With All-Pro Football and Blitz hanging up their cleats, EA is the undisputed king of football games. That isn’t stopping Natural Motion from going for it on fourth down with Backbreaker. Armed with the Euphoria engine that has powered the impressive animations for games like Grand Theft Auto IV and The Force Unleashed, Backbreaker aims to take down the NCAA and Madden publisher with its gritty, up close and personal brand of football. To get a better sense of what this game’s about, 505 Games supplied us with a preview build.

Building A Franchise

Life without the NFL and NFLPA is rough. Any football fan would prefer taking snaps with Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints than an imaginary quarterback from an imaginary team. All-Pro Football made due by dishing out large sums of cash to pay for the likenesses of legendary players like John Elway and Barry Sanders. As an upstart developer funded by a less established publisher, Natural Motion didn’t have the resources to go this route, instead filling the game with a bunch of generic teams. To keep the hardcore NFL fans interested in the game, however, the devs included tools to let players customize up to 32 teams.

These customization tools give you free reign to name your team, create a logo with a Photoshop-like editor, fine-tune your jersey motif, choose a home stadium, re-name players, alter your team strengths, and change the number of “gold players” your team has on both sides of the ball. To avoid ugly lawsuits with EA and the NFL, however, you cannot name your upstart franchise the exact names of NFL teams and play online with them. Anything goes in offline play, but if you want to take the Minnesota Vikings onto the field against friends online, you’ll have to be creative. One workaround I found was to use the abbreviated city or state name. Typing the name San Francisco 49ers resulted in the pop-up box telling me that the name couldn’t be used online, but when I typed SF 49ers I received no such warning.

The same applies to player names. I tried names from every era of football – Fran Tarkenton, Tommy Kramer, Tarvaris Jackson – and I received the warning about not being able to take these names online each time. Even little known quarterback Steve Dils didn’t work, which leads me to believe that Natural Motion has a database featuring the names of every player who ever donned a helmet in the NFL. To get around this, NFL fans could intentionally misspell names or just use the abbreviation technique. Having players named A. Peterson and S. Rice may not be ideal, but it’s an acceptable workaround for dedicated fans. Unfortunately, if you want to create an entire 32-team league with NFL clones, you can’t rely on some hardcore fan in another state to do the dirty work for you. Backbreaker does not feature a tool to upload and share rosters or teams with other players.

Long-time Madden players may be equally irked by the lack of player customization. You can edit the name and number of each player, but have no control over their skill ratings, size, or weight. The only way to get better players on your roster is to move the slider that controls how many gold tier players are on your roster. The skill ratings feel rather empty considering the depths to which Madden credits attributes. Each player, no matter the position, is rated in four areas – focus, agility, speed, and strength. While these ratings may be fine for creating basic skill sets, there is no way to deduce what ratings affect abilities like quarterback accuracy, zone coverage, man-to-man coverage, etc.

Not allowing gamers to adjust the size and weight of players is also frustrating considering the physics engine driving Backbreaker. With the Euphoria technology simulating the physical prowess of a player based on his muscle mass and motor skills, the game could do a great job accentuating the immovable nature of gargantuan nose tackles like Pat Williams or the strength and height advantages a stud receiver like Larry Fitzgerald has going up against a 5’9 corner. The version of the game we played did have varying player skill implemented yet, so we won’t know if this will be the case until we play the final game.