505 Games and NaturalMotion are back with another football game, this time on Xbox Live Arcade. The original Backbreaker was praised for its realistic physics and animations, but was trashed for its inconsistent gameplay. Backbreaker: Vengeance takes the Tackle Alley game mode from the original and adds in two more modes: Vengeance and Supremacy. $15 for a few mini-games does seem pretty steep.
Each of Backbreaker: Vengeance‘s game modes come with specific features and elements. Tackle Alley has you taking control of the ball carrier while avoiding, running over, and even jumping over tacklers trying to make your way into the end zone. Vengeance switches things around, you are now the tackler, and your goal is to stop the opposing ball carrier from scoring. Supremacy is the most distinct of the three. You go up against three different players, fighting to see who can score first. After each wave, the player with the lowest score becomes a defender, thus making it even more difficult for you to score. It’s nice to see three different game modes, but only Supremacy stands out, and it only has 10 challenges; compare that to 20 for both Tackle Alley and Vengeance. There is also Xbox Live for each mode mentioned, but it suffers from serious lag issues.
The gameplay, unfortunately, remains close to its troubled predecessor. There are some instances when you hit a button and the game does not recognize it. It occurs more than you think, and can be a real nuisance during challenges, and makes the game even more galling to play. The game exclusively uses a zoomed-in camera, and it is almost impossible to see if somebody is coming at you from the sides.
To unlock new challenges, you must earn enough points to obtain a bronze helmet. You earn points by avoiding tacklers in Tackle Alley, tackling the runner in Vengeance and scoring first in Supremacy. In most challenges there are only certain ways you can go, with most of the field being marked out in red. There are also point markers on the field, and collecting them boosts your total. You are given five chances to complete each wave, and if you fail on wave five of a challenge, you have to start all the way back over at wave one.
Each mode is fun in 30-to-60-minute sessions, but play any longer than that and frustration and boredom will surely kick in. The Vengeance game mode is by far the most frustrating of the three. There are some waves that will take multiple tries before you finally realize the best strategy to take. Now a game having a challenge is not bad, but Vengeance makes us worry about our dwindling supply of not-smashed controllers. The Tackle Alley and Supremacy modes are not as challenging, but both feel as if you’re just going through the motions. Playing longer than an hour and you just get insanely bored with the game.
Animations and visuals are by far the bright spot for Backbreaker: Vengeance, as the physics are some of the best you‘ll ever see in a sports game. Lighting, shadows, and the overall presentation are all astonishing. The crunching tackles feel realistic, and NaturalMotion did another superb job with the overall visual flair of the game. Audio is very hit-and-miss. When tackling and running guys over, the sound is great and it’s like you’re listening to a real football game. The music is something entirely different. You get only one song to listen to, and it gets old fast.
For $15, you expect more than just great physics and animation. Unfortunately, that is all Backbreaker: Vengeance has to offer, with technical issues and general frustration clouding the larger experience. Fans of the original Backbreaker might enjoy this new iteration, as they definitely picked the right part of the game to focus on. Most football fans, though, will want to avoid it.
Pros: Great physics engine, polished visuals
Cons: Gameplay and audio leave much to be desired