Hidden Gem Reviews: Breakdown
Genre: FIRST PERSON ACTION ADVENTURE
The first person sub-genre has been around since the early 70’s, experiments with graphical techniques in early games created pseudo-3D mazes. These mazes were nothing more than an illusion created by well-placed lines and scaling of sprites, regardless it was the beginning of a new genre. As video game hardware advanced so too did the genre, games featuring true 3D environments and realistic visuals and mechanics came next.
Nowadays, developers make the best and/or most realistic games they can. What hasn’t often been nailed is a realistic (hell, even playable) “first person fighter”. It’s a novel idea, yet has never really caught on. Most first-person fighting mechanics end up frustratingly clunky and unrealistic.
Released in 2004, Namco’s Breakdown is one of the better attempts at creating a first-person shooter-fighter action hybrid.
Breakdown is set in a near future Japan, a nation experiencing more frequent than usual earthquakes coming from an unnatural epicenter. An exact location is identified as a source of the quakes. Therein is discovered a hidden underground complex that is labeled Site Zero and found to be controlled by a being only known as Nexus. Powerful inhabitants are also discovered, and so a research facility is established to study Site Zero and these beings that display invulnerability and super strength. They become known as the T’lan.
Occasionally, skirmishes between the unruly T’lan and the humans occurred but research continued unhindered. Soon, a substance generated by the T’lan is identified as a means to transmit those powers to animals, and then to humans.
The player takes on the role of Derrick Cole, an amnesiac man who awakes within the aforementioned research facility being told that he is apparently humanity’s last hope. He suddenly has visions of a woman materialising and disappearing before knocking over some machinery, indicating that this was more than just a hallucination. Soon, he encounters a researcher overlooking his recovery room who then guides Derrick through a few ability tests.
Soon after Derrick returns to his quarters the facility comes under attack from soldiers. Later, the T’lan make an unexpected appearance and clash with them. Several soldiers then appear in Derrick’s recovery room and apparently have orders to kill him. Suddenly, he is rescued by the mysterious woman from his visions, who identifies herself as Alex.
With no other choice, Alex and Derrick fight their way out of the facility, fighting both the soldiers and avoiding the mighty T’lan warriors. In doing so Derrick experiences further visions, and most extreme of all, powers that help him go toe-to-toe with the T’lan. So begins Derrick’s adventure to uncover the mysteries of the T’lan, Site Zero and his powers.
The opening scenes of Breakdown allows players to get to grips with shooting, fighting and controlling Derrick. While the fighting side of the game is executed well, controlling Derrick is strangely ropey.
When moving from A to B, I find the controls to be somewhat over sensitive and Derrick’s movements to be not very smooth. In fact, they’re wobbly and almost stuttering. My own personal tip is to control Derrick using smaller movements with the XBOX controller’s analog sticks. Although it is quite jarring, once again, it is somewhat realistic. Let’s face it, if you were being chased by a super being that can punch you twenty feet down a corridor, your movements wouldn’t be smooth either. Maybe this is symptomatic of Derrick being an actual avatar in the game world instead of a disembodied pair of hands?
So is it just clunky, or a realistic portrayal of a drugged amnesiac man? Let’s look at times when Derrick reaches the top of a ladder. The view faces down as he looks at his feet and hands and hoists himself back to a standing position. This is an actual realistic viewpoint, it is quite normal to look down at your hands and feet when reaching the top of a ladder, but from your own perspective staring at a television, it’s somewhat uncomfortable viewing. Breakdown opts for Half-Life level immersion, but Half-Life did it better.
This will probably be the most divisive factor for many. Though just like our previous Hidden Gem Review of the Sega Genesis shoot em up Sub-Terrania, once you get used to its controls I am sure you’ll enjoy the game. It is tolerable, even if some may think it could be better.
The shooting aspect of Breakdown is different than most games of its kin. It is different to such an extent that I almost hesitate to call it at least a standard first-person shooter. While there is an option to freely aim at enemies, Breakdown by default allows players to auto aim, or rather auto lock-on enemies. Pressing A while having a gun (or fists) equipped locks onto an enemy until that enemy is shot dead, or A is pressed again which will switch targets if another target is present. The player can also exit the lock-on to move freely once again. While this is unusual to me and I may even call it an unnecessary mechanic, it is by no means a bad thing. In fact, some may prefer it, as when locked onto an enemy the player can still strafe and duck in and out of coverage.
Let’s look at the one aspect of Breakdown that makes it standout – the first person fighting. Breakdown attempts to keep this mechanic simple, avoiding the complex fighting game like button bashing combos that would be an ill fit for a first-person action game. Punches, kicks, and combos are controlled mostly with the shoulder buttons and the XBOX controllers black button. Actions are not complex or difficult to execute and blocking is a straightforward press of the left analog stick. Once again, it may take some getting used to. Though I call it a standout feature it isn’t the only reason this game is a hidden gem in my view, not only is it a fine first-person title, I found the story engrossing and deep. Some story moments involving apparent hallucinations are trippy, unique and excellent. Also, dialogue options appear while interacting with characters, they have no real effect on the game and only serve to further engross the player.
VISUALS and SOUND
On the side of visuals, Breakdown is exactly what you would expect from an XBOX game, it’s smooth and it looks fine, it’s varied locations are all well presented, sharp and nicely detailed. Every action Derrick takes is depicted as realistically as possible, from drinking cans of soft drink, eating burgers, picking a telephone and reading a document, there is even a raw vomiting sequence early on in the game.
The electronic soundtrack that accompanies most of the action in Breakdown is ambient and subdued. In a game that intends to be as immersive as possible, you might say that this is intentional. Music that is too bombastic or even cinematic may detract from the realism attempted here. Breakdowns soundtrack is minimalist for the most part and just bubbles under the surface of everything else that is doing more to grab your attention. It is neither too quiet nor too loud, it just fits. Though, the final boss theme is pretty epic.
Initially, Breakdown is quite an easy game, once Derrick unlocks his abilities it seems even easier, assuming you do a fine job in landing those punches on the T’lan warriors. Naturally, as the game progresses you’ll find yourself fighting tougher and more numerous T’lan warriors and other enemies. When your fists are your only weapon it’s tough to take on more than one of the T’lan, even from the beginning. So get practicing with blocking, you’ll need it.
Luckily, opportunities to gain health are plentiful and are in the form of food and drink. Food items such as burgers are found on tables, ration bars are found on fallen foes often and health-boosting soft drink vending machines are scattered all around. However, you will frequently find yourself in a difficult situation of being trapped by enemies with very little health and trying to stealth around looking for a health boost. At the 3 or 4 hour mark is where the game gets tough, almost every location is packed with T’lan and frequently rooms and corridors will require multiple retries, so get used to saving a lot. While later areas can be frustrating, it’s not a game that I would label unfair.
Breakdown is a game that I do believe some people will dislike, it has a few factors that will make or break the game for many, it’s somewhat clunky controls, its disorientating visual perspective and later difficulty spike may prove off-putting. Then again many may love it, for its fascinating story, its unique moments involving time travel and hallucinations and its well implemented first-person fighting mechanics that really make those punches feel powerful. Namco’s Breakdown is one of the best of the lesser known games for XBOX.
- THE GOOD
- Well implemented first person fighting
- Deep, interesting and engrossing story line
- Not too long, not too short
- Solid voice acting
- THE BAD
- Controls are a little awkward and wobbly
There are those who will dislike Breakdown, once again it’s a polarising game, you will love it or hate it. Though I think the likers will outweigh the haters.