Breach (Xbox Live Arcade [reviewed], PC)
Developer: Atomic Games, Inc.
Publisher: Atomic Games, Inc.
Released: January 26th, 2011
MSRP: 1200 Microsoft Points, $15
Anybody who has played a military shooter in the past few years will know what to expect with the basics of Breach. Players can choose from one of a handful of customizable classes, with weapons ranging from sniper rifles to machine guns to shotguns. Firing can be done from the hip for increased maneuverability or down the sights for increased accuracy. Grenade launchers, red dot sights, and other weapon attachments can be purchased. Each class has room for a single perk, allowing for abilities such as improved headshot protection or increased sprinting time. All of this is pretty standard fare for games in this genre.
What makes Breach different--its gimmick, perhaps--is the destructible environments. Players can take cover inside buildings or behind low walls, but many objects in the world can be destroyed, creating a changing landscape with ever-eroding cover. Materials act about as one would expect, with wood splintering to small arms fire, but concrete requiring heavy weaponry or explosives to punch through. It's a potentially interesting idea that doesn't pan out especially well in practice. After players learn to navigate the few maps in play, many will use the liberally placed rocket launchers and mounted machine guns to destroy key bridges and buildings before the enemy even has a chance to use them, creating a battlefield that is not only devoid of usable cover, but also identical to the landscape of games previous.
Breach advertises five playable maps, however there are only technically four, with the fifth map being simply a night time version of one of the others. This actually creates fairly distinct gameplay; the darkness of night makes enemies much more difficult to spot, allowing for more stealth and limiting long range fighting. Its inclusion is welcome for the sake of variety, but it begs the question: why not just allow day and night versions of all four maps?
Speaking of the maps, they are all clearly built for the game mode Convoy, which tasks one team with escorting a pair of APCs from one end of the map to the other, and the other team with stopping the convoy's progress. As one of the more original ideas in Breach, it has some good elements going for it, but they are unfortunately dragged down by the bad. Teamwork is necessary for victory, yet the game doesn't reward the player for playing with the team in mind. No points are awarded for moving the convoy along or destroying roadblocks in the way, while the rear gunner who is doing little to help progress can rack up points for getting kills with an infinite grenade launcher.
The other modes don't work as well on the maps, which are typically long, serpentine paths, simply because they are too large. Unless one team is particularly careless, only the central control point in Infiltration (Breach's version of Domination or Territories) is ever contested due to the sheer time it takes to traverse the maps. Team Deathmatch is fairly uneventful, and Sole Survivor (team deathmatch with no respawns) is by far the worst. Billed by Atomic as the most realistic of the modes, it puts two teams on opposite ends of large maps and gives no incentive to either to do anything but camp inside buildings. Most of these games end after the time limit is reached with only a couple of kills--usually the people who were silly enough to want to play something rather than huddle behind cover for three minutes. Those who die early in this mode are treated to a still camera of the battlefield, so they can watch as nothing happens for the rest of the match.
One of the biggest flaws in Breach is that the game seems reluctant to provide the player with feedback, both on and off the battlefield. Customizing loadouts and checking stats cannot be done simply between matches; the player has to exit out to the main menu for those options. There is even a class that cannot be selected initially, and there is no indication anywhere how to unlock the class, or even why one would want to unlock it.
Although the UI annoyances are relatively minor, the lack of feedback on the battle ground is by far the most frustrating aspect of Breach. After firing a bullet, a significant amount of time passes before a hit marker or a kill indicator shows up. This has two effects: one is that the player ends up spending much more ammunition than should be necessary, and the other is that it makes the supposedly deadly weapons feel ineffectual. When the player does score a kill, there is no indication if the kill was a headshot, and when the player hits an enemy multiple times but doesn't get a kill, there is no indication of whether the enemy had some sort of armor bonus or if the player only hit extremities.
At one point, against a player who was away from the controller, I had to fire four sniper rifle shots at his face before he finally went down, and I still have no idea why.
Through all of these design flaws, there are still some good ideas in play. The destructible environments change up the flow of battle in interesting ways, at least the first time the player experiences them. The game is definitely built to favor more methodical, communicative teams over groups of lone wolves. However, aside from diehard fans of the genre, it's difficult to imagine someone convincing enough of his friends to buy Breach to form a cohesive team. It's even more difficult to imagine that as a multiplayer-only title, a purchase now will be any more than worthless a year down the road.