I can't imagine how scary it is for a developer to pitch a football video game when their name isn't EA Sports. I imagine a room full of people going dead silent before someone says, "You mean like Madden?"
That may not have been what developer NaturalMotion went through while pitching Backbreaker to publisher 505 Games — the name doesn't even suggest football — but even when the dreaded Madden comparison was made, it was successfully dodged with "This is an alternative to Madden." The idea is that the developer approached football with a completely clean slate and no aspirations of doing what Madden does only somehow better.
Instead, NaturalMotion is using the Euphoria engine (of Grand Theft Auto IV fame) to craft a more game-y feel for the classic American sport. All the animations are real time as opposed to canned and the perspective from which the developer showed me the game was something like a third person action/adventure camera angle. Like GTA IV, only with football.
Backbreaker was in pre-alpha, so I wasn't able to see much. I watched an 11x11 Exhibition match in a Day Mode stadium (the game will have both night and raining modes for stadiums as well). A bug prevented us from switching views or switching between players, so I watched two or three plays from the perspective of a quarterback and a linebacker. Immediately, it felt like a more intimate experience from what I remember of Madden's overhead God view — although I confess I lack Owen Good's extensive knowledge of the series, so I'm not sure if there's a comparable camera angle in Madden NFL 10. Either way, I can definitely say that the football players move differently than I expect from my sports games. It's almost like they're less-realistic to look at, but when they tackle somebody, the response of the character model is more realistic.
Stuck in this perspective, I worried that it would be hard to see where the ball was — that is the challenge of sports in real life that they don't come with glowing icons. To tackle this problem (pun intended), the game makes the player who has the ball glow red. I like this because it doesn't make it too easy to find the ball, but it does cut back on the chances of me tackling the wrong guy.
When Backbreaker is finished, NaturalMotion plans to have all kinds of views in place during games, including a jumbo-tron view mode to review tackles or spectacular plays. At launch, they also plan to have 32 teams (and the ability to make your own) with 16 stadiums in day, night and raining modes. (Note that these teams and stadiums are only modeled after real life teams and stadiums — Madden sort of has the market cornered on that kind of realism.) Backbreaker will also have mini-games like something called Tackle Alley that I didn't get to see, and two difficulties for both the casual and hardcore players and online functionality for all. A press release sent out last night also says that the game will have two variants for on the field play: evasive mode and aggressive mode. I assume it has to do with offence and defence, but all the release says is "in evasive mode, players are more agile ... though they are more likely to fumble when tackled" and "in aggressive mode, players can stiff arm and fight through linemen, run faster and fend off big hits and tackles."
Hm. Sounds like it might be more fun to be aggressive. B-E Aggressive (sorry, had to do it!).
Backbreaker is looking at an April 2010 release for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.