The First Person Shooter has been a crowded arena for some time now, so it’s unsurprising that downloadable titles have shied away from it. Along with titles like Battlefield 1943 and Blacklight: Tango Down, Atomic Games have decided to throw their proverbial hat in the proverbial ring with the release of Breach for XBLA.
As you’d expect at a time when the modern Call of Duty titles dominate all, Breach follows a lot of the conventions that people have come to expect of any FPS. With classes like Gunner, Sniper, and Recon, the game offers several maps to play which strike a balance between in-door and outdoor environments. Players are rewarded experience points for racking up kills and completing objectives, which are in turn used to advance your rank, unlock new weapons, perks and gadgets. ACOG scopes, extra stopping power, enhanced enemy detection, medic kits, sticky bombs; the list of items to be earned and purchased as the player ranks up will certainly go a long way to satisfying those who relish the challenge of advancing and unlocking new toys to help gain an advantage.
Initially each class doesn’t have much to differentiate between them; in fact the only real differences between each are the weapons which are specific to each class, since perks and gadgets can be used by all. This means that Breach initially suffers from a magnified sense of the very same problem which plagued the recent multiplayer aspect of Battlefield Bad Company 2, with players feeling very underwhelmed when they first start out. It isn’t until a few hours have passed and the unlocks start to come in, that the game starts to hold its own.
So at this point you’re probably about to tune out and go off to play any other number of similar sounding titles where you’ve already reached a significant rank to have found your feet. But don’t leave just yet, because Breach does have two aces up its sleeve to try and get you to stay.
The first is the Active Cover system which, unlike most FPS’s, allows you to lock into cover to avoid the hail of lead that’s invariably heading your way. Almost all pieces of scenery can be used as cover, from walls to trucks, and it’s an essential part of the game if you’re to get the drop on enemies. Certain maps deliberately have wide open spaces where it’s easy to turn yourself into a sitting duck unless you make good use of cover to gain ground or fend of an assault. However cover isn’t always a safe bet, which leads us onto Breach’s second hook – the destructible environment.
Each level contains elements which can be destroyed, allowing players to work in a certain tactical element to their game plan. If you find that a wooden bridge is making it a bit too easy for the opposition to rush you, then blow out the planks and try to funnel them into going the long way around (all the better if you blow the bridge when they’re on it for some extra laughs). Are enemies using structures to snipe or grief you? Slam a rocket into it, taking away the advantage (and hopefully collapsing it on a few of them at the same time). Even some levels can have their walls blown out with breaching charges, allowing you to try and get the drop on the enemies behind.
As fun as it sounds, the destructibility element does come across a little better on paper than it does in practice. It sometimes feels like large parts of the areas are indestructible, with only a few walls or shacks scattered around. While this is obviously done to maintain structure to the levels, it does leave the feature feeling somewhat half-baked and still doesn’t compare to something like Battlefield Bad Company. Additionally it’s hard to take out any sort of cover without explosives, so the game initially becomes a scramble for the RPG containing ammo crates littered around the levels. Visually the system is also a bit temperamental and home to some odd graphical glitches – expect to see loose bricks and window frames hanging in mid-air when their supporting structures have been destroyed. Criticisms aside, learning the maps goes a long way to helping you plot your path of potential destruction, and even with its flaws it’s undeniable fun to blow things up.
There’s a nice variety of modes on offer, with everything from the bog standard Sole Survivor and Team Deathmatch, through to the more interesting take on Capture the Flag (or in this case, Capture the Canister) with Retrieval or the territory grabbing Infiltration. Although arguably the best mode, and the one which has the most potential for long term play, is Convoy. Here one team must escort their vehicles through the map while the other team tries to stop them. With various choke points and obstacles to overcome by planting C4 charges on them, it’s easily the most action packed, forcing players to co-ordinate to succeed. Regardless of what matches you play the action is generally fast and furious, something which a game of this type will either live or die by. The only misgiving seems to be during Team Deathmatch, where some of the map design feels a little too loose. This is down to the spawns being too far away from the various parts of the map which players seem to gravitate towards, and so death often results in a bit of slog to get back into the thick of things. A little bit tedious if you happen to be facing some tough opposition.
Special mention needs to be made of the sound used in the game. It’s an often overlooked aspect but with thunderous explosions and some fantastic weapon sounds, playing the game in Surround Sound will probably be enough to loosen the foundations of your house.
The biggest obstacle facing Breach is its lifespan. With the notoriously fickle Xbox Community to contend with, it’s difficult to predict whether the game will still be played in any capacity six months down the line. That isn’t any indictment on the game itself, but rather a sad fact about modern gaming. Similarly the game plays fine at the moment while everyone is on a relatively level pegging, but the true test of how balanced the game stays for newcomers remains to be seen once the majority have unlocked more weapons and gadgets.
For Breach to be overlooked would be a shame because Atomic Games have developed an engaging and entertaining FPS title, part Rainbow Six Vegas, part Call of Duty and part Battlefield Bad Company 2, which makes a strong addition to the XBLA catalogue.