Of all the vivid and colorful imagery presented by French filmmaker Luc Besson in his flashy 1997 sci-fi film The Fifth Element, one of the most memorable sequences involved a high-speed chase through the futuristic skyways of New York City, where vertical space between towering skyscrapers allowed for layers upon layers of hovering traffic. Drawing inspiration from this bit of cinema, German developer Similis has created Beam Breakers, a mission-based futuristic racing game that's occasionally intense but lacks the personality and polish of its source material.
Since the game isn't officially affiliated with the motion picture, you won't see Bruce Willis in Beam Breakers. Instead, the game puts you in the shoes of an anonymous pizza delivery boy working his way up through the ranks of a Neo York City crime family. Your boss starts you off with the simple assignment of delivering a couple of pies, a task that gives you some room to become familiar with the geography of the city and the controls of your futuristic ride.
Control of your flying car's forward and backward motion is mapped to the A and Z keys, and horizontal and vertical movement are mapped to the arrow keys. Auxiliary controls are limited to the S key for actions, such as firing off pizzas for delivery, and the space bar to tap your turbo boost. If this default setup isn't to your liking, you can customize the key configurations or simply use a joystick. Unfortunately, there's no support in Beam Breakers for in-game mouse control. In general, the controls are a bit loose, but still fairly responsive, perhaps like what you might expect from a hovercar. And you can get moving at a pretty respectable clip, especially with some of the higher-end vehicles you'll earn later on in the game.
Once you've delivered enough pizzas to hungry Neo Yorkers, your boss will start giving you assignments of greater import to the family, such as trashing a competing restaurant and stealing cars from and defending territory against rival gangs, all the while avoiding police interference. The cops of futuristic Neo York City are incredibly adamant about law enforcement, and once they make visual contact with you, they'll quickly apprehend you unless you put yourself in the thick of the traffic and jam on the turbo button. After about a half dozen of these subversive assignments, you'll go through a series of checkpoint-based races in order to win newer and faster cars. These racing levels are the most enjoyable, as the sensation of speed in Beam Breakers is at its best during the races and the control scheme seems to favor constant forward motion over the stop-and-go pacing of the objective-based missions. Once you reach the end of a stage, this cycle basically repeats itself, and though the game has 57 total missions in the main story mode, the lack of variety in the mission types becomes quickly apparent.
Aside from the mission-based story mode, Beam Breakers features three other modes of play. The championship mode puts you through a series of 30 races against a pack of computer-controlled opponents. The fierceness of the AI in the championship mode increases much more quickly than in the mission mode, and you'll need to unlock some of the faster vehicles in the mission mode to stand a chance here. Survival puts you in the middle of the city with a hostile police force gunning for you. The objective is to simply keep from getting caught for as long as you can. Beam Breakers also includes an online multiplayer race mode with support for up to six players, though the game lacks any sort of in-game server browser.
The task of rendering a futuristic cityscape with layers upon layers of moving traffic is a daunting one, and Beam Breakers isn't quite up to it. For starters, the traffic is neither as thick nor as manic as it should be. The geometry of the city is adequate, though you'll regularly see some questionable textures. The only really notable special effect in Beam Breakers is the translucent guide that marks the path of the races, which is a nice touch. But the biggest mark against the game's presentation is its distinct lack of personality. Each level is supposed to take place in a particular district of Neo York City, such as Chinatown, Downtown, or Little Italy, but it all just looks vaguely futuristic and nondescript.
The visual presentation of Beam Breakers may occasionally be a bit sterile, but the sound design even worse--to the point that it seems unfinished. Ambient city sound effects are rare, and there's no music in the game, save for a few fleeting seconds' worth in between stages. The hum of your hovercar and the few other ambient sounds that are present are passable, but the game's voice acting is so awful that it almost negates any positive qualities. All the speech in the game, which is limited to begin with, sounds as though it was recorded at a very low bit rate by people who don't speak English very well. Of course, the limited amount of speech just means that you'll be hearing the same few expletives over and over again. Fortunately, the game doesn't put much importance on audio cues, and gives you the option to just turn off the in-game sound and throw in your own music.
Beam Breakers starts off with a solid concept, but it doesn't quite deliver on it. Though the game does provide a few visceral thrills, it's hard to recommend it to anyone other than someone who is hungry enough for some futuristic racing to look past the game's mediocre production values.