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PC Review - 'Beam Breakers'

by Justin on Nov. 14, 2002 @ 9:02 a.m. PST

The face of the city has changed. Forever. Buildings that once ruled the cities are dwarfed by Skyscrapers that strewn the landscape of the future. The laws of rush-hour have changed. Forever. Since the invention of the antiGrav technology, public transport is not bound to earth anymore. Millions of commuters go about their lives following the beams as they drive their antiGrav cars through the huge canyons of the biggest metropolis on the planet.

Genre : Futuristic Racing
Developer : Similis Software
Publisher : JoWood
Release Date : 22-Oct-2002

Beam Breakers sort of reminds me of Excitebike for the NES. Both titles have you controlling a vehicle with a regular accelerator and a Turbo that can be recharged. Alas, that's where the similarities end between the two titles. Beam Breakers, a new title from JoWood Productions, puts you in control of various gravity-defying automobiles in the future. In your automobile, you'll complete various missions, such as stealing cars, destroying building interiors, racing, and the incredibly fun art of ... pizza delivery.

Yes, pizza delivery. This is where the problems begin. While delivering pizzas isn't incredibly horrible once or even twice, you're forced to do it a lot. A lot. It never changes; you go to Tony's shop to pick up a load of pizzas, and follow the map, launching pizzas at various targets, basking in the joy of poor hit detection. Sometimes you have to rearrange your car completely because you seem to be wasting half of your pizzas in one location, and it turns out you only would have had to move like a yard to the side. Then you finish delivering your pizzas. How fun.

Beam Breakers does however control quite well. Considering we haven't driven flying cars yet, you can't say it has an extremely realistic feel, but these cars are fun to drive nonetheless. Moving up or down will propel them vertically, and pressing left or right will cause them to strafe or turn. There's a gas pedal, which won't really get you going very fast; as well as a Turbo engine that needs to be refilled with fuel as you use it. Using your Turbo wisely is key to winning a race, as there are refills hidden at various points in levels.

This also presents a bit of a problem: racing can be very easy, oftentimes. Turbo refills are usually put at places close enough so that you can hold in the Turbo accelerator during most of the race, if not all of it. They always refill it completely, and it will also be refilled when you finish each lap. Races become more of an exercise in cornering than anything else, thanks to the uninspired tracks...if you could call them tracks.

Every level in Beam Breakers takes place in a city. Yes, it is cool seeing all sorts of traffic flying above and below you in orderly lines that can be disrupted with ease. Yeah, it's cool that the police will get on your case and run you down. But honestly, if these are supposed to be cities, where are all the people? There are sidewalks and cafes all over the place, but not once do you see one person, anywhere. There are tons of cars going nowhere in particular, just driving around. Your mission briefings are all given to you via audio as well. There doesn't seem to be one actual person in the game. I realize that this was probably done to cut down on polygons, thus saving the framerate, but honestly, it's kind of silly.

But that isn't the bad part about the level design, really. Every level is just an endless area of unvarying blocks of buildings. Rarely is there a curve or anything remotely interesting. Thank heavens for the on-screen map and arrow (a la Crazy Taxi) to help guide you along; it's practically impossible to follow the bland, uninspired courses. Seriously, if you don't tire from the level objectives and tiresome opponents, the level design will probably get on your nerves.

Speaking of which, the missions are a good idea. Instead of pure racing like most other automobile titles, this game attempts to inject a real career mode into the game. While not always executed well, they're rather imaginative, I admit. I've already described how much fun pizza delivery is, but there are others that end up being just as great. There are quite a few where you're asked to chase and bang up another car. It's not a bad idea, but thanks to the stupid car AI and moving in three dimensions, these missions quickly become a chore in figuring out where the other car will end up being at the time you plan to rush into them.

There are actually a few cool missions. One has you driving around town until you find a certain car that you then hijack. At this point the police begin pursuing you, and your boss warns you not to lead them back to your base. While things are getting interesting at this point, the mission comes to a close far too quickly when you find out that you only have to hit a certain icon found on the map to drive away the police, then you head back to base. It's things like these that make the missions rather, well, tedious and tiresome. It's too bad a little more work wasn't put into actually executing them.

The graphics in the game are surprisingly good, for the most part. Everything moves at a very nice clip, the traffic looks great, and some architecture looks quite good. Textures are decent for the most part, although more variety - especially on buildings, instead of just dozens and dozens of windows - would have been more than welcome. Cars themselves look pretty good, nothing mind-blowing, but not bad.

Sound isn't perfect - in fact, it's not near it. The intro movie sports some cool rock music that really fits the game's speed - but once you start playing, we're treated to rather plain beats and techno sounds. Sound effects are okay, but there honestly aren't many to be had. The voice acting isn't too hot, which is unfortunate, since you'll be hearing it before every mission. Your boss has sort of an annoying voice - it's bearable at first, but after hearing him ramble on at the beginning of each mission, with no way to skip it, no less, you'll be sick of this guy soon enough. Sound clips from other racers are often on the verge of ear-splitting; yeah, they're bad.

When you sum it all up, Beam Breakers isn't that great of a game. The initial concept is good, no doubt, and it controls well. The problems come in when you actually put the controls to use: the missions are simply no fun, most of the time. If you can find Beam Breakers in the bargain bin, you might enjoy a spin, but please, don't spend too much money on this messy title.

Score: 5.7 / 10

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