Breakdown

We spend some time with a new version of Namco’s upcoming Xbox game.

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Breakdown is the upcoming Xbox action game from Namco. Although the game uses a first-person perspective, it offers some fresh gameplay twists much the same way that Retro Studios' Metroid Prime did on the GameCube. At a recent press event, Namco showed off a two-part demo of the game, and we got to experience its unique gameplay.

First-person beating. What a concept!
First-person beating. What a concept!

You'll take the role of Derek Cole, an amnesiac whose shoes you're thrown into. The first demo showcased the first level of the game, which introduced the core gameplay mechanics of getting around and interacting with other characters and the environment. The first level also offered a brief sliver of the game's story. At the start of the game, all you know for sure is that Derek has woken up in a lab of some kind and that there are scientists who appear to be caring for him. Just how philanthropic they are is something of a gray area, since they do give him a hamburger, but it's laced with tranquilizers, which puts him out of commission. However, before the scientists can began whatever probing of orifices they have in mind, a mercenary group of soldiers storm in. As Derek lies on the bed, groggy from the drugged burger, the soldiers examine him and are about to kill him, when he's saved by a woman named Alex, who mops the floor with them. After helping you vomit your drugged food, shown in thankfully low first-person detail, she guides you out of the room. Your interaction with Alex post-battle is notable for two reasons. First, it shows off the communication system: You'll usually be given two response choices, each assigned to a button, as well as a third option of saying nothing, which will automatically be picked if you wait too long to respond. Secondly, it's obvious that Alex knows you and has some idea of what happened to you.

Following your brief chat with Alex, you'll both travel through the halls and get acquainted with the combat system, which blends standard first-person shooting mechanics using weapons with standard hand-to-hand combat. The hand-to-hand combat actually has some depth--you'll be able to perform various combos by timing your button presses properly. You'll also be able to throw different types of punches by using the analog stick in conjunction with your attacks. The hand-to-hand combat was punctuated by a ripple effect emanating out from your blows that was more than just for show. As Derek learns more about who he is, you'll discover there's an awful lot of untapped power in his limbs, as evidenced by trailers for the game that show off some impressive powered-up attacks.

Breakdown's gameplay stands apart from other first-person-perspective games.
Breakdown's gameplay stands apart from other first-person-perspective games.

Your journey through the complex takes you past cracked, stained windows through which you can see a rather inhospitable environment. You don't have much time to sightsee, however, due to the appearance of a helicopter with guns blazing. While the attack will send you scrambling for cover, there are some interesting details to note. First, the helicopter is firing only at you; it pretty much ignores Alex. Second, during your run for cover with Alex, it becomes clear, as she races Matrix-style along a wall, that there's more to her than meets the eye.

As Derek roamed the halls with Alex, we saw examples of various elements that, while subtle, added some interesting touches to Breakdown's gameplay. There appear to be a number of items to interact with in the environment, always denoted by an "access!" icon that appears onscreen. Some items, like candy bars and soda, can be used to restore your health; others, like telephones, can actually move the narrative along and let you talk to various characters who supply information, some of which is annoyingly cryptic. The demo also showed off a nice bit of balance; for instance, in areas that required keycards or passes, the necessary items were reasonably close at hand, which reduced the amount of backtracking.

The second demo of the game, while shorter, was probably the most action-packed. Derek and Alex are again roaming through halls, but this time the enemies aren't gun-toting soldiers. Pale mutants who make use of personal shields are on hand to cause trouble. The combat segments showed off the need to use certain methods of attack for specific enemies. For example, the pale warrior's shields shrugged off gunfire, but the warriors were easily brought down by Derek's fists. However, knowing how to take out the pale fighters and making it happen are two separate issues, since they tend to gang up on Derek. The plus side is that Alex is hardly a shrinking violet and is on hand to buy you some time if you're on the ropes. In some cases the warriors leave behind glowing spheres of energy that Derek can absorb through his hands, another foreshadowing of Derek's unique abilities. The brief second demo cuts out as you enter a crowded lab area patrolled by formidable-looking humanoids armed with lasers of some kind.

The graphics in the game feature some nice detail.
The graphics in the game feature some nice detail.

The graphics in Breakdown are coming together pretty well. The character models are very detailed and sport some impressive facial animation for their lip synching. The environments are a bit more inconsistent, which is mainly due to the game's setting rather than to any graphical failings--there's only so much you can do with a plain corridor, after all.

The audio in the game is shaping up nicely thanks to Dolby 5.1 support that should help make Derek's adventures pretty immersive. Good ambient sound ought to help set the right tone for exploration. The game's soundtrack is slated to respond dynamically to the onscreen action, which should be another key element to selling the whole experience.

Based on what we've seen so far, Breakdown should be a unique title for the Xbox lineup. The unorthodox gameplay seems pretty promising, and the amount of subtlety being thrown in, such as all the little touches we mentioned, should make it one of the more cerebral first-person games for the Xbox. Breakdown is currently slated to ship next year for the Xbox. Look for more on the game soon.

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