Review: Backbreaker: Vengeance

July 15, 2011, Author: Phil Ubee

I think it is safe to say that I am widely regarded as the resident Sports Freak around the TIMJ offices, as I have something of an unhealthy passion for almost anything that constitutes sporting competition. As such, when titles such as Backbreaker: Vengeance come along I am usually somewhere near the head of the queue, jumping up and down, arms waving and shouting “Me! Me!” when the question of “Who wants it?” is asked.

Developed by NaturalMotion Games as a kind of spin off to last year’s Backbreaker title, Vengeance puts you in the uniform of an American Football team but does away with all the boring parts like scrimmage and tactics. Instead it focuses on the crunching tackles and speed that make the game so exciting to its fans (lockouts aside). Question is, does this maximise the gaming fun or leave you feeling a little short changed? Read on to find out.

Vengeance is a dangerous motive
Let’s get something straight right from the off, this is not really an American Football game. Sure, the characters have American Football style uniforms on and there is an actual American Football ball involved, but Vengeance is more a series of training exercises than an actual match when it really comes down to it. Points are gained for completing tasks such as avoiding or tackling opponents, running through score patches and passing obstacles. In addition you can gain extra points for showboating (with the bumper buttons), something which is actually now outlawed in the NFL, on your way to the End Zone.

The simple idea is to score as many points as possible, with each opponent or obstacle you pass earning you a multiplier that is applied to your total when you make it to the End Zone. Entering the End Zone itself at specific areas can also earn you extra points.

Arena Football
There are three game modes on offer here, Tackle Alley and Vengeance are extremely similar in many respects with the former placing you in possession of the football. It is your task to get to the End Zone and along the way you need to beat tacklers by jumping (A), sliding (Y), barging (X) or simply avoiding (RS) them. As you progress through the twenty single-player challenges, additional obstacles such as walls and tackle dummies will appear, along with score patches you can run through to boost your total.

All aboard the show boat...

To add a little variation to the proceedings, your opponents are colour coded to advise you of the style of tackle they will put in and give you an indication of the correct method of avoidance you should use. For example a Red glow to your opponent means they will come in low and you are required to Jump over the incoming tackle, while Yellow indicates the need to slide underneath a high challenge. This is not to say that you have to use this option, the spin and juke moves on the right stick can be applied against anyone and the RT button will force your man to sprint passed an opponent, but you cannot jump over an opponent glowing Yellow or slide under a Red.

Vengeance is a simple role reversal of Tackle Alley making you the tackler trying to take down the ball carrier before he gets to the End Zone. The big difference is that your opponent has blockers for you to avoid before you can take him down with a press of the B button, forcing a dive and the highest impact (read: scoring) tackle.

The third game mode is Supremacy and this is totally different in that it puts you and three opponents on the pitch, initially, with a ball each and asks you to race to the End Zone. After the initial race the person with the lowest score becomes the tackler against the other three players. Again additional obstacles come along as you progress, and the goal is to finish the five waves at the top of the scoreboard. You will get an additional 2500 points for getting to the End Zone first, 2000 for second, 1500 for third and 1000 for fourth.

Fall foul of an obstacle or run out-of-bounds and you lose 100 points, while getting tackled will cost you a whopping 2000 points. These scores are multiplied by the number of opponents that fail to finish the course, which adds an extra strategy as you try and bustle opponents out-of-bounds while avoiding tackles and grabbing score patches.

Hit them hard!

There are a number of key issues in the single-player game and these appear far more troublesome in the Vengeance mode than any other. Firstly you cannot stop at all and severe changes in direction are also something of a challenge. This does not hugely affect Supremacy or Tackle Alley where the focal point of the challenge is to avoid but when you are the tackler in Vengeance and you can’t stop or turn, it becomes incredibly frustrating. A lot of these levels are designed so that you run past the ball carrier initially to collect score patches and earn your multipliers and too often you are punished for doing just that. What’s worse is that if you just slightly miss-judge your line coming in to the tackle, you cannot make the adjustment needed so you’ll run or dive straight past the ball carrier.

