Genre : Action
Release Date: March 16, 2004
Buy 'BREAKDOWN': Xbox
There’s something about the first-person perspective in videogames that really seems to immerse players into the game’s world. It’s as if you are seeing your in-game persona’s surroundings through both pairs of eyes simultaneously; your avatar’s and yours. Maybe that’s why first-person shooters make up such a large percentage of PC games that are released during any given quarter. Whatever the case, the popularity of the first-person genre is undeniable, even all these years after the release of Wolfenstein. But like the technology on which they are based, videogames are improving in every conceivable way at a very rapid pace. What once was considered revolutionary is now mere novelty. So in order for game developers and publishers to claim a piece of the multi-billion dollar videogame industry pie, they have had to innovate.
Innovation. It’s a strong word. And one that should not be thrown around haphazardly, but all too often is in this industry. But this time we mean it. No, really. Namco’s first-person action game entitled Breakdown attempts to redefine what gamers expect from the genre by immersing you into the action like you’ve never been immersed before. Unfortunately, like so many profound attempts at breaking the mold and attaining an unprecedented level of creativity (Sega knows what we mean), Breakdown simply doesn’t have what it takes to make its developer’s admirable vision a virtual reality.
The way Namco has chosen to tell the story of Breakdown is a unique one. The style they’ve used to progress the plot in the game is hard to define with precision. Creepy, original, creative, psychological, and bizarre are all pretty appropriate adjectives to describe the proceedings of the experience. You play the part of Derrick Cole and the game begins as you come to on a sterile laboratory bed. Bleary eyed and dealing with a severe case of amnesia, you are barely able to turn your head from side to side to take in this foreign environment. A calming voice from over the nearby intercom assures you that everything is ok. The multiple earsplitting gunshots that follow and the dripping splattered stain of blood on the office window overlooking your bed tell a far different story, however. Before you can even think, three SWAT-looking military agents bust in on you, high-power assault rifles instantly trained on your head. One of them gives the order to kill you. But just before the trigger is pulled, a loud explosion in the room causes the highly trained killers to turn around. Bullets start flying, a woman erupts from the explosion and within two seconds dispatches all three of them using Trinity-like finesse. She knows you somehow and has come to help. But help you do what, and to what ends? These questions and more will be answered in due time. That is, if you have what it takes to handle the truth.
Imagine being able to block, perform evasive rolls and back flips, utilize a dozen different types of punches and kicks, and pull yourself up onto ledges – not to mention handle firearms, all from a first-person perspective. It doesn’t seem like all this could be done from a traditional FPS view, but that’s why Breakout is so damn innovative. Melee combat is a pretty frequent diversion and you’ll be able to bust out with backhand punches, roundhouse kicks, and multiple punch/kick combo maneuvers using the trigger buttons and the left thumbstick to modify the types of attacks. It’s all very functional and works surprisingly well considering the seeming constraints of the perspective you are playing from.
As interesting and entertaining as the hand-to-hand combat is in Breakdown, you’ll often be required to do some serious baddie capping with the select few guns that the game features. Derrick can equip a pistol, sub-machine gun, a rocket launcher, grenades, and a super-powerful laser weapon to dish out damage from a distance. The gun-slinging action in Breakdown is highly streamlined, requiring only minimal skill to master. Whenever you are holding a weapon and an enemy is in view you can press the assigned face-button on the controller to automatically lock-on to his position, then you need only pull the R-trigger to shoot. You can opt for a more freeform style of gunplay that is more in line with traditional FPS games, but doing so is not recommended, unless frustration is something you enjoy. Guns are used mainly for dispatching human enemies, while hand-to-hand combat is mostly relegated to skirmishes with a super-human race of warriors called the T’Lan.
Breakdown is played as if you were watching and controlling a movie. Each sequence in the game is unique. Last-second rescues, free-falling escapes, and high-rise helicopter shoot-outs are pretty much business as usual with the title. Some of these sequences aren’t all that exciting or indeed, very fun – but a few of them are nothing short of awe-inspiring. It is these rare occurrences, mixed with the occasional what-is-reality/who-am-I-really bouts of fleeting comprehension that really set this game apart from the crowd when it comes to storytelling. The fact that you really do feel immersed in the experience thanks to the unique first-person gameplay makes the game’s ultra-weird and frenetic proceedings all the more intense and enjoyable. Nevertheless, be warned that for every memorable sequence in Breakdown, there will be a few forgettable sequences that you’ll have to trudge through to get to them.
The visuals in Breakdown fall squarely between passable and impressive. The environments you find yourself in tend to look a tad too similar after you’ve noticed the same background object for the Nth time. Texture quality is something of a mixed bag. Derrick will pick up a can of soda, lift it up to his mouth and tilt it towards the screen and you’ll notice cool-looking reflections from the aluminum and detailed artwork on the can, then you’ll run down a corridor that looks exactly like the one you just came from. Graphical inconsistencies like this pop up all the time. The character animations are really good though, especially the times when your on-again/off-again female partner can be seen performing side-flips through heated firefights or pressing her back firmly against a nearby wall as she catches her breath. The game’s intro cut-scene that plays before you hit start is one of the most eye-catching creations of its kind. Despite my normally fidgety demeanor and intense case of A.D.D., I was transfixed on the game’s opening cinema like a deer caught in headlights.
The sound is worse than the graphics, or not as good, depending on how you want to look at it. It does have its moments, like when a musical orchestration reaches its crescendo right as an important revelation is disclosed, or right before some seriously intense action occurs. But the success of these moments is hit-and-miss. The dialogue sounds needlessly exaggerated in places, sometimes graduating to downright campy. But the problems with dialogue lie mostly with the sub-par script and not the voice talent.
Breakdown is an admirable but stilted tilt on the age-old FPS genre. It attempts to do so many things and, perhaps purely through the power of statistics, actually nails a few. But despite the game’s intriguing story and even more intriguing style of gameplay, it falls short in too many areas to be considered a truly great accomplishment. It is good, however, and the numerous pre-scripted events throughout the experience gives the player more than enough incentive to see the game through to the end. We sincerely hope that Namco develops and refines this incredibly immersive gameplay concept in a sequel or some future production, but as it stands we wouldn’t feel comfortable giving Breakdown a full-fledged recommendation.
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