SWAT 2 was an outstanding game. I spent hours trying (and failing) to resolve hostage situations in its wonderful, strategic world. Then along came Rainbow Six, wherein you could plan each mission down to the finest detail, even if the AI often wandered blindly into the path of enemy gunfire. In 2013, Breach & Clear was the continuation of those anti-terror games, mixing the strategy gameplay of SWAT 2 with the action and planning phases of Rainbow Six, all played out in an XCOM-style turn-based game.
Two years later, Mighty Rabbit Studios returned to Breach & Clear, this time with fellow studio Gun Media. Breach & Clear: Deadline does away with the more intimate, detailed planning of its predecessor, opting for a more action-oriented style that brings more of XCOM into play and mixes it with a little Jagged Alliance for good measure. Then it goes the extra step and moves away from the grounded, military strategy scene and into the zombie apocalypse. Because why not?
Unlike most games that add zombies in DLC or spinoffs, Breach & Clear: Deadline is a totally new game. The gameplay, while similar in some small ways, is vastly different to the original and offers more open areas and even a gamepad-friendly method of control. When outside of mission events you can play the game like a twin-stick shooter, directly controlling a team member (you can have a maximum of four in your team and can switch between members at any point) but when you do reach a mission event, the game switches to its tactical Command Mode and you can start issuing detailed, stackable orders to each team member. It’s worth noting that this tactical mode can be used at any point even between missions, if you wish. In this mode you can use the space bar (or gamepad equivalent button) to pause time, which is where it becomes more XCOM in nature, and unpause to put any planned actions into motion. You can even do all this in real-time if you’re used to RTS games, but pausing is a godsend for those of us reduced to panicking when everything inevitably starts going wrong. That said, pausing isn’t a guarantee that you won’t still be panicking.
Starting the game for the first time you can take part in a short tutorial, that teaches you all the basics you’ll need to get through the game. This isn’t exactly novel, all games have tutorials, right? But Breach & Clear: Deadline’s tutorial actually takes place within the story, introducing the infected outbreak while teaching you how to play the game. The story isn’t exactly award-winning and you’ll likely pay very little attention to its standard zombie fare, but it’s a good backdrop for the tense gameplay, as it leaves your team in an infested city, stranded after their helicopter crashes.
It isn’t long before the infected shamble their way to your location and you’re thrown into the action. Little zombie icons appear at the edge of the screen to indicate the direction of incoming threats when in mission zones, which allows you to prepare for the fight. This often creates panic and dread before the fighting even begins, especially in those moments when icons appear on all sides of the screen and you realise just how dead you’re probably about to be. It’s a simple yet surprisingly effective way of building tension.
It’s in these zombie-infested moments that the game really shines. It’s when the gun-toting humans appear that the game loses some of its appeal. As with almost all zombie outbreak scenarios in any media, of course there are bands of humans that have to fight their fellow-man. Yes, it’s realistic in terms of the human condition, but it really is a tediously overused trope and it almost always ruins the games in which it appears – I’m looking at you, Dead Island and Dead Rising – and Breach & Clear: Deadline is no different. This game is fantastic when zombies are overrunning your position, but when you’re infiltrating a human stronghold it can devolve into a frustrating mess of bugs and missed shots. On multiple occasions, despite being both in range and with an unobstructed view of the enemy, team members refused to take a single shot, dying without even attempting to fight back. It only seems to happen in these human-on-human battles, which is both baffling and annoying, and can ruin an otherwise fun game.
There are moments when battling human enemies can be very fun, however. This usually involves nearby zombies, which you can lure into the area and use as weapons against your gun-toting foes. It also showcases the variety offered via the game’s Command Mode, which is how you are able to flank unsuspecting enemies in order to toss a signal flare into their midst, drawing infected into the area, and then take advantage of the confusion by either waiting for the battle to resolve itself or join in and mop up whatever remains. Command Mode is also a great way to showcase abilities unique to each team member, as well as using items like the aforementioned flares. Special abilities allow certain members to pin enemies in place with suppression fire, stabilise downed allies, toss satchel charges, and more. These abilities come in handy when faced with special infected enemies. Much like Left 4 Dead, Breach & Clear: Deadline contains special enemy types that bring some new danger to bear on your unsuspecting squad. Pinning them in place is often a great way of dealing with them, allowing an explosive to be tossed their way or, if your team isn’t already dealing with other infected, the rest of the unit can simply overwhelm the special infected in a storm of gunfire.
The great thing about this game is that it isn’t a simple, mission-based affair. It is really an action RPG, with side quests and upgrade trees, weapon customisation and even the ability to create your own squad of four men (unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be any female soldiers allowed in your unit) and, like XCOM, you can even give them any name you wish. Once you reach your first ‘safe zone’ you are then left to explore an almost free-roaming city area, looting crates for new weapons, items and ammo, completing missions given to you by fellow survivors and generally taking in the atmosphere of Breach & Clear: Deadline’s dead city, all aiding in progressing the story and earning experience in order to upgrade your soldiers.
The atmosphere is all down to some clever presentation and fantastic use of sound. The music is full of low, bass sounds that build dread during those quiet moments, never overpowering the action happening all around you when everything inevitably gets loud. Gunshots sound realistic and pack a meaty punch, explosions are thunderous booms and it all comes together to add weight to the atmosphere of the game proper. The voice acting is a little on the one-dimensional side, but it doesn’t affect the game’s tone or the light storytelling in any way – after all, zombie games are no stranger to dodgy voice acting, just ask Resident Evil.
The nice presentation extends to the visuals too, with some nice lighting and shadow effects. The city itself is full of detail and, ironically, brings life to the game’s setting and immerses you in a very believable world. The level design is smart, allowing for flanking manoeuvres and funnels, but never feeling like abandoned cars have been placed at random or anything like that, which often plagues the design of abandoned cities in games. The menus could be more intuitive however, as simple tasks like viewing the area map require entering the pause menu instead of having a dedicated button/key to access it. It isn’t too much of a problem, but when squad upgrades, inventory and maps are all accessed via the same pause menu it becomes a bit of a chore to find what you want. It’s at its most noticeable when you’re making your way to a specific point and are constantly needing to pause and navigate to the map in order to check you’re on the right track.
All in all, Breach & Clear: Deadline is a good spinoff from its detail-oriented, tactical predecessor. It changes the gameplay almost totally, it offers full gamepad support and genuinely different, separate modes of play that appeal to two very different audiences, not sacrificing anything in the process. It has some real flaws in its human AI and some of its interface is a little clunky, but there’s an enjoyably atmospheric game at its heart that is deserving of your attention.
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