Secondly, there is a slight delay in pressing your button and the player reacting, so you will often find yourself running straight into a tackle. To compensate you’ll find yourself pressing the button way too early at times, which leads to you finishing your avoidance animation just as the tackle actually comes in. This can be infuriating when you’re on the fifth and final wave of a challenge and end up failing because of something that feels totally out of your control. For a game that relies so heavily on timing this is simply unforgivable.

The above issues are emphasized by the collision detection being a bit hit and miss. I have gone through a single challenge where I have slid under three opponents where one maybe misses completely, one brushes over me and one half connects on the way through. Ironically the one that registers as a “tackle” is the one that seems to miss entirely. At best, maybe his toe catches my helmet as I’m getting up at the end of my slide but still, it classes as a tackle and I have to start again. In fairness, you do get five attempts at each of the five waves per challenge and there is always the option of taking the simplest, lowest scoring option to just get the job done but that kind of goes against the idea of the game.

Visual impact
Credit where it’s due, Backbreaker: Vengeance looks like a pretty high quality title. It has a cartoony style to it that fits the arcade gameplay brilliantly with bright, bold, colourful characters and some excellent looking stadiums. The character animations are also pretty decent overall, as players run jump and slide around the arena and you get a good feeling of impact on the tackles.

The crowds are well populated and, as sporting titles go, the individuals in the crowd look fairly good as they jump up and down with excitement. As you might expect the menu’s are pretty basic and therefore quite bland but the overall presentation is very good.

Tackle you dummy

Like a broken record
The menus are accompanied with a decent, high intensity, adrenaline inducing track that sets the tone of the game, but there is only one (or maybe it’s loads that just sound exactly the same). In the arena, the crowd will cheer at a fairly flat rate until you achieve the ultimate goal of a takedown or trip to the End Zone, before they give an ever-so-slightly more excited scream. You’ll also hear the occasional boo when you fail. Individual player noises are a slight plus in that they give a scream of varying descriptions as they charge into tackles, which do fit into the game well but overall there isn’t much to it.

A collection of individuals
All three single-player game modes are available over Xbox Live and there is definitely some (limited) fun to be had here. Vengeance and Tackle Alley see you and your live opponent essentially running the same route starting either side by side or from opposite ends of the pitch. Essentially, as the targets are the same these modes both keep very much the feel of the single player game, begging the question, what’s the point?

Supremacy is where you may find some genuine enjoyment as you go in direct competition against an opponent and can bustle each other out-of-bounds or even target a particular person when you are the tackler. Unfortunately, though, despite the game being a four person affair you can only have two people playing, leaving two A.I. opponents in the game mode. Why there couldn’t of been support for the full four players I will never know, but Supremacy on Live is enjoyable in small doses.

The big issue you have is that although I wouldn’t say it was laggy or glitchy, those short delays I mentioned earlier in the play reactions during the single player game are, at times, emphasized making it even more difficult to judge and perform your avoidance moves.

Backbreaker: Vengeance is a great idea in theory, and by taking a massively popular sport and going away from the usual simulation format to produce a bite-size experience that can be enjoyed by fans, part-time spectators and novices alike means it succeeds, to a degree. Vengeance can be an enjoyable experience, albeit in small doses. The Supremacy mode in particular is good fun for both single-player and Mulitiplayer, despite only being able to have two of the four competitors human controlled.

However, there are simply too many infuriating characteristics that pick away at the enjoyment to make this a purchase. The inability to stop or change direction is just ridiculous and the hit-and-miss collision detection is infuriating to say the least. If the title was available at 400MP or maybe even 800MP (the same as Madden Arcade), the result may have been slightly different. At 1200MP I simply cannot recommend Backbreaker: Vengeance to anyone.


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