on a single drive and still haven’t been scored on. The biggest reason is that the CPU turns the ball over a lot. In four minutes of gameplay it’s been close to an average of three picks thrown by the CPU. In the final demo video I posted I had three picks in three drives off the best offensive team in the game. That was with me being out of the play in all instances and the CPU just making bad passes.

If that were to correlate the same when playing with longer quarters that would be incredibly messy. No matter how great the physics are I would not be able to play a football game if the CPU throws 10+ picks each time out. At this rate in a game with eight minute quarters the CPU would throw around 24 picks a game. That sounds crazy but even going with two picks in a four minute demo would mean 16 of them in an eight minute quarter game. It may end up being that stats aren’t going to be realistic. The game may have been built for something like four minute quarters. The rate of INTs remains a huge problem regardless of quarter length though.

The CPU goes with a jump pass way too often, whether it be springing forward or backwards, many times resulting in an interception. These aren’t instances where jumping to make a pass even would make some sense as the CPU would have been better off with their feet set. Hopefully this is addressed in a patch. While the CPU has gotten at least a few completed passes on me the running game hasn’t been very effective at all. With the high number of sacks the QB takes the CPU has been in a lot of passing situations taking them out of the run game as much of an option anyway.

The passing game for the user is something that is going to hamper the game enjoyment for me, I just don’t think I’ll be able to get past it because of the camera angle and being forced to scan through receivers with the stick. While I’m certain I’ll get a little more comfortable with it and improve, in the end it’s obvious I’m just going to feel like I’m throwing and praying. It’s difficult to scan the field because of the camera angle, too much time is needed to change receiver targets (forget going from one side of the field to the other), and the pass rush gets to the QB very quickly in most cases. This has led to me either just locking in on a single receiver or making a guess and just throwing the ball up. There isn’t enough time to do much else.

So I dislike the process of scanning receivers and I also dislike the lob pass functionality. Understanding that the idea is to replicate the time needed to really get behind a big throw, that is less my issue as it is that the lob doesn’t register most of the time. I end up just throwing a bullet pass when I wanted a lob which means good chance of INT. Actually in the drill I don’t think it works at all (heard from others on this too) but in the game I’ve been able to get some lobs out. Problem is I can’t rely on it and it scares me that in going for a lob pass it may not register correctly so I’ve started to shy away from throwing deep bombs because of that. Again though the alternate control scheme solves some of this.

The CPU defensive back AI has been terrible in instances where they aren’t running in stride. When they continue to run in stride they seem to play the ball pretty well. If they stop (like on a comeback route or a pass lobbed up for grabs) they’ll start to go the wrong way, make a terrible attempt at the ball, or just stand there. Several times I’ve completed passes with multiple defenders in the area who played the ball horribly wrong. They’ve just stood there and watched the ball go over their heads or watched the receiver make an easy catch.

I’ve seen a lot of people talking about how they believe the defensive side of the ball is the worst part of the game due to the camera angle. I actually don’t feel that way, but I think it’s due to my experience in career modes or player lock in NCAA and Madden. The big problem comes in when switching players. So I don’t switch players, I just stick with my guy throughout each play. The camera shifts when switching players are jarring and disorienting. You don’t know who you will be switched to so it is impossible to react properly. There was one time where I thought the play was maybe over (I was on the opposite side of the field) and hit A to switch just to see…only to find out I was then controlling a guy who had picked off a pass and I ran out of bounds accidentally when I may have been able to return it for a TD.

Penalties have been really iffy to say the least. I’ve seen roughing the passer called in multiple situations when it shouldn’t have been. I have seen a pass interference properly called in two instances, called once when there was clearly no interference, and in several other situations seen receivers taken completely out before the ball arrives and no penalty called. There also seems to be an issue with roughing the kicker (primarily on punts) where your CPU controlled players commit the penalty way too often and out of the user’s control. I haven’t seen this one much but it has been widely reported.

Exploits have already been found with QB sneaks and the blocking of punts and field goals. These things could really damage the online play experience. The QB sneak problem, combined with the ability to no-huddle because of the lack of fatigue and not having to worry about injuries, could ruin online play. If blocked punts and kicks are prevalent online everyone will end up going for it on 4th downs.

  • Since the CPU hasn’t scored on me I can’t confirm this but I’ve heard that the CPU misses a lot of extra points and field goals.
  • Need to stop the clock while on defense and short on timeouts? An encroachment penalty actually results in a clock stoppage.
  • Things like no fatigue, injuries, hot routes, and sliders wouldn’t really bother me in a demo. Those things will certainly affect my feeling on the full game however.
  • Really neat having the ability to change the camera positioning when in certain presentational situations like the team walkout and on kickoffs. Unfortunately its the same scene every time so it’ll be skipped past in most instances but a cool idea that could be expanded on for the future.
  • Anyone else find it ironic that Backbreaker has a similar Jumbotron animation after plays (such as “First Down”, “Sacked”, “Timeout”) that has gotten such hatred towards in Madden the past few years? Get rid of it please in both games!

Euphoria is implemented very well and the game is exciting and refreshing primarily because of that. Camera issues, unfriendly default controls, and terrible CPU AI are dragging down the overall experience. If there is a Backbreaker 2 then additional camera angles, vastly improved AI, better presentation, and refined controls will likely be where the focus needs to be (just based on what we’ve found with the demo).

Hopefully some of those things could even be worked on through a patch for Backbreaker. Certainly at the very least the exploits that are being found and the CPU AI are necessary areas to target in a patch. I went into the Backbreaker uncertain if Euphoria would work for a full-fledged football game. I now feel confident it can, which is an achievement in itself, however it doesn’t make for a complete game on its own. Based on the demo it just isn’t enough due to the wide ranging issues on hand. We’ll have to wait and see how those issues carry over into the full version of the game.