Xbox Live Arcade is fast becoming a treasure trove of indie treats. From the monochromatic delights of Limbo, to the scarlet splatterings of Super Meat Boy, Microsoft’s service has given life to inventive new ideas, themes and concepts that simply wouldn’t have seen the light of day in the past. Given the service’s reputation for delivering small, quirky and highly original titles then, Breach is something of an anomaly.
An 8-vs-8 shooter in the Infinity Ward mould, Breach doesn’t exactly push the boat out in terms of originality, that’s for sure. But for Atomic Games to have crafted what is ostensibly an indie-FPS that looks and plays as well as its big-budget brothers is an achievement that few indie developers can lay claim to. That’s not to say Breach is a complete rehash of Infinity Ward’s lead-slinging opus, though. On the contrary; with the addition of destructible environments and an inspired cover-based mechanic, Breach offers enough ‘bang’ for your heard-earned buck.
Rockets, grenades and explosive charges are the tools of Breach’s particular trade, allowing players to create the kind of carnage second only to the Next January sales. Cover splinters under heavy fire, walls can be destroyed to create makeshift doors, and bridges can be blown to smithereens, causing pesky enemies to fall to their untimely (and frankly hilarious) deaths. It’s a shame that destruction isn’t woven into the game’s DNA to a greater extent though, as elsewhere Breach is a fairly typical, by-the-numbers shooter.
Spread out over four maps (well… five, if you count one of the original four set at night), Breach offers a selection of five different game modes including Infiltration, Convoy, Retrieval, Team Deathmatch and Sole Survivor. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for FPS pundits to spot similarities between Breach’s game types, and those found in more established shooters.
Infiltration, a point-based battle of the bases, is Conquest in all but name. Retrieval has players fighting for the possession of a biochemical canister (think Capture the Flag with one flag and you’re half way there). Team Deathmatch is… well, Team Deathmatch, and Sole Survivor is more or less the same thing, only without respawns. In fact, it’s Convoy, in which one team must escort two armoured vehicles to a specified destination, which offers the most replay value here – encouraging gamers to play to the strengths of their chosen class to yield better results.
Speaking of classes, there are initially four to choose from: Rifleman, Gunner, Support and Sniper. There’s even a fifth class, Recon, which becomes unlocked once you’ve maxed out both the Rifleman and Sniper classes. However, with the exception of Recon (which boasts greater agility at the cost of reduced armour), classes are not in fact differentiated by their attributes, but by their weaponry. Riflemen, for example, carry explosive charges, whilst Gunners carry grenades.
Fortunately, XP earned in matches can be spent upgrading weaponry and armour, meaning that you’re bound to find something that suits your play style sooner or later. Upgrades can be used across all classes, providing you’ve enough experience in the role, and vary from powerful grenade launchers and laser sights to more esoteric gizmos such as bionic ears and sonic imagers – the latter allowing players to see through walls.
That said, Breach assumes the role of an overly-protective parent when it comes to dishing out the big toys. In fact, it took us over an hour’s worth of play to unlock our very first upgrade – something that’s sure to enrage those accustomed to Modern Warfare’s endless supply of goodies. That players also have to return to the main menu in order to alter their loadout is another of Atomic Games’ oversights, making the game feel about as archaic as Goldeneye on the N64. And that’s not where Breach’s shortcomings end, we’re afraid.
Such is the competitive nature of the FPS market, that every facet of Breach feels merely competent. Even when Breach attempts to innovate (with environmental destruction and third person cover mechanics) it doesn’t take long to think of titles that’s implemented those mechanics to a higher standard. In fact, many of Breach’s innovations seem to break the FPS formula, as opposed to improving it.
Obliterating a connecting bridge might seem like a spiffing idea at the time, but when it starts to restrict movement around the map you’ll be wishing you hadn’t. What’s more, the addition of a third person cover system gives undue prominence to the Sniper class, allowing them to sweep the immediate area whilst remaining undetected.
Atomic’s clearly spent a significant amount of time preening Breach to look the part, but graphical defects can be spotted all over the shop, with muddy textures, awkward animations, an inconsistent frame rate and some of the most atrocious clipping issues we’ve ever witnessed in an online FPS.
Breach certainly has the makings of a decent FPS, but in aiming its sights at the work of Treyarch and Infinity Ward, Breach offers little incentive for gamers to make the transition. It’s a “me too” product, released on a service known for delivering unique and innovative titles. Military enthusiasts and diehard shooter fans will find a lot to love about Breach, but everyone else would do best to check out Battlefield: 1943 or Blacklight: Tango Down for their tactical shootouts.
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