From the first moments of its animated opening, which includes an execution, an implied rape, and a graphically slit throat, it's clear that Gameloft's BackStab deserves a stronger rating than "12+." Since when is it OK to expose 12-year-olds to "Frequent/Intense Realistic Violence"?
I guess that's the world we live in. I know parents who let their 8-year-olds watch violent, R-rated movies, which puzzles me to no end. Anyway, if the name alone didn't cue you in to BackStab's modus operandi, now you know. It's an extremely violent game.
But fun, if you can overlook the bugs. It's like wandering into the middle of a "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, but without Jack Sparrow. Instead, you take on the role of British naval officer Henry Blake (guess the Gameloft devs are fans of "MASH"). At least, you start off as an officer, but things go a little off the rails soon into the game. Suffice it to say, the aforementioned opening sequence foreshadows a lot.
If the setting is pure "Pirates," the gameplay more closely resembles Assassin's Creed. BackStab's world is an open one, where you can run around, fight almost constantly, scale walls, jump across rooftops, get stealthy when necessary, and take on various missions (both on the side and to drive the main plot).
You even man the occasional cannon, like in one of the game's early sequences. This is where BackStab first revealed its highly buggy nature: I sunk all the landing-party boats, but still ended up dying somehow. Turns out the game hadn't drawn in the huge Spanish ships that were launching those boats. I didn't even know they were supposed to be there until the level reloaded with them staring me in the face. Yo, Gameloft: I can't fire at what I can't see!
Other bugs emerge with the camera angles, the controls, and the world in general (don't be surprised when in-game characters suddenly disappear). On top of that, BackStab looked pretty chunky on my iPad 1, which is where I chose to play it. (A big screen is all but essential for a game like this--but the app is universal if you're keen to try it on your iPhone or iPod Touch. It looked a lot better on my iPhone 4, but was much harder to control.)
Bugs and blocky graphics aside, BackStab is hard to put down. The running, climbing, fighting, and laughably buxom female characters add up to an enjoyable experience, at least if you're into that sort of thing. If Gameloft could fix some of the bugs, it'd have a real winner on its hands.