There’s an old saying that you only have one chance to make a first impression. In the case of the new XBLA multiplayer-based shooter “Breach,” an impression has been made, and sadly it’s not pretty.
One would think that with the glut of WWII and modern combat-based first-person shooters that an indie developer surveying the marketplace would do so with a discerning eye. Yet to play “Breach,” one realizes that such an eye was never cast upon the gaming world. How else to explain a freshman title that fails utterly to distinguish itself from its glitzier competition?
You always make the most with what you have, and if necessity is truly the mother of invention, then it would make sense to believe that starving artists are at their most creative. The fat and happy can hurl bricks of money at a franchise and expect it to soar to the stratosphere because, dammit, they paid for a first class ticket. But when you have a small amount of funds, the desire to break into the marketplace and make a name for yourself, and are building your game on little more than a hope and a prayer, what do you do? You innovate. You gin up something that people might be familiar with in concept, but not in how well your team executes it.
“Breach” accomplishes exactly none of this and as a result is rote, by the numbers, shallow, and lacks even the basic carrot-and-stick approach of its more successful competitors. Actually scratch that. It does have both the carrot and the stick, but fails to include a good enough reason to go after the carrot while you’re being beaten by the stick.
Playing “Modern Warfare” and “Breach” side by side even for a few minutes reveals a staggering amount of sameness. In “Breach,” you choose between one of two sides (American Special Forces and Russian Black Ops) who then have it across a handful of scenarios. Team Death Match speaks for itself. Convoy features one team defending a moving convoy while the other attacks. Retrieval is a capture-the-flag riff that revolves around a bio-weapon canister. Infiltration is a variant on established conquest modes where players capture control points, hold them to accrue points, and attempt to seize more than the other team.
Any of this sound familiar just yet?
A successful clone of anything is more than a photocopy (almost said Xerox thus revealing my age). It presents clear evidence that the copier took apart the original, studied it, figured out what worked and how it could work better, made some modifications, and repackaged it as the “Next New Thing.” “Breach,” sadly, failed to follow this path. At best, it is a series of maps which appear to have been left on the cutting room floor at Infinity Ward. At its worst, it seems to be shouting, “Me too!” at the top of its lungs while failing to carry its own weight.
From the outset, players get to choose their respective character model followed by an ordinance loadout. The choices are sniper, heavy weapons, light machine gunner, and close quarters combat expert (i.e. shotgun wrangler). Once you select which position you’ll occupy on the battlefield, you then move to the loadout screen where you can select which perk is slotted on your weaponry. That’s right – “Breach” goes so far as to even lift this from the “Modern Warfare” franchise. Accrue enough experience points via combat, and you can purchase additional perks that enhance your abilities.
None of this is original, and none of it plays as seamlessly as it does in Infinity Ward’s Activision’s flagship franchise. But this much we’ve already established. Even a copy of a copy of a copy can still be fun even if you’ve seen it all and done it all before. So how does “Breach” fare in this respect? Not well.
Once you get into the game, you’re presented with the very real fact that the maps are less than stellar. Enough chokepoints are scattered throughout that you begin to feel more like a rat in a maze than anything else. One of the selling points is that you can destroy elements of the environment, but even this comes with a caveat. If you’re stuck in a hallway under heavy enemy fire, then you should be able to bring down the ceiling or walls or something on your foes. Nope. No can do, campers.
Were the developers flush with funds, they absolutely should have utilized the engine from “Red Faction Guerrilla.” That sort of wanton devastation would be both strategic and hilarious. As it is, buildings can be destroyed piecemeal, which does provide the illusion of consistent cover, but not entirely. You can only do so much to take these buildings down. It shows a level of intent that wasn’t quite able to reach fruition, an unfortunate trait common to underfunded indie games. Good intentions are fine, but coming close counts in two things and two things only – horseshoes and hand grenades.
At least the sound effects offer some bang for your buck/points. The audio for the weaponry packs a significant punch, with the explosions in particular cranked up to an 11. Should a wall next to your character suddenly disappear in a flash of hazy smoke, your ears will ring just as much as your character’s. The shotgun in particular was a favorite of mine if only because it sounds exactly like the crowd pleaser its real-life counterpart is. The majority of the sound effects do feel somewhat limited though. Beyond the base weaponry, explosions, and a few audio clips of men shouting at one another, that’s pretty much it.
The developers also spared their expenses in the graphics department because while you can certainly see where you’re going, the levels aren’t what I would call pretty. Were they well laid out, there might be some balance achieved. But as it stands, the graphics and color patterns tend to blend together. You can tell what things are and where things go, but it’s frequently difficult to tell where the opposition is even if you’re in the same room together. Beyond the extensive number of choke points (a certain number of which I can understand but not nearly this many), the maps too often lack cohesion. Absent is the thrill of exploration as levels frequently twist around on themselves to present you with, you guessed it, more chokepoints. The levels come off as perfunctory at best without much in the way of forethought given towards whether players would actually find them fun to play.
Combine that with clunky movements at lower levels, and you’ll begin to understand my irritation with this game.
Initially, your character feels bulky and movement isn’t as fluid as it should be for a multiplayer shooter. In games of this sort, speed is of the essence and while there are perks which enhance certain movement abilities, it seems counterintuitive to so heavily restrict players in the beginning. Look, I’ve been gaming for north of 20 years and am a veteran of the “Final Fantasy” series as well as numerous others. I understand starting at the bottom and working your way up. Hell, I maxed out my character in “Dead Rising 2” and by the end of the game I could take on anything and everything (except that military guy in the basement) whereas at the beginning I could barely swat a fly.
The problem with stacking the deck against the player at the beginning, thereby forcing them to focus on building their character up to sustainable and eventually godlike status, is that it works well in RPGs but not in multiplayer shooters. Every advantage counts there, but none more so than your ability to rapidly responding to enemy fire. Attack, retreat, assault, and defend are the four tenants of this genre and if a game unreasonably hampers your ability to perform any one of these tasks at the start, then it renders moot your interest in proceeding further.
With RPGs and other games, you at least have the story to drag you along and distract you from the pain of level grinding. In “Breach,” it simply feels like a chore to finish several matches with less than six kills knowing full well that you have to keep going before being able to unlock your first perk.
The difference between this and “Modern Warfare” is that “Breach” seems more focused on driving players toward the ultimate goal of character enhancement to the detriment of simply having fun while playing the game. I was several matches into “Modern Warfare” before I even thought about looking to see if I’d unlocked any perks. Why? Because it didn’t matter to me whether I had a laser targeting sight on my gun or not since I was having so much fun that I simply did not care.
The same cannot be said of “Breach,” and the lack of general fun from the beginning means that I was left with no interest in developing my character beyond a surface-level grunt. You fight for a bit, die, respawn somewhere on the back end of the map, and then spend a few minutes racing back across the map only to die again.
Rinse, repeat, and eventually you’ll earn enough experience points to purchase perks to upgrade your skills and status. Even for 800 points, there are better titles out there to spend your money on.