Brat Design's sci-fi shooter features a number of vehicles to vary up the squad-based action. We get a hands-on look at a beta version of the game.
Considering the success of Bungie's Halo on the Xbox, it's not surprising that several other developers are working on sci-fi-themed first-person action games. Like Halo, UK studio Brat Designs' Breed lets you pilot tanks and fighters, fight hordes of armored aliens while carrying no more than two futuristic weapons, and generally try to save the human race from destruction. While the developer also has plans to release the game for the Xbox, Breed seems to play like a traditional PC shooter, and like some other upcoming games with advanced graphics engines, the game features enormous outdoor levels. From what we've seen of the beta version, the gameplay will offer quite a bit of variety as well as somewhat nonlinear levels that you can explore as you wish.
According to Breed's futuristic story, human colonies are attacked by an alien race commonly called "the Breed" in the early 27th century, and Earth sends out a large United Space Corps (USC) fleet to their defense. While the war in the colonies is won after decades of harsh fighting, when the flagship, the USC Darwin, returns to Earth it finds that the Breed has outflanked the fleet and invaded the home planet, putting human survivors to work in labor camps. It's from this unenviable position, cloaked on the dark side of the moon, that the Darwin will attempt to do battle against the Breed and free humanity.
Breed's 20-mission campaign starts off with two tutorial missions that have a holographic drill sergeant character to familiarize you with the interface. The game has a few interface elements that aren't found in many first-person shooters but are needed because of the large scale of the levels and the fact that you'll often control a squad of troops--and you can switch characters by taking control of different members of your squad at any time. The center of Breed's HUD features a compass that indicates scripted mission waypoints, and the game also has a minimap in the upper-right corner of the screen that shows red dots for enemies and green dots for members of your squad. Controlling the squad seems easy. Along the left side of the screen are icons indicating the status of your squadmates, and at the top of the screen is a list of simple commands--such as spread out, tighten formation, stop, regroup, or change formation type--that are activated with the function keys on your keyboard. To take control of any other squad member, you can scroll through the squad with the page up and page down keys.
USC squads are composed of a mix of character classes that depends on the mission, but the ground missions we played started out with a few grunts, a sniper, and a gunner. Switching characters is a good way to vary the action or to force a particular character to do what you want. We found it useful to take direct control of the sniper, who is best for taking out enemy turrets and artillery by disabling the exposed alien drivers and gunners, though tanks can also be taken out with the rocket launcher when you have it.
While there don't seem to be many items to pick up in the levels, most troops start out equipped with two weapons (the maximum you can carry at once), and many weapons have alternate firing modes. For instance, the sniper carries the standard assault rifle--which also packs a grenade launcher--along with a pinpoint-accurate long-range rifle, and the grunts can carry shotguns in addition to their assault rifles. You'll also be able to recruit an engineer for your squad--a soldier who can repair vehicles and download data at key points in the game. Currently, the game is said to feature eight infantry weapons for each side.
The core campaign missions are prefaced by a short in-game cinematic that explains your mission objective and follows the mission preparations aboard the Darwin. Depending on the assignment, you'll watch as grizzled space marines board a dropship or a tank is readied for a planetside descent or a fighter is fueled up. What's unusual is that it's actually possible to fly back up into this space environment--once you fly high enough, a short transition sequence will play, and you can rejoin the Darwin. Enemy fighters may even pursue you into space.
Taking Back Earth
The first mission provides a good example of the optional paths you can take to your final objectives. After the opening cinematic, you find yourself in the belly of a dropship speeding toward an island radar installation. Orders are bellowed into your ear; you must take control of the side-turret "ubergun" in front of you and disable the enemy's radar before you're detected. The dropship makes only one pass, giving you hardly enough time to complete your objective, but if you manage it, then Breed reinforcements won't be alerted, and there will be fewer enemies along your path. Your landing is greeted by attacks from small squads of Breed robots, which aren't too dangerous at medium distance with squad backup. However, hovertanks and artillery turrets that are easily seen on towers planted atop the island's hills represent a much more serious threat. These can fire tremendous distances, but then again, so can the sniper. You can take any overland path toward the captured USC radar base, which is your final destination, but some exploration will reveal the ideal route, a tunnel that starts not too far from the landing zone.
Later missions will put you directly in control of one of the 10 USC vehicles. Driving around in the tank seems like quite an experience, especially with a top gunner mowing down enemy infantry while you take out threats with the plasma cannon, minigun, or guided antiair rockets. Although the tank is a challenge to control, it deals incredible damage to your enemies--and this can be particularly satisfying when fighting in and around areas with destructible objects, such as trees and small structures. Flying the fighter offers even faster-paced action; you'll try to take out armored ground units with your guided bombs while being attacked by enemy fighters and other threats. The game's pace seems quite varied so far; Breed has many different types of missions and also a good range of environments, including areas with rolling green hills, arctic landscapes, and arid expanses of desert. Much of the action takes place on Earth, but some later battles take the conflict right up to the Darwin.
The huge maps and short load times between the ground and space environments are a testament to the flexibility and power of Brat Designs' Mercury graphics engine. The powerful engine draws in its landscapes at a very far distance, yet every scene contains a great deal of detail--around 50,000 polygons are displayed onscreen at any time, and that number can go up to 200,000. The engine is built on DirectX 9 and features plenty of impressive graphics, and it even seems to maintain a steady frame rate on a well-equipped notebook PC.
But Breed won't just offer a lengthy single-player campaign; Brat Designs plans to include both competitive and cooperative multiplayer in the game as well. You'll be able to unlock the cooperative mode, which will let up to four players take on the game's missions together, by playing through the single-player game. Unfortunately, this mode will be playable only over local networks due to bandwidth requirements. On the other hand, the competitive modes will be available online and will support up to 32 players. In addition to the conventional game types, Brat has some other intriguing multiplayer modes in the works, including an assault mode that starts USC players off in the Darwin and requires them to descend to Earth and secure a shield generator before starting their assault on the Breed mothership. The full range of character classes will be available to players on both sides. Although the player models and weapons will look different, they will be functionally similar for balance reasons.
Breed promises to deliver varied gameplay in a big world, so you'll probably be surprised to know that it's the product of an extremely small team. Brat Designs has had just six developers on staff for most of the project, including just one programmer, though the team has grown somewhat to finish everything on schedule. The game is now in beta, and the long-awaited single-player demo, which will contain some of the same nearly finished levels we had a chance to play through, is scheduled for release around E3. We'll have more on Breed closer to its release in August.
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