Just when you thought good storytelling in videogames was dead, along comes a title like Breakdown from Namco. In this first person adventure title, you’ll be faced with a story that’s deeper and more immersive than what you’ve seen in most other games (save for the Splinter Cell series) and crafted to keep you playing for more hours than you’ll be able to count. And, while there are some issues with the gameplay, the story is what will keep you returning to Breakdown to finish level after level.
Did you catch the part where I called Breakdown a “first person adventure?” Good, I’m glad you’re paying attention, because it’s quite a unique shift in action/adventure gameplay that’s sure to make the industry stand up and take notice. Unlike first person shooters (FPS) where it’s all about action, the first person perspective in Breakdown serves to suck you into the story as you throw punches, climb ladders and drink sodas, all while trying to survive the enemy attacks and Bizzaro-world hallucinations that plague your character. There are many times where you’ll find yourself physically dodging a virtual punch or jumping out of your seat as Derek (your character in the game) is knocked on his duff. If you want to feel like you’re living in a virtual game world, Breakdown will deliver.
The storyline, which is the core of the game, has you (as Derek) waking up in a research center. After some quick rehabilitation, you find yourself under attack by the military and running for your life. Soon enough, you stumble upon…oh wait; I don’t want to ruin it for you. Let’s just say the story will keep you playing this game far past your bedtime for weeks on end.
It’s a good thing that the story is so strong, because some of the gameplay elements weaken what could’ve been the perfect combination of action and adventure. The controls are a hideous mix of triggers and button clicks that have absolutely no mental association with their actions. Pulling triggers launches combat moves, but if you want to throw something nastier than a sucker punch, you’ll have to pull the sticks and triggers in mind-bending sequences. Non-combat actions are almost as bizarre, especially when it comes to picking up objects. The first time you hit the action button, you’ll pick up the object and just stare at it. You have to hit the button again to either interact with the object or add it to your inventory. This is not a good thing to have happen when you’re in a heated fight and you need to pick up a clip from a fallen foe. You’ll have to position yourself perfectly over the fallen body, click action to search him, find the one item he’s carrying then click again to add it to inventory. And it’s really frustrating that most opponents carry only one object in their personal inventories. If you just killed a guy who was spraying machine gun fire, he’s only going to have a spare clip, a candy bar or a half-spent clip on him, which seems pretty dumb. After all, you would think a guy with a gun might have a few clips handy, maybe a grenade or two and a pocket filled with rations or money, but that’s not the case here.
Anybody remember the endless corridors in Halo? Apparently Namco’s development team really liked those, because you will spend what feels like hours running through empty corridors in Breakdown. You’ll also encounter a seemingly endless array of doors to be opened with the action button, so much so, you’d swear that door opening was a mini-game. If there’s one thing that tears holes in the fabric of immersion in this game, it has to be these never-ending hallway runs. Just when you start to sink back into the story, you get so bored running down hallways, you realize that you’re just playing a game. If the monotony of hall crawling doesn’t break the feeling of immersion in the game, the pure linearity of the gameplay probably will. There’s no sense of exploration in this game, as you’re force-fed the proper path through the game, with no options to stray from it. Yet even with these problems, you just can’t help wanting to know more about the story.
If you like games with strong production values, you won’t go wrong in picking up Breakdown. The graphics aren’t as sharp as something like Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow, but they are prettier than 80% of the other Xbox titles on the market. Character models sport plenty of detail; from the bandoliers on the evil commandos to the spidery skin patterns of the Stealth T’al; it’s all good stuff. Levels are sprinkled with realistic details like broken glass (which crunches underfoot), tipped over chairs and lunches sitting on their abandoned desks. By the way, food plays a major part in this game; as it’s your only way of rebuilding health, so don’t pass up those burgers and cokes that are sprinkled throughout the levels. And unlike most other games in which sound is treated as something that can be “slapped in there,” the audio in Breakdown is top-notch. Metal objects clang, doors swoosh, weapon clips load with a satisfying “chunk” and voices are razor sharp. For the first time in recent memory, I immediately noticed the audio, as it didn’t feel like a developers’ afterthought. If you have a 5.1 speaker set-up, you’re in for an amazing aural treat as you hear bad guys and evil T’al sneaking up from behind, beside and sometimes underneath you.
Even with its annoying nits, I still consider Breakdown one of the better games I’ve played in the past several months. There’s so much good going for it, I can’t see not recommending it as a purchase for most gamers, although the subject material and weird moments in the storyline might be a bit too off-putting for casual gamers. So for the average gamer, I’d say rent this for at least a week, since you’ll need to drop at least five hours into Breakdown to get a feel for just how cool it is, while hardcore gamers should just head to the store now and grab a copy.
- Gameplay: 8
- Graphics: 8
- Sound: 8.5
- Replay: 7
- Overall: 8.2
- A unique gaming experience that’s well worth trying.
— Craig Falstaff