Backbreaker Vengeance Review (Xbox 360)
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Remember playing outdoor games like Steal the Bacon, Capture the Flag and Muckle at recess?
Rushing in, you boldly take the ball. Defenders are everywhere, but somehow your body and this ball have to get around the wet mulch pile, over the wooden bench, through the foursquare area and finally into the clear. You turn around, taunt the panting defenders by holding the ball just out of their grasp, and then you flex your muscles just like Hulk Hogan.
Playing Backbreaker Vengeance's centerpiece mode, Tackle Alley, is like reliving a childhood game of recess.
Defenders are relentless in pursuit, running into each other, plowing over tackle dummies and launching their bodies into barricades just to trip you up and reset your score to zero. The defense will break into celebratory taunts, treating each successful tackle like a Super Bowl victory. However, at various points the defenders will inevitably still have to watch you back flip and cartwheel into the end zone while they hug their thigh pads and hang their heads in shame.
Generally speaking, expect the defense to be doing most of the trash talking in Backbreaker Vengeance. By around the tenth challenge, the difficulty reaches the point where clearing each obstacle course requires both an intelligent plan of attack and near-perfect precision on the controls.
Trying to complete the tougher challenges of Tackle Alley forces you to get into that fabled "zone" people always talk about. During those moments, you will watch the bodies swarm around you, falling for spins, jukes and hurdles, with rejected tacklers dropping to the ground as if sniped from the sidelines by an angry, trigger-happy coach.
Forget the Tecmo Bowl remake that just came out on iPhone, Backbreaker Vengeance's Tackle Alley mode is exactly what an old-school throwback should play like. Fans of score-based arcade games like Robotron 2084, Smash TV and Super Monkey Ball have found their next challenge.
One of the other major modes in the game is Supremacy mode. It's kind of like the "track" portions in Konami's four-player Track and Field arcade games, except all four players are on the track at the same time, moving freely instead of being confined to running lanes.
Supremacy mode actually gives you extra points for pushing other players into laser death zones or knocking them headfirst into a hurdle -- take that, sportsmanship. Oh, and the best part is the guy with the lowest score after each wave gets to start at the other end of the course on the next wave and come charging at everybody else, bayonet-style.
Two drawbacks keep Supremacy mode from taking gold:
- There is a two-console online limit, meaning the only way to have four human players in an online game is to add a split-screen player on each console.
- Unlike Tackle Alley and Vengeance modes, which have 100 waves, Supremacy mode includes only 50 waves.
Still, for multiplayer hijinks and hilarity, Supremacy can't be beat.
Lastly, maybe you aren't brave enough to play Tackle Alley or Supremacy modes. Maybe what you want isn't to be hurt, but to hurt others. Well, then you might want to check out Vengeance mode.
See that guy over there by the bleachers in the jersey with number one on it? The one with "Jackaus" written on his back? Yeah, he's been going around saying he can beat you in a footrace to the end zone.
I bet that's one person in particular you'd really like to hurt. But to get to him, you've got to go through all his buddies first because he's smart enough to know he'd never last a second in the open field.
So you juke around several fat linemen, blast through a skinny safety, and you sprint to catch up to the high-stepping Jackaus at the goal line. While his head is turned the other way, still high stepping while blowing a kiss to his girlfriend, you pop him right in the mouth.
The ball comes spurting out, bouncing over to the crowd, dying appropriately at his girlfriend's feet. You stand over his shaken frame and yell "How's that grass taste, Jackaus?"
Sure, that's a dramatization of how it all goes down, but you have to take some narrative leaps in your mind when it comes to Backbreaker.
Comparing the original Tackle Alley to Backbreaker Vengeance is like comparing the rinky-dinky arcade version of Mario Bros. to its NES sequel, Super Mario Bros. Right away, the graphical improvements are stunning. Stadiums look spectacular, with full 3-D crowds and huge light structures glaring down from above. Rain turns the field into a big green slippery mess, as players go squirting out of each other's grasp during collisions.
The player models, a major complaint in the original Backbreaker, look less like squat action figures and more like average NFL players. Running feels responsive and realistic because you have to develop the habit of releasing the right trigger during sharp turns before accelerating out of the apex, just as you would in racing simulations like Forza or Gran Turismo.
Camera angles are cleaner, creating a greater view of the field. There is slight clipping on the dive and hurdle animations, but it's detectable only on super-slow-motion replays, and most likely it was a design decision to keep the dive and hurdle moves from failing 90 percent of the time due to "shoestring" mid-air frame collisions.
