Backbreaker Vengeance

Zone of end-zoners.

Version tested Xbox 360

If you’ve 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. NaturalMotion’s 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.

They’ve 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. It’s the sport’s equivalent of a Burnout Crash junction.

And, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have seen much of it before, actually - which makes Vengeance’s 1200 Microsoft Point price point a little cheeky. Much of this game comes from a blend of an original Backbreaker side mode with the franchise’s 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 NaturalMotion’s startlingly convincing Euphoria animation system, which adds laughs and winces throughout.

Tackle Alley is probably the best of the game’s 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 game’s 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 isn’t really the ultimate objective: instead, it’s all about maximising your points before you get there. While you can juke and twist your way to victory, the other footballers you’ll face off against are colour-coded, each one indicating whether you’ll 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 you’ve got a football game that challenges you with finding the racing line hidden within each level.

Vengeance mode flips things around - as anyone who’s played it on iOS will know - but builds even more on that racing line mechanic. This time, you’re 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, it’s hi-scores to the rescue, and you’re 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.

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