App Review: Backstab [Video]
July 14, 2011 Leave a comment
Backstab is a game with some very lofty goals It’s rare that I review a game without completing the main story, in actual fact I can’t recall more than one other occasion in the past four years when it’s happened but Backstab is a special case, not because the game is fantastically long (although it’s not a short game) but after a while it became a battle of patience. I…
It’s rare that I review a game without completing the main story, in actual fact I can’t recall more than one other occasion in the past four years when it’s happened but Backstab is a special case, not because the game is fantastically long (although it’s not a short game) but after a while it became a battle of patience. I lost.
The sad thing is that Backstab shouldn’t be a bad game, it dazzles you with promises of being a handheld version of Assassin’s creed and everything looks to be going well until the pieces that make up the game all start to bear their issues. For those who haven’t seen Assassin’s creed, it’s a PC and console game which focuses on traversing historic cities, effortlessly climbing up the tallest buildings and dispatching foes with great finesse while being wrapped in a ludicrous but fantastic storyline. This is everything that Backstab wants to be but it wisely starts off by separating itself from its game of influence with a very different region, time period, story and characters. The story focuses on the betrayal of your childhood friend and moves beyond that into many other storylines and areas. While not a masterpiece the story stars off fine until nearly half way through when you have to obtain an artifact from a booby trapped tomb to rid a city of zombies. It’s hard to say why there are zombies in the main story and it really stands out when compared to the rest of what I’ve seen. The story is told through fully voiced cutscenes that have some of the worst performances I’ve seen. Even beyond the voice acting, the pacing of the dialog is such so that the subtitles will sometimes rush forward faster than you can read and other times a character will pause between screens of dialog for an uncomfortably long period of time and deliver the next lines in a totally different tone. The animation in these scenes also has its problems, the camera often flashes between characters jarringly without lining up correctly and the lack of any mouth movements for the character delivering the dialog is often well overcompensated with a wild waving of the arms that don’t match the dialog’s tone.
Traversal of large cities is arguably what separates any open world game of this style from the others and you start in a respectably large city where you can do just that. It’s unfortunate that none of the cities are particularly tall and you’ll never be much more than a couple of leaps away from the top of the tallest building and there’s also large areas of the main story where you’ll be in open flat areas, making the building traversal even more inconsequential to the overall game experience. Even still, jumping free-form between buildings is still one of the best elements of Backstab, but when you are moved into an tighter area where you’re forced to make more specific jumps then the most frustrating side of the game rears its head. Navigating around a platforming area is often made far tougher than it needs to be by placing platforms above you and offering no indication of their location with use of the camera or waypoint, but worse than this is that some these jumps can’t be completed if you’re not perfectly lined up to take it. You never know what action your character will do when reaching a ledge, he might stop at an invisible wall, jump or cling to the edge. This unpredictability coupled with a camera that can suddenly spin around turning your “shimmy across a ledge” action into a “drop to my death” action means that you’ll be making a lot of use of the often frustratingly located checkpoints.
Issues with the camera aren’t restricted to jumping areas, you’ll also have to keep turning the camera to keep a view of what’s going on around you which can be particularly tricky in the otherwise enjoyable combat. Sure the combat can be a little bit mashy with a single attack button but it moves well and the executions are swift enough to keep the combat flowing, but sadly like most other elements of Backstab, there are problems here also. Combat doesn’t occur as often as perhaps you’d like, as when inside a city you can draw endless waves of solders towards you that you’re unlikely to outrun. When in a fight the execution button appears in the same spot as the icon that’ll switch you to a weapon, so if you time your tab of the button poorly then you’ll put your sword away and pull out a gun while you’re hacked away at by enemy soldiers, or zombies.
Backstab can be fun if you can put up with these issues and enjoy the fact that you are getting an experience that’s far more akin to a console game than almost any other Android game. It’s unlikely though, that many will be able to put up with this lengthy laundry list of issues for long and one could only imagine what this game could have been if its level of polish matched its aprirations.