Early Backbreaker Online Impressions

Posted May 31st, 2010 at 12:17 pm

At the time I posted my initial impressions of Backbreaker I had been unable to play online. Now that I have I wanted to get some early thoughts out regarding online play. Many people may be looking to online to salvage the game given the troubling CPU AI faced offline. I’m pleased to say that so far just the elimination of CPU QB play and CPU play calling has made the experience much more enjoyable. However lag issues are being monitored and a puzzling design decision within the online options could hurt its perception.

Right now with only a few hundred copies of the game out there that makes it tough to properly evaluate performance. However a trend seems to have appeared already, one that seems similar in nature to what Tecmo Bowl Throwback delivered. The host seems to run smoothly with the guest possibly experiencing crippling lag. How widespread a problem this is remains uncertain.

There is no way for this to be absolutely confirmed just yet until more people are playing online and then the situation can be better assessed. However multiple parties are reporting such results. It would explain why there is so much quitting going on even in situations early in a game where one wouldn’t expect it. I’ve also had people back out of the team select screen when they saw they would be the guest which could be an indication of awareness to the issue. Given that every time I have attempted to play online I’ve searched unsuccessfully and had to create a session I have not had the opportunity yet to play as a guest but will try to tomorrow.

Online options include the ability to change the stadium, night vs day vs rain, Pro vs Arcade, quarter length, play clock, overtime type, timeouts, and form. Without changing the options the game defaults to Arcade which is troubling. Not only does that add all the visual indicators and limit the playbooks further but it also allows for the opponent’s play art to be seen before the snap. Needless to say this is not how most people would want to play but it is the default setting.

One would have to be careful in going with “Quick Match” for a game because of this. If the host didn’t change the setting to Pro then then both parties will be stuck playing in Arcade mode. There is no option to change difficulty which is probably to keep a standard for ranked games. That though seems odd to me when combined with all the other options that can be changed. The games seem to count the same towards a user’s record and stats regardless of the options.

Quitting seems to be an epidemic online and why that is the case could be tied back to the lag and wanting to drop out of games that are running poorly. However it could also have to do with quitters not receiving losses to their record so they have nothing to lose by doing so. There is also no option to grant mercy or ask for a friendly quit so I’m sure that plays a part as well.

The opposing player under user control will have their name above their head. I didn’t really like the look of this at first but it no longer bothers me. It works well to give the user an indication where the ball is and where a user is roaming on the defensive side of the ball.

Created teams can be used online but the two users must be on each other’s friends list. If not than the team appears to the opposition as generic. If on the friends list than the team will appear with full customized art.

The opportunity to go head-to-head in Tackle Alley is also offered online. 10 rounds are run with each one going until at least one of the two users scores. I didn’t find it to be all that compelling but for fans of Tackle Alley it might go over well to have that added element of competition.

Clearly the biggest benefit of playing online is that the importance of the CPU AI isn’t as great since the opposing QB is user controlled. That doesn’t solve all the AI problems or bugs being experienced with the game but it does lead to a more satisfying experience and one that provides for a challenge that the CPU fails to deliver on. INTs and sacks still happen pretty often but that can be laid more so on user performance and if the game is running smoothly for both sides then there is competitive balance in that.

While the game is a lot more fun online due to the balance and challenge just being online doesn’t solve all the bugs with the game. In fact in my last play through I had the ball punted to me and bounce into the end zone where my opponent picked up the ball and was given a TD. Then it went to me attempting a PAT from my own one yard line (109 yard kick). After that attempt failed (I decided to go for a 99 yard 2pt conversion) it had me kicking off.

Given that the game had the advertised release date of Tuesday with just Gamestop locations getting it out early to some consumers we’ll have to see how things hold up when the online presence increases. So far my online experience has been positive given that I haven’t experienced any lag (as a host) and playing against competent opponents makes it much more enjoyable. However if one side (the guest) is consistently going to face lag then that would completely change the outlook of online play for Backbreaker. I’ll continue to monitor things over the coming days.