In a way, I hate reviewing budget downloadable first-person shooters. More often than not, they’re simply bad, with poor graphics and lack of polish that can, in a way, be expected of games with a lower budget. Even the good ones often come along with a sense of disappointment because they can’t match up to a full-priced juggernaut of a franchise. In the first-person shooter genre, there are many such juggernauts; it’s easy to feel that the deck is stacked against games like this.
Breach, the downloadable title from Atomic Studios (makers of the controversial Six Days in Fallujah) won’t steal away flocks of players from Call of Duty, nor will it impress the average player who browses downloadable titles once a month. The greatest success of Breach is that it does destruction and cover far better than games like Bad Company 2 or Black Ops, which helps to make it a completely worthy addition to your digital library even with its lack of polish.
Breach is an online-only multiplayer shooter that relies heavily upon destruction of the environment. The name of the game here is cover and removal of cover — the game has a very well-designed cover system that puts it above most FPSs, but it’s the destructibility of cover that provides the most sheer joy. See a sniper in a window halfway across the map? Feel free to grab one of the many RPGs scattered around the area and take out the entire front of the building. These sorts of joyous explosions can be experienced across five maps and five gametypes, including some standard modes and some welcome surprises.
Your first moments of Breach aren’t likely to be your best, as the game does not give a good first impression whatsoever. It’s not a great looking game by any means; while the level of destructibility in the levels is impressive, the overall animation and texture design makes the game feel clunky. The animation is especially troublesome since enemy characters tend to skip around unrealistically, which can make the fundamental shooting feel very inaccurate.
Another early problem for most players will be with the general presentation of the game, which relies on the very bare minimum to get by. This is especially evident in the perk and gadget systems, which really aren’t explained in the game other than briefly in a help menu. Because of this design flaw, it’s likely that most players will be completely ignorant to one of the game’s greatest assets. Also related to the perks and gadgets is the fact that you’re unable to equip them outside of a menu that can only be reached from the main menu. It feels very hidden, especially since you can’t play around with perks when you’re in a match or even just waiting for a match to start. It’s just one of the many minor frustrations that come about in the first couple of hours playing.
However, things only improve from here. Once you’ve learned to grab every RPG you see and destroy as much strategic cover as you can, the distinct tactical focus of the game becomes more apparent. This isn’t a game like Black Ops where the focus is constant movement and how quickly you can get your sights on someone. Instead, your movement through the level using the cover system and your ability to destroy enemy cover will lead to your success. It’s far more important here than in even Bad Company 2, as the number of buildings, sandbag stacks and emplacements is far greater.
Experimenting with the non-standard modes will further increase your enjoyment of the game. My particular favorite mode is Convoy, in which one team has to escort two armored vehicles to the other side of the map while the enemy team attempts to stop their progress. The brilliant bend is that the convoy only moves when players are standing right by it, making for some extremely tense firefights and some superb opportunity for ambush. When you’re playing this mode, Breach can feel like one of the most exciting shooters on the market, downloadable or not.
The Sole Survivor mode can also be quite a lot of fun for those looking for an even more strategic, slower-paced experience. It’s essentially team deathmatch with no respawns, but it works in Breach far better than in many recent FPSs due to the destructibility of the environment. Stay in one building for too long and it’s likely to get blown up (or you risk the match timer running out), but run around in the open and be assured of a quick death. In full groups, this can be incredibly tense and very rewarding.
I’m also impressed with how the game handles what it calls perks and gadgets. Perks are purchased and equipped to give players certain bonuses on the battlefield including increased stamina for sprinting or greater accuracy from blind fire. Gadgets are equipped in the same way, such as armor that provides higher damage tolerance or the ability to see sniper scopes using an IR Sniper Detector. Each has its own advantages in certain situations, and it can be fun to experiment with the different possible combinations. However, they’re very slow to unlock and there’s no indication of your ability to purchase new ones, which can make managing them more difficult than it should be.
I’m also not entirely impressed with the actual gunplay in the game, which doesn’t always feel good. It typically takes what seems to be a far-too-great number of bullets to take down an enemy (the game does offer a hardcore mode that I would highly recommend, but it is hidden well and few players seem to make use of it). This is made worse by the fact that the game doesn’t do a great job of giving you feedback relating to when your bullets are hitting their marks, at least not of the level of many other FPSs. It’s something many players have grown accustomed to and it’s easy to wonder in this game why your targets aren’t dying. This is similar of knife melee combat, which feels clunky and unresponsive (though still worlds above the “teleport knifing” used by the Call of Duty franchise).
There’s quite a lot about Breach that I wish had been done better, but the more I played the more impressed I became. It’s clear that a lot of attention went into creating an experience that is indeed more about tactics and destruction than running around and racking up killstreaks. Once you’ve learned to play with cover and destruction constantly in mind and you’ve experienced all of the modes, addiction isn’t far behind. While unlocking everything does seem to take forever, it also leads to a lot of long sessions trying to get just a few more kills with a certain class. If you like the sound of a tactical FPS with a lot of exploding buildings, get Breach. If you’re sick of the Call of Duty design philosophy, get Breach. If you want a very solid downloadable game for the right price, Breach is that game.
The game looks and feels very basic, with a poor menu system obscuring many of the game's greatest assets. Animation is also pretty terrible, though explosions look great.
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The shooting itself can feel imprecise, but the game's tactical focus on cover and destruction give it a unique feel and a great sense of excitement.
The sound doesn't match up to the best that the genre has to offer and taunts after kills seem very silly and out of place. Still, it suffices.
While you won't be able to unlock new weapons, classes, perks, and gadgets forever, the game spreads out the unlocks in order to give you a lot of value. Five maps and five modes may not seem like much, but they're all worthwhile.
The areas in which Breach innovates help to propel it above other downloadable shooters. While it won't surpass big-budget FPS titles, it's a great buy for those who want something different and don't mind a lack of polish.