Atomic Games, the team that was working on Six Days of Fallujah, has airdropped its first XBLA title. It’s called Breach and it’s a first-person shooter. Combine the two and first thoughts are of breaching rooms filled with terrorists in another popular FPS. The .44 calibre question is whether this is yet another carbon copy or a game that can rise up on its own two feet, firing RPGs into the air in celebration. So I thought to myself, join the army. It’s free.
An exclusively online experience, the conflict takes place over five maps and several game modes. Working in teams, players must complete their set objective, which can include reaching a number of kills, escorting a convoy, holding set positions or being the last team alive. There are the standard classes to choose from and extra equipment and perks can be purchased. Graphically, it looks average (these screenshots are promotional), though it’s understandable that a downloadable title wouldn’t have triple-A title production values. Sound production is weak. Being next to explosions rarely makes you feel like you’re there and the dialogue is poor (“bitch, how’d you like that?” and “payback’s a bitch”). Atomic Games places all their bets on the gameplay.
An aspect that works well is Active Cover. Click in the right-stick and you’ll move your back to the wall, enabling you to blind fire or use the wall as cover. This is a nice touch. It doesn’t always succeed as it should though. Walls that aren’t perfectly straight do not support Active Cover and scenery that has been partly destroyed can be problematic. By collecting an RPG or using an explosive you can breach walls, destroy sandbags, demolish buildings and obliterate gun turrets. Whilst impressive, the tables are never turned by destroying enemy barriers or removing the foundations of a house. Still, it is fun taking out an enemy and their hideout with a well-placed RPG. Having interactive technology is great but it needs to be implemented well within the playing fields.
Whilst varying in time of day or weather conditions, it’s hard to pick out a map that’s truly great. Each has one location where all the action naturally happens and there is nothing to differentiate them. One thing guaranteed to aggravate all players is the speed at which you run – it’s slow. You run out of breath quickly. As a soldier trained to run until you’ve vomited your breakfast, it makes no sense that after three seconds you’re blowing out your arse and have to take a rest. This is made even more infuriating with the distance you’ll have to cover to get back into the fight once you’ve died. Levelling up does allows you to purchase a perk that enables longer running, easing the pain.
Gaining levels is a lengthy duty. Killing the enemy and completing objectives is rewarded with experience. Collect enough experience and you’ll level up. From here you can enter the loadout screen and use the experience points as a form of currency for new weapons, attachments, gadgets and perks. There are also six character models (three Blacks Ops and three Ops For) you can choose from. The starting loadout is basic for all the classes available. Each class starts with one primary weapon, side-arm and grenade. The smoke grenade is practically useless and one of the best early weapons is the pistol. This side-arm has incredible accuracy, range and limited recoil. To increase your firepower and equipment there are a number of game modes and rules available.
A gripping game mode is Sole Survivor, where each player has just one life. Friendly-fire and hardcore options can be switched on or off. Hardcore Mode removes the aiming reticule, increases damage and there is no radar, kill cam or ammo counter. The combination of these modes is said to be similar to training systems built by the developer (one of Atomic Games’ customers is the US Marine Corps). This is the closest experience to Counter-Strike or Delta Force on XBLA; a huge compliment. Combat becomes interesting, cover is used well and the game feels solid. The weapons feel powerful, perks become useful and there is some potential in level design. This is how Breach should be played. The realism doesn’t ruin the game and if it was the main mode it would have separated it from the competition. Convoy mode is a nice twist on the usual VIP mode. One team has to transport a Convoy from A to B without it being destroyed, blowing up barricades to progress. It’s rare to find a Convoy game though and lag issues seem to intensify in these games.
As an online only game the service provided is vital. Issues of lag, being disconnected and/or slow loading times can alienate newcomers and kill the atmosphere for those already playing the game. Breach does not provide a flawless service. If the host leaves, the game will migrate the session to another player. To do this it exits back to the pre-match screen, erasing all progress. If a host, is found then the game can loop on a loading screen, requiring a console restart. There is also occasional lag. Joining a session in mid-progress can require the next round to start before you join, leaving you in a static camera mode. There is no message stating you are ‘spectating’ and due to issues previously mentioned, it can give the impression of severe lag. Playing two consecutive games without connection issues or the host leaving is a rarity. You’ll spend just as much time in the menus as you will in game.
Breach suffers from being bland. There is no visual style, it sounds dull, and without hardcore mode turned on the level design is uninspired and weapons lack impact. With big-budget titles already battling it out for online dominance and highly anticipated FPS games coming out soon, this will be an uphill battle. Atomic Games should have took the risk in making Hardcore Mode standard. To ensure it’s one of the few that get to make it back home, Breach needs to vastly improve its host migration, balance XP distribution across the different modes and nurture a hardcore community it can embrace. If not, it’ll be MIA.