Ever since those first fleeting videos and screenshots of Breakdown were released a couple of years ago, gamers have been speculating on just what exactly Breakdown might turn out to be. Namco did very little to help the situation either by keeping silent about the actual details. Wonders about just how well the first-person fighting features would work, and the images of an arm that you use to interact with the game world revived fears that this game could turn out to be just like one of the worst games of all time – “Trespasser”
The final product however, has delivered something that truly defies categorization or labeling; and while it has a number of flaws – it manages to rise above them and provide a unique and satisfying game experience.
In Breakdown, you play in the first person perspective of Derrick Cole, an amnesiac that has suddenly awakened deep within a top-secret government medical facility. After a short tutorial disguised as a medical check-up, your world begins to go truly topsy-turvy as Derrick suddenly finds himself drugged and then saved from an assassination attempt by a mysterious woman named Alex. From there, you control Derrick on a journey of exploration as he discovers the truth behind this facility, his own past, his powers, and the invading forces in a story that twists and turns with each new revelation.
And yes – you get to witness the joy of vomiting from a first-person perspective.
Visually the game isa little disappointing. While the character design and animation look top-notch, it seems that compromises had to be made in the texture and lighting department. I’m sure these were a necessary evil to maintain playable framerates, however it does bring a little bit of blandness to an otherwise stimulating game experience.
There’s also a pretty significant lack of variety, as you seem to spend the majority of the game running from one hallway to the next, and fighting wave after wave of the same type of enemies.
But it’s the first person camera work that brings even this lack-luster world to life and makes up for the simple textures. The first person perspective goes beyond anything that we’ve ever seen in other games and brings the immersion of the experience to new levels. Getting smacked around by an enemy is almost a joy to behold as your viewpoint is realistically jarred by the impact of the blows; and moments like in the screenshot below where Alex is your only link to safety during death-defying dive from the rooftop of a building are truly unique and worth the price of admission.
Sound is one of those areas in which very few games truly excel. Unfortunately Breakdown isn’t one of those games that breaks the mold. The sound in Breakdown wasn’t bad; it just missed that wow factor somehow.
The voice acting was performed decently enough, and I truly appreciate the effort to have lip movements go along with the characters dialogue. Along the same lines – the background music did an admirable job of trying to match the gameplay.
Where I did notice issues, however, was in the surround sound. On several occasions I noted sounds coming from the incorrect speakers – such as hearing the sound of a gun reloading playing from the rear speakers.
In a game with such a unique twist on the first-person perspective the controls are highly intuitive, powerful and easy to use. You’ve got your basic move/look controls with the two analog sticks, and the analog buttons control items such as throwing grenades, interacting with (using) objects, jumping, etc. Fighting is controlled by using the two triggers to control attacks from the corresponding arm (if guns are equipped then right trigger fires, left trigger reloads).
The first-person fighting ends up being good solid fun, especially as your powers continue to develop and you can unleash new attacks upon enemies. Rather than simply relying on a couple simple attacks, Namco added some variety to the beat-em-up formula with a number of special moves and combinations. Some examples include:
Jab – Left trigger
Straight Punch – Right trigger
Uppercut – Right Trigger + Left Thumbstick left
Sliding – Left + Right Triggers + Left Thumbstick up
High Kick – Left Trigger + Left Thumbstick up
Backfist Strike – Left Trigger + Left Thumbstick Right
When it comes to the gameplay I still can’t say enough about how great the immersion is within this game. It truly allows you to feel like you’re a part of this world; even allowing you to choose your responses in conversations from a list of pre-selected responses.
The game also rewards exploring your environment by providing additional insights into the back-story tucked away throughout the game.
Unfortunately though the gameplay does have 2 major flaws:
1. Enemy AI is a joke. Enemy strategies are either completely scripted or completely mindless. If you have a bit of patience it’s very easy to take out a room of enemies by simply luring them one at a time outside the alert range of other enemies in the vicinity.
2. Auto-targeting. Auto-targeting pretty much eliminates any fun from shooting enemies. Fortunately though with your powers, you’ll have very little need to use anything but your fists when it comes to dispatching enemies. What makes it incredibly frustrating though is the fact that once you lock onto an enemy your mobility is severely inhibited. This isn’t so much of an issue when you’re only going up against one or two enemies, but in later levels it’s enough to try the patience of even the most hardcore gamer.
Even though Breakdown is fairly linear game, it’s the kind of game that gets you invested into the characters and the story, so that you want to play all the way through.
There’s enough content here to warrant a second play-through to choose different responses to questions, and to pick up on additional details that you may have missed the first time through.
Yes, we can always complain about the lack of every multiplayer in any single player only game, but this game is so much story-driven that a multi-player element would be hard to pull off. Personally, I think the game is much better by having focused solely on delivering a quality single player experience.
Breakdown is a great game, which ends up breathing new life into the first person perspective.
While Breakdown obviously borrows from a number of great games as source material, it blends those elements together to create a unique experience all of it’s own. It’s the kind of game that you’ll want to play all the way through just because you’ll want to experience the entire story, and it’s a great story.
If you’ve been holding off on picking this game up because of fears of another Trespasser or concerns about how the first person fighting perspective can work, I feel confident in saying that your fears are unfounded, and highly recommend picking this title up.