Backbreaker Post-Patch Report

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I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a more comprehensive patch (for a console game) than “Greathouse,” the recent update for NaturalMotion’s innovative football game, Backbreaker. The Greathouse update is not an ordinary bug fixer / performance optimizer. It is an update that completely overhauls fundamental play mechanics, to such an extent that it transforms its host into what is essentially a brand new game. But does the mere fact that the patch is so comprehensive mean that it is good for the game? Well, yes… kinda… maybe… sorta…

There really are too many changes, balances and additions for me to individually discuss within a reasonable amount of time, so I’m just going to touch on the main points of what I like and don’t like about the update. Click here for the complete patch notes.

What I like about Greathouse:

+ Improved Passing Game: Many tweaks have been made to enhance the passing game, turning what was once Backbreaker’s weakest link into its star player.

QB accuracy has been raised to eradicate the constant overthrows that crippled your ability to dink and dunk down the field on clock-eating drives. The offensive line AI has been taught how to pass block properly, thus providing you with more time in the pocket to scan the field for open targets. And the camera view has also been pulled up and out a wee bit so you can see more of the field when working through your progressions and make quicker reads of the defense.

The proof that these gameplay tweaks work is all in the numbers. Before the patch, I’d be lucky to break 100 yards passing and 50% accuracy in a game – if memory serves, my best passing game was something like 7/11 completions for ~150 yards with two or three TDs and an INT. Since updating, though, I’ve had two 300+ yard games, one of nearly 500 yards (that one came on the easy difficulty, I must admit), and with a single download I have gone from doing everything to avoid passing to chucking the rock around the field 25-30 times a game.

Basically, playing QB in Backbreaker pre-Greathouse was like being a game manager, à la Trent Dilfer from the Ravens Super Bowl run years ago. You ran the ball, played defense, tried for a big passing play every so often, and avoided turnovers. Now, playing QB is like being the stud franchise player with full offensive authority to wing that pigskin as much as you want, à la Peyton Manning.

+ Full-Featured Replay System: Considering NaturalMotion’s euphoria-powered animation engine is the game’s chief innovation, the barebones replay system Backbreaker shipped with was a complete joke. One lousy camera view? That’s it? Really!?

Thankfully, that has been fixed. The replay system is now a REAL replay system, complete with eight different views, including a free cam so you can zoom in and truly feel the intensity of all those bone-crunching tackles. You now have total control over pause, rewind and fast forward too!

Why these standard replay features weren’t ready for primetime at launch baffles me, but they are better late than never.

+ Expanded Play Calling: The offensive and defensive playbooks were pretty thin originally, but with the addition of over 50 new offensive plays and over 50 new defensive plays, you have much more freedom to mix up your play calling and outmatch the opposition with many different formations. On defense, a new mechanic has also been introduced allowing you to show/hide your blitz in an attempt to confuse the opposing QB – even when you aren’t blitzing you can fake that you are, and it does seem to work in the proper down-and-distance situations.

What I don’t like about Greathouse:

– Increased Drops and Fumbles: In an attempt to counterbalance the improvements made to the passing game, NaturalMotion increased the frequency of receiver drops and fumbles. So, instead of your QB overthrowing passes all the time like before, receivers have a harder time holding onto the ball. You can lessen this tendency somewhat by using the ball protect mechanic while catching and carrying the ball, but this feels more like a workaround than proper gameplay balancing. And frankly, having players drop the ball is more frustrating than overthrowing them if you ask me — though admittedly the frequency of drops and fumbles is still less than that of overthrown passes previously.

– Stunted Running Game: Offensive linemen are MUCH better pass blockers now, but they also seem to be MUCH worse run blockers. Backbreaker’s running game has always been a challenge, but it also has a certain finesse and grind-it-out style that I grew fond of pre-patch. Now, running the ball results in a wasted play I’d say 75% of the time. You can gash the defense with a good run every now and then, but more often than not your offensive line is pushed into your running back before you even get a chance to get the ball and make a move up the field, resulting in regular rushes of no gain or negative yardage. Then, when you actually do mix in a good run, your running back coughs up the football.

So yeah, the rise of the passing game has led to the fall of the running game. NaturalMotion still needs to find a happy medium between the two.

– Weakened Defense: All of the passing advantages you now have as a player have also been afforded to the AI QBs you match up against on the gridiron. That means they too have more time in the pocket and are more accurate in their passing and decision making. This is a necessary balance, as the game would be far too easy if you were able to chuck the ball around at will while the AI continued to struggle with overthrows and poor pass protection. However, it is a change that limits your ability to truly dominate a game on the defensive side of the football – and that was one of my favorite aspects of the game.

Getting pressure on the QB is extremely difficult, and sacks are few and far between. On average, I would get around five sacks a game before the update, but now I feel lucky to get just one a game. I miss not being able to sack as much!

Conclusion:

Even though each gameplay improvement is met by a new imbalance in another area of the game, I do think the Greathouse update is a positive step forward for the Backbreaker experience in that it has made the game more fun and playable, and NaturalMotion deserves a lot of credit for listening to feedback and tackling the flaws head on when it could have just as easily rested on its laurels and waited for a sequel to iron out the kinks.

However, Backbreaker remains a flawed game in desperate need of further tuning to really make it sing. It is very much an acquired taste, but if you’re open to a football game that doesn’t have “Madden” in its title and you don’t mind working around the holes in its game, Backbreaker delivers a unique brand of football and an immersive intensity few games can match. Patch or not, flaws and all, it is my favorite football game since NFL 2K.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!