Even if you wanted to argue that it exists to make your team of choice the best it can be, that's still not very hard. Backbreaker is terrific fun for the first four or so games, but then you start to realize that it's all just repeating itself. Every team has the exact same playbook no matter what their styles are; every team can be beaten by pretty much just playing aggressive defense and blitzing. You can select a handful of defensive and offensive audibles, but the opponents never really react to them.
Worse, the game feels sloppy sometimes on the football aspects. There were moments when what was clearly an incomplete pass was ruled as a fumble, or worse - a safety. I've had my QB taken down more than once by being brushed by my own running backs as I dropped to pass, and my NPC teammates seem to get penalties for roughing the punter more often than not. In a sports game, these are serious problems.
I get that Backbreaker can't use the NFL teams or players, but its solution - putting all of them in eyeshield-bearing helmets like they're Judge Dredd - makes it hard to connect with any of the players on your team. They all look the same, and while it's a comparatively minor complaint, it does get bothersome.
Though Backbreaker certainly has problems, the core ideas are really solid. The passing is "eh," but the rushing game is perhaps one of the best in any football game I've ever played. It takes a little while to adjust to not being able to sprint and use the defensive jukes and dodges at the same time, but once you do it works fantastically well. The "Tackle Alley" mode, which is just running from one end of the field to the other while dodging defenders, may be the single most entertaining thing in the game.
It almost feels like Backbreaker is a football game for people who don't like football games: The lack of NFL teams and players might not bother them, and its sloppy execution of the rules won't be quite as glaring. Instead, they can enjoy the fantastic rushing game and the fresh and action-y take on the sport.
Backbreaker plants the seeds for a great franchise that could be the new NFL Blitz. Iron out the kinks in a sequel, and we could have something truly fantastic on our hands.
Bottom Line: A fresh, action-packed take on football that makes you feel like one of the players pounding the gridiron. A fantastic team creation mode, intense, urgent action and great-looking tackles are dragged down by a shallow single-player mode, sloppy interpretation of football rules, and characters that all look the same.
Recommendation: Backbreaker 2 could be fantastic. Backbreaker 1, on the other hand? It's definitely fun to play, but rent it before you buy it.
John Funk thinks that Backbreaker is kind of like a football game for the Europeans.
Backbreaker is available for Xbox 360 and PS3. This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.