Everything on the field has more presence. Laser death zones light up and flash when tripped. Point markers disintegrate upon contact before teleporting into your on-screen point total. Newly introduced tackle dummies and hurdle barricades play a key role in Backbreaker Vengeance's design. Many levels have multiple paths, forcing the player to choose whether to interact with non-living objects (worth a maximum of 250 points each) or take on live tacklers (worth a maximum 500 of points apiece).
But some of Backbreaker Vengeance's best moments occur when players collide with the course obstacles in unintended, hilarious ways -- an impossibility in the first Tackle Alley mode since the courses were totally bare aside from the conga lines of tacklers.
Even the in-game audio has been remixed, fixing the original Backbreaker's overdone crowd noise between plays. It's also lights out, game over for P.O.D. and fans of cheesy licensed music. Backbreaker Vengeance's soundtrack includes original hip-hop instrumentals, which sets an intense, combative mood for the game without getting vulgar or dopey.
One negative is that Backbreaker Vengeance does not include any way to save or download instant replays. So forget popcorn, in Vengeance you'll want to get your camcorder ready because stunning, stand-up-and-shout moments happen quite frequently, and if you don't capture them right after the play's over, a unique moment will be lost forever.
Be prepared to deal with lag if you take Backbreaker Vengeance online. Input delay forces you to time your button presses early, and depending on the connection between you and your opponent, this can either make the game impossible to play or simply a minor adjustment that takes a wave or two to adjust to.
As a tale of two games:
- It once took me over an hour to complete five waves of a single Tackle Alley challenge against a random opponent, simply because neither of us could deal with the crippling input lag.
- Playing defense in Supremacy mode online, I had one of the best moments I've seen in the game so far when a friend ran straight at me full speed, tried to hurdle my tackle, but in mid-flight I smacked his left shoe with the crown of my helmet, sending him sprawling to the ground while the forward momentum of my tackle carried me into the defender trailing behind him, taking him out of the wave and awarding me the gold trophy.
The moral of the story is that you need to choose your opponents wisely. If you play with friends who have fast internet connections and are near your geographic location, then you're likely to love Backbreaker Vengeance's online play. If you don't, you'll likely never return to it.
Online leaderboards are available for all three of Backbreaker Vengeance's game modes. A cumulative leaderboard also totals up all your points across the entire game.
Leaderboards are separated into offline and online, but there's little reason to compete in the online ladder, given Backbreaker Vengeance's latency problems with random opponents, and the fact that a player can quit on you once you build a lead -- the ranking system will act as if the game never took place.
Offline leaderboards, whether you're simply trying to one-up your friends' scores or looking to become the best Backbreaker Vengeance player in the world, offer the most incentive to keep coming back to the game and bettering your scores.
One final note about leaderboards is that an online leaderboard reset occurred a few days after Backbreaker Vengeance's Xbox Live Arcade release. At first this was confusing, but I later found out the online leaderboards reset each month. So don't be freaked out if your scores vanish from the leaderboard each month, it's actually a design decision.
Backbreaker Vengeance is the best Xbox Live Arcade sports game since Trials HD, the best sports game so far this year in my book, and the best football experience since Online Dynasty/Franchise mode came to the EA Sports football games.
Technical faults like online lag and the inability to save replays keep Backbreaker Vengeance from Hall of Fame status, but the core gameplay is so satisfying, and the entire experience is so well designed that it's easy to overlook the game's few shortcomings.
Simply put, Backbreaker Vengeance should be considered a new standard for football gaming.
Visuals: You will not find a sports game that animates better on the Xbox 360.
Audio: Slick, original hip-hop beats keep you hyped between plays, while the immersive on-field audio has your brain believing that your body's out there performing on the field.
Control Scheme: Vengeance mode could have used a quick 180-degree turn button, but otherwise, the redesigned controls feel great and do everything they need to. With practice, players will hit "the zone," performing long combinations of spins, hurdles and slides.
Learning Curve: Practice and trial-and-error gameplay might lead to frustration in other game franchises, but the Euphoria physics engine keeps waves playing out differently and feeling fresh. You will replay levels over and over again, trying out new tactics to improve your score. It also doesn't hurt that the reward for failing a wave is getting to watch painful contortions of the human body from multiple camera angles in slow-motion.
Lasting Appeal: With 250 waves spread across three game modes, online leaderboards, online play with friends, four tiers of medals to earn and 30 uniforms to unlock, it will take a while before you run out of things to do in Backbreaker Vengeance. And that's without mentioning the star of the game, the Euphoria physics engine, which creates unlimited replayability by ensuring no two player interactions in Backbreaker Vengeance are ever the same.
Score: 8.5 (Great)