Breakdown

Have you ever woke up and not knew who you were, but were actually some sort of super soldier? No? That’s the role of Derrick Cole, the star of Namco’s game Breakdown. The story probably sounds familiar, maybe Flashback, Shadowrun and many B-rated movies on the sci fi channel come to mind. So Namco isn’t going to win any awards on a revolutionary story, but this is a video game not a novel.

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Even though Namco has been promoting the story of Breakdown as one of its selling points, its shallow at best. Unfortunately Breakdown’s gameplay is only a little deeper than the story. Breakdown is played in the first person view. You can attack enemies with one of three ranged weapons a handgun, a machine gun and fragmentation grenades. Of course this sounds like your typical shooter. Although, Breakdown attempts to stray from the derivative. Instead of focusing on first person shooting Breakdown’s focus is on first person fighting. While many enemies can be killed by firing off rounds of shots, the bigger enemies called T’lan soldiers need to be hit with a fist. When you’re fighting hand to hand you can do different punches and kicks by changing the direction of the left analog stick while pressing either of the trigger buttons. As you progress through the game you can even learn special moves and more combos. Namco has even added a “guard” mode where you can be impervious to bullets so you can rush enemies. One problem with the first person fighting mode is for a while it feels unnatural to control Derrick. If you’ve played other brawler games and try to translate that skill to Breakdown you’ll be lost. However, if you stick with the seemingly frustrating controls for an hour or so the game begins to control more naturally. The first person fighting mode does add something new to the genre, but it doesn’t make the game feel entirely fresh.

Namco has done a great job capturing the first person perspective. While fighting it does feel like you’re looking through Derrick’s eyes. The developers take this one step further when you’re drinking soda or eating a hamburger. For instance if Derrick picks up a hamburger they show the burger coming in closer and then Derrick takes a bite out of it. If this game was played with 3D glasses it would be a technical achievement. While Namco does go this extra mile at times it makes controlling Derrick a challenge. Derrick comes with some standard evasive maneuvers like a back flip and a roll. When you do either of these the camera spins in around in a dizzying circle, which can be painful to watch if you’re prone to motion sickness. If you’re not its still an annoyance because many times the player loses orientation to where they are. Namco tries to compensate for this by having weapons automatically aim and only switch targets when the player press A. In theory this works because you should be able to do a back flip to avoid shots and still lock on to your target. Although, what happens more often than anyone would like is a target moves behind another object. The auto aim isn’t intuitive enough to switch targets or even signify that the target has hid.. So you end up wasting ammo or worse get shot while you think you’re shooting at a target.

A lot of times you’ll have a hard time distinguishing your targets from the background. In the first segment of the game, within the laboratory the environments are a pale gray color. Or full of sight occluding smoke, which is great for enemies to hide in. So you can be running around and not even see what guys you’re supposed to hit until you’re already dead. That’s a pretty unfair trick that takes away from the entertainment value of the game. Besides the poor backgrounds the enemies look substandard. The hulking T’lan soldiers are poorly rendered sprites that look like they belong on the N-Gage and not the Xbox. Granted the main characters like Solus look cool, but the standard grunt who you see to frequently doesn’t have the same standard of animation. One huge graphical glitch in the game is that Derrick’s appendages seem to penetrate enemy corpses when he’s picking up items from them. All of the sudden parts of his hand seem to vanish, go through the enemy or both. People expect high quality graphics from Xbox games, people even expect decent graphics on PS One games. Breakdown barely surpasses the PS One level. There are some cool effects like when Derrick has hallucinations where the Xbox potential is used, but there are far and few between.

When Breakdown was in development stages the game looked like a winning Xbox exclusive. All the potential that people saw in the game set up some unlofty expectations for it. Basically, Breakdown isn’t a bad game, it just doesn’t do what it originally intended to. As a test for a first person fighting genre, its a pioneer. Like many pioneer’s it is far from perfect.

Import Friendly?

No need to import it, it is released in America.

US Bound?

It’s in your local video game store. For more information on the US version of Breakdown you can go to the official site.

+ Pros: New style of gameplay, excellent job of setting a first person view

– Cons: Sub par graphics, boring story

Overall: Breakdown will be enjoyed by those who like first person shooters since it’s slightly different from your standard shooter. For the average gamer you may want to play it first to see if you like it.

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