In order to stand out, Breach would need to do something new, or do something better. Unfortunately, it does neither.
+ Varied gameplay
+ Low price point
- Dated visuals
- Shoddy sound design
- Picky cover mechanic
If there was ever an over-saturated genre in current-gen video gaming, it would be the war first-person shooter. Breach from Atomic Games is a small fish that bravely dives into the vast ocean already overflowing with these games. In order to stand out, Breach would need to do something new, or do something better than the games before it. Unfortunately, it does neither.
The basic idea of Breach is one that we are all eminentely familiar with: The team-based online multiplayer war shooter. But why should you play Breach when there is Call of Duty: Black Ops and Battlefield: Bad Company 2? To answer this question, Atomic Games has been playing up the "active cover" feature and the destructible environments. But in all honestly, the biggest thing this game has going for it is its price tag. Breach costs only $20 for Windows PC and $15 on Xbox Live (sacrificing a superior physics engine and visual quality), legitimately giving this game a good bit of bang for the buck.
Similar to many games before it, Breach puts the player in a handful of mid-sized 16-player maps that can be played in a variety of game modes: Infiltration (Capture and Hold), Convoy (a variation on protect-the-truck a la MAG and Team Fortress 2), Retrieval (basically Capture the Flag with one flag), Sole Survivor (last-man-standing a la Counterstrike), and Team Deathmatch (which needs no introduction). In addition to all of these, each can be played in Hardcore mode, which is virtually identical to the one popularized by other more big-name shooters, disabling most HUD elements and increasing weapon damage. For such a low price point, that is a lot of game.
To go along with the varied game types are several familiar character classes to choose from: Rifleman (assault rifle), Gunner (machine gun), Support (shotgun), Sniper (self-explanatory), and the Recon class, which cannot be used until two of the four starting classes have been "mastered." Players receive experience points by achieving enemy kills or completing map objectives, gaining levels when certain experience milestones are reached. Leveling up also unlocks character additions such as weapon attachments, gadgets, and perks, which can be purchased using the earned experience points. There is a familiar pang to keep playing when upgrades like these are available, but do not expect the same kind of unrelenting awards that you will find in a game like Call of Duty: Black Ops. The experience points rack up slowly in Breach, so it will take some more work to reach your goals.
As for Breach's big selling points in the "active cover" system and the destructible environments, they do enhance the gameplay, but they are not so versatile and can feel canned. The cover system is very similar to the one found in the Gears of War franchise, which is a darn good place to start. On the Xbox 360, a click of the right stick will attach your player to cover. From there, you can move back and forth from behind cover, pop up or out to the side to aim and take shots, or stay behind cover and dole out some relatively inaccurate suppression fire to try to scare your enemy away. All of this is all well and good until you realize that the game is rather choosy about what you can use as cover. Logic would suggest that a large rock in the middle of the map could be a good place to run to and take cover behind, but active cover might not work there. You will have to settle for traditional cover points such as sandbags or beside doorways in most situations. This is quite immersion-breaking, and ultimately hurts the strategic versatility of the gameplay. Still, some cover system is better than no cover system, and when it works, it works well enough.
A similar problem plagues the destructible environment mechanic. There are RPG caches scattered throughout every map which serve as the primary way that players blow holes in things. And while it is good fun to break apart buildings, collapse overhangs, blow holes in the floor, and blast apart the window that a problematic sniper had been hiding out in, it is ultimately limiting. I had hoped that if there was a wall connecting two rooms that I would be able to blast a hole in it to create a shortcut or surprise attack a control point. Well, sometimes you can, sometimes you can't. The game has pre-determined destructible areas, and all are not considered equal. This is in contrast to a game like Bad Company 2 where, basically, if you have a big enough weapon, you can blow a hole in just about anything. When all is said and done, the most useful aspect of this game mechanic is to blow up cover that a player is hiding behind. Like the cover system, it is immersion-breaking and hurts the versatility of the gameplay, but it is better than having no destructible environments at all.
Probably the biggest detractor from Breach is in its presentation. Visually, it comes off pretty bland. It looks more like an updated version of 2004′s Counterstrike Source than anything that has come out in the last few years. There are lots of jagged edges, no shadows, and structural elements are recycled throughout each map. To top it off, there are even some occasional framerate issues. While these are few and far between, the simple existence of them seems excessive in the company of such low-quality and traditionally non-demanding visuals.
The sound design also leaves much to be desired. Explosions sound nice and most of the guns sound ok, but some of the gun fire heard from afar sounds pretty poor, coming off as random clicks that seem like they belong in a game that was developed a decade ago. And the canned character chatter would have been better off omitted entirely. If I hear another soldier say "Payback's a b*tch" once more, I may scream, or at least roll my eyes for the umpteenth time.
Still, amidst this game's numerous issues, there exists a real fun factor. Once you have played the game enough to get past its first impression, a match that is packed full of players is going to be good time. You will still get that frantic urge while running from control point to control point in Infiltration and trying to be the last man standing in Sole Survivor is as intense as ever, particularly in Hardcore mode. Group that with the ever-present threat of the all-too-common RPG blast and you will find that there are not many cover points that are safe to stick around in for long. Sooner or later, those experience points that seemed to take forever to accumulate will lead to new levels and equipment to try out. There is something to be said for the simplicity of a game that does not try so hard to be epic and instead doles out small-serving matches that can make the experience a little easier to swallow.
Breach has more than its fair share of issues. There are a myriad of limitations, from gameplay issues such as a picky cover system to presentation issues like dated visuals and shoddy sound design. But while you are sitting there and complaining about these problems, you might find that you are actually starting to have a good time. At a bargain price point, there is ultimately a lot of game to go around for a little cash. It is hard to recommend this game to anyone who could instead play Call of Duty: Black Ops or Battlefield: Bad Company 2 as they do everything that Breach does and better, but the lower price tag does make this one a legitimate option for those who would rather not bother with the bigger names in the industry. Breach gives off a weak first impression, but there is some fun to be had in there. You might just have to work a little to find it.