It wasn't very long ago that the concept of an online military shooter in which you earned experience points and unlocked new perks and new gear was fresh and exciting. Today, this recipe has become commonplace, and while it can still provide countless hours of excitement when done right, it's harder and harder for new entries in this crowded field to stand out from the rest. Unfortunately, Breach seems to be satisfied with being just another such shooter. Its visuals and gameplay are generic, and while it delivers the satisfaction that goes with taking out enemy players with a well-placed headshot from afar or emerging alive and victorious from a deadly close-quarters firefight, a few performance issues and an experience system that makes acquiring new gear a real uphill struggle prevent Breach from deserving any medals of honor.
All the action in Breach is team based, and when you hop into a match, you're cast as a member of either the American-accented Black Ops team or the Russian-accented Op For team. You can choose from five game types. Among these are a standard team deathmatch mode, and Infiltration, in which teams fight to capture and hold multiple locations, earning points over time for maintaining control of the objectives. In Convoy mode, one team must escort a slow-moving group of vehicles along a road while the opposing team works to impede its progress. Retrieval mode places a canister of bioweapons on the map and has teams battle to grab it and return it to a friendly drop location, and Sole Survivor mode plays out like team deathmatch, with the significant difference being that killed players don't respawn until the next round starts. The five maps (or it might be more accurate to say four because the Nocturnal map is identical to the Passage map except for the fact that it's nighttime) offer plenty of opportunities for long-range outdoor combat with high ground for tactical advantages, as well as narrow passages for quick and dirty battles.
However, some game modes make better use of the maps than others. In team deathmatch, the far-removed spawn points mean you often need to hustle for a while after each respawn to get back into the thick of the action, and that teams frequently meet up at the same central position to shoot it out, rather than spread out to make use of the map's diverse terrain. Infiltration is much better in this regard, requiring teams to split up and fight for locations scattered all over the map. Convoy makes the best use of the maps because the point that's being attacked and defended is always moving, requiring a constant evolution of approaches by both teams. The size of the maps--an asset in most game modes--becomes a detriment in Sole Survivor because it often takes players some time to hunt for and eliminate each other, leaving those who were killed early on twiddling their thumbs until the next round.
Each time you respawn, you're given your choice of class; there's the rifleman, gunner, sniper, and the support class, whose weapons are best suited for close-range combat. (There's a fifth class, called recon, but it isn't unlocked until you've sunk some serious time into playing as the rifleman and the sniper.) Each class starts with only one primary weapon available, and you only unlock subsequent weapon options for a class after you've earned a significant number of experience points as that class. In addition to automatically unlocking new weapons when you reach certain thresholds, your experience points can be used to purchase weapon add-ons, gadgets, and perks. The available add-ons include such things as sights, grenade launchers, and recoil compensators; the gadgets include gear like body armor and sticky bombs. Perks offer a range of ways to customize your character. They can make you faster, give you more accurate blind fire, or even double the rate at which you earn experience points in exchange for halving your health.
This last one may be particularly tempting because without it, the rate at which you can purchase new items is much too slow. Most kills net you a measly five experience points, with 500 experience points being the low end of the cost spectrum for weapons, perks, and gadgets. And outfitting each class is a separate, grueling process. For instance, purchasing the ACOG sight as a rifleman only makes it available when playing as a rifleman; if you also want it available when playing as a gunner, you need to sink an additional 500 experience points into buying it again. In some games, the prospect of a steady stream of cool new stuff to acquire contributes to the addictive playability, constantly spurring you on to keep playing and advancing toward your next unlock. In Breach, the slow road to competitively outfitting your classes is more of a disheartening grind; the rewards feel paltry compared to the amount of time needed to earn them, and they come too infrequently to make sinking more time into the game to earn the next one a tempting prospect. It doesn't help that many of the more interesting gadgets, like sonic imagers and sabotage kits, can't be experienced until you've ranked up considerably.
Breach's first-person-shooter gameplay is standard and competent, but it has a few slightly frustrating issues. You can take cover behind many vehicles, rock outcroppings, and other environmental objects with the click of a thumbstick or the press of a key, but some objects that look as if they would provide great cover don't allow you to do so. And when playing on the Xbox 360, control stiffness makes making tiny, precise adjustments when aiming occasionally frustrating, particularly when trying to get a distant enemy in the center of your sniper scope. Such adjustments are significantly easier when playing with a mouse and keyboard on the PC, and these superior controls make playing Breach on the PC a better option.
Structures and other objects in Breach can be destroyed when hit with sufficient firepower, keeping you from feeling safe when taking cover behind a cement blockade or hiding out in a house with walls that can be shot out brick by brick. This ability of the maps to evolve during the course of a battle as structures are destroyed helps make the action feel dynamic. Unfortunately, Breach makes little effort to familiarize you with this aspect of the gameplay. Nowhere does the game state that only the rifleman and the sniper enter each match with the highly destructive breach charges in their inventories or how to use these items; nor does it call your attention to the weapons caches scattered throughout each level.
In addition to controlling better, Breach performs better on the PC, though it's not a seamless experience on either platform. On both the PC and the Xbox 360, don't be surprised if you experience lag that creates the appearance of players moving through the same space over and over again and even making some matches unplayable. Additionally, host migration issues can lead to frequent frustrations on the Xbox 360, as games are prone to interruption when hosts leave a match or are dropped, often resulting in a mass exodus of players from the match while the game works to try to find a suitable new host. Also on the Xbox 360, after selecting a match, it's not uncommon to be met with a few minutes of loading screens that ultimately resolve with an error message and a kick back to the main menu. These issues happen too frequently to be overlooked and make it all the more difficult to enjoy the better aspects of Breach.
Breach's visuals, like the game as a whole, are competent but unremarkable. The environments serve as adequate backdrops for the action but lack any details that would have made them feel authentic and alive. And when structures fly apart, debris soars through the air convincingly, but the destruction lacks any explosive flair. The sound design is similarly satisfactory; the report of gunfire is satisfying, but the few exclamations your soldier shouts following certain kills quickly get tiresome. If you're hankering for an online military shooter at a budget price, Breach fits the bill, but it falls well short of excellence. There are far more exciting tours of duty out there for you to enlist in than this one.