Version tested: Xbox 360
If youíve always liked the drama of American Football but have been put off by unimportant details like, you know, the rules and the bizarre Feynman diagram world of the playbook, you might like Backbreaker Vengeance. NaturalMotionís first console outing tried to capture the whole scope of the sport and struggled somewhat. This time, the team is just going for the violence.
Theyíve skimmed off the highlights of American Football, in other words: the bone-grinding tackles, the organ-rupturing impacts and the victorious showboating as a touchdown is scored. Vengeance is about fireworks, face plants and large men falling over in amusing ways. Itís the sportís equivalent of a Burnout Crash junction.
And, if youíve been paying attention, youíll have seen much of it before, actually - which makes Vengeanceís 1200 Microsoft Point price point a little cheeky. Much of this game comes from a blend of an original Backbreaker side mode with the franchiseís two excellent iOS titles, both of which were developed by Ideaworks Game Studio. That said, in this XBLA package, you can at least expect a new mode, a few tweaks, nicely integrated leaderboard and multiplayer options - oh, and NaturalMotionís startlingly convincing Euphoria animation system, which adds laughs and winces throughout.
Tackle Alley is probably the best of the gameís three modes, reducing American Football to that Gauntlet bit from Gladiators as you race across the field to score a touchdown. There are obstacles like hurdles and out-of-bounds zones to navigate, and there are also increasing numbers of enemies to get past as you progress through the gameís waves and challenges. The more you play of it, the more American Football drifts away to be replaced by something that feels like a wonderfully unholy union of precision score attack games like Trials HD and Geometry Wars.
Eventually, you start to realise that reaching the end zone isnít really the ultimate objective: instead, itís all about maximising your points before you get there. While you can juke and twist your way to victory, the other footballers youíll face off against are colour-coded, each one indicating whether youíll get more of a reward for jumping over, barging into or sliding past them. Throw in score patches to hit and a devious showboating option, and youíve got a football game that challenges you with finding the racing line hidden within each level.
Vengeance mode flips things around - as anyone whoís played it on iOS will know - but builds even more on that racing line mechanic. This time, youíre doing the tackling, zeroing in on a rival making for your end zone, and aiming to take him down before he gets there.
If that was it, though, Vengeance would be all about lurking at the top of the field and waiting for your foe to approach. Luckily, itís hi-scores to the rescue, and youíre encouraged to head out onto the turf and find the optimum route for each wave: the route that will take you over all the score patches, past - or rather through - all available enemies, and into a crushing takedown with your target just before they land the ball.
Tackling may be simple enough, but racking up the kind of points youíll need to unlock some of the later rounds requires a frightening mix of dexterity, insight and timing. (As an additional bonus, incidentally, the god-ray that illuminates your ultimate opponent adds a dreamy faux-religious feeling to proceedings.)
Supremacy is the final mode on offer. Itís the newest of the bunch, and itís also the weirdest, in that you race against three other AI players - or a friend and two other AI players - to reach the end zone first, with the loser in each wave coming back as the lone tackler for the next one.
Itís the hardest mode to get your head around at the start and, initially at least, itís no fun whatsoever. Once you realise that jostling your rivals into out-of-bounds areas not only removes the competition but ups your score multiplier, however, it starts to get interesting.
As an arcade diversion, Backbreaker: Vengeance is basic but surprisingly involving, and for a game in the post-Autolog world, it does a great job of flinging other peopleís stats at you to keep you playing - whether itís pairing you up against a random leaderboard rival for each challenge or just cycling through the best in the world for the event youíve just completed.
The gameís more traditional take on multiplayer isnít bad either, offering online and split-screen local two-player options for each event. Better yet, itís all delivered with Euphoria technology, turning each wave into a truly brutal comedy as rivals trip each other, hit the ground chin-first after coming off a hurdle, or miss a tackle only to touch the back of your foot and send you spinning just as you were about to get that touchdown.
Ultimately, you can think of this as a step in the right direction. The first Backbreaker struggled with the central mechanics (although a post-release patch worked wonders). The second game only really struggles with the over-optimistic pricing. (1200 points might not seem much to quibble about, but compared to the 800 Ubisoft is charging for Beyond Good & Evil HD, say, itís hard to defend here.) Next time out, then, we should be in for something special.
7 / 10