As one of the flagship launch games on Xperia PLAY, and a timed exclusive on Sony Ericsson’s smartphone/gaming device, it’s no real surprise that Backstab is one of the most gorgeous-looking games on the platform. With rich and colourful textures that look vibrant on PLAY’s 480 x 854 pixel screen - and a strong level design that encourages you to explore and use the complete range of your character’s parkour moves - Backstab has very quickly, even before release, been compared to the Assassin’s Creed franchise, where scaling buildings has never been so eloquently realised. The foundations of the combat system too are arguably similar to Ubisoft’s action-adventure, though the storyline most definitely is not.
Backstab takes place against the backdrop of pirate-infested seas as you step into the role of former royal Navy officer Henry Blake, who is on a mission for revenge. Though the cut-scenes are among the best that we’ve been treated to on a smartphone, the storyline is a predictable affair that lacks depth and character and fails to keep your attention for too long. The tale of betrayal, which sees Blake defecting and become a rebel fighting against his own country, provides a suitable enough reason for Blake to slash, shoot and bomb anyone who stands in his way as he leaps, climbs and wall-runs his way around this 18th century naval setting. However, it’s not going to be remembered even a couple of hours after completing the 4-6 hour campaign – even with an entertaining cameo role by a bunch of zombies.
The lack of a quality storyline doesn’t really matter that much though as Backstab never really takes itself too seriously, and it’s quite refreshing to just let loose and not have to listen to over-complicated back stories, or think too hard about executing extravagant combos to see off your enemies. In fact, Backstab has quite a rudimentary combat system that is jazzed up considerably by some brutally satisfying finishing animations, which tie in very nicely with the tone of the game’s title. Inevitably, the main missions task you with getting from ‘A’ to ‘B’ and along the way navigating the environment with your parkour skills and partaking in skirmishes at every corner.
The lack of depth to the combat system, where the main skill you need is to simply ensure you’re facing the right direction while button-mashing like crazy, will get you through most of the scrapes. However, a selection of short and long-range weapons ensures that there’s a small element of strategy if you do want to use it. Despite that lack of depth, it’s still very entertaining to put a combo together and execute a few soldiers in a row. It helps that combat is fluid and fight animations are fun to watch. That excitement, however, did begin to wane somewhat during the last hour of the game when you face the same of type of battles against the same enemies over and over again. Indeed, Backstab does seem to drag on for an unnecessarily long time.
Fetch quests and treasure hunting break things up quite nicely and multi-tiered level design ensures there’s some challenge in navigating the environment and using Blake’s acrobatic skills. Moving around the environment like a stealthy assassin is easy to get to grips with and though Blake doesn’t have as many skills or do it as poetically as Assassin’s Creed, it is fun working out how to reach a certain area. It’s a shame Gameloft didn’t marry combat and parkour together to give the game more depth, but as it stands it does an above average job at getting the basics right.
The slide-out pad of Xperia PLAY performs well for the most part, but the over-sensitivity of the flat analog sticks, which makes your camera dart around far too quickly, means there’s some frustrating times to be had as you miss-judge jumps and spin around erratically to try and whack a guy standing behind you. Nonetheless, it’s manageable for the most part and having played both the iPad version and Xperia PLAY versions of Backstab, this is most definitely the better version thanks to the accessibility that the buttons, d-pad and triggers afford you.
This is the first Xperia PLAY game that we’ve ever reviewed and we do feel we have to treat these games a little differently than console titles. If this were on the PS3 it would receive a much lower mark, not only for its repetition and bland storyline but for some of the minor bugs in the game, such as A.I. enemies running into walls or around in circles. What you have to remember though is that Backstab is a £3-5 game, and one of the first major titles to be optimised for PLAY. With that in mind, it does a very decent job at entertaining with a lengthy campaign mode, some enjoyable wall -running exploits and plenty of mindless button-bashing. Sure, we’re not going to remember Backstab in months to come, but we definitely had a few enjoyable hours playing it.
-The Final Word-
Agressive, fast-paced combat and Assassin's Creed style free-running are the main highlights of a decent and good--looking brawler on Sony Ericsson's PlayStation-certified smartphone.