Review:Breakdown (XB)

Breakdown
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco
Platform: XBOX
Release Date: 03/16/04

The thought of a first person shooter without guns is like the thought of a Mario game without mushrooms. The genre was named first person “shooter” for a reason; you play the game through the eye’s of your hero with the only sense of your body being your right arm carrying what usually classifies as a gun (though crowbars, chainsaws, and other such weapons have worked as substitutes). Aside from the weapons and environments, most FPS’s feel the same. You are never given a clear idea of who you are controlling aside from the obligatory box art featuring your hero. Because of this anonymity, most FPS’s seem essentially the same.

When Namco created Breakdown, they strived to change this preconceived notion, and change they did. Breakdown is the first FPS I have played that successfully made me feel like I was the character I was moving around my screen. Unlike most FPS’s, guns are the not the main attraction of the game. Instead, you rely on merely on your fists—freakishly glowing electric fists that is.

Story:

Breakdown should be commended for its intricate story. Very rarely am I engaged with the events in an action game, but Breakdown blindsided with a story that started out dull and cliché and ended up fairly original and satisfying—for a game that is. It is obvious to see the influences Namco had when developing Breakdown, as Half-life, Resident Evil, Terminator 2, The Matrix, and Halo all show up in one form or another.

When the game begins, you are a Derrick Cole, a soldier who has lost his memory. Like Derrick, you as the player have no clue what you are doing or how you arrived in an undisclosed research lab. What makes Breakdown work is this element: the shared sense confusion. After you complete a couple small events, soldiers ransack the lab, shooting everyone in sight. Just before you yourself are pumped full of lead, a mysterious woman appears seemingly out of no where to save your newly awoken ass. Who she is and why she saved you is not answered, but you and Derrick have no choice but to follow her. As the game progresses, you are fed little bits of information through cut scenes (all of which take place in the FPS mode, further solidifying you as Derrick) and surreal hallucinations. And like any good game or movie, the stakes are constantly raised. What starts out as escaping some puny soldiers turns into escaping huge muscle bound aliens (known as the Ta’lan) who have a nasty habit of breaking skulls. You may think you are incapable of facing these brutes, but slowly you realize you are not a normal human, as during certain points in the game your right arm starts glowing, signaling your inherent powers are being brought to the surface. Of course, you won’t understand the potentials of these powers, or how they came to be until much later in the game.

At first, Breakdown may seem like a fairly dull game, but it really rewards those who stick with it. There were many times when I told myself I would quit playing due to complete frustration, but somehow, I just couldn’t get myself to stop playing. Why? Because like Derrick, I wanted to know what the hell was going on! And the more I learned, the more I realized how satisfying it was, despite the numerous times I wanted to throw my Xbox out the window.

9/10

Graphics:

There is a reason this game is an Xbox exclusive—the graphics are incredibly detailed, especially Derrick. Namco went out of their way to make you feel like you are Derrick, and it shows. The animation of his arms are incredibly realistic, from the way he opens and gulps down a can of juice, to the way he reads a clipboard. Another way Namco managed to successfully capture the feeling of Derrick is the way you notice the full body of your hero. Whether it is seeing your legs dangle while hanging from a ledge, or kicking some alien scum in the mug, you really get the sense of the body you are maneuvering. Even getting socked in the face is portrayed realistically. Every time you are struck by an enemy, the camera is thrust upward and thrown about as if you were getting clocked yourself. You even see Derrick uses his arm for support when he gets up from the blows, showing the amount of effort Namco put forth to make this game an experience.

8/10

Sound:

Breakdown really has an eclectic balance of music. In some parts there is a little to no music, which creates an excellent atmosphere, almost making it seem like a survival-horror game; while others times the music was action-packed, perfect for pounding on aliens. Breakdown itself is a schizophrenic game and Namco did a good job supplying music that fit each of its different elements. Sound effects are also top notch. Everything from the opening of a juice can (and the clank of its remains), to the firing of guns are represented in a convincing manner.

The voice is acting is wonderfully done as well. Alex, your female sidekick (think Trinity sans the hip sunglasses and shiny latex), is very convincing—which is good because she one of the main focal points of the game.

8/10

Controls:

I have to give Namco credit; creating a FPS that relies on hand-to-hand combat (and making it work) is an ambitious task. For the most part, they did a commendable job. Fighting is done via the left and right triggers, with the left and right fists assigned to their corresponding trigger. Mixing up the two triggers will create various combos (and there are a lot of them).

Jumping is done via black button and jumping near a ledge will make Derrick automatically climb it. Acquiring items (like health and ammo) is done by grabbing it off the ground, desk, dead body, or wherever it happens to be. A prompt is shown on the screen letting you know that you are able to interact with the environment, whether that be picking something up or pressing a button to open a door.

Of course you shoot guns too—though it’s not nearly as fun as crackin’ skulls. Shooting is handled very simplistically as the closest enemy is auto-targeted upon drawing your weapon. All shooting is auto-aimed as well. Though I did not have a problem with way shooting was handled, I was a little disappointed there was no indicator informing you of how much ammo you had left. Because of this, I would often run into a room full of enemies with an empty weapon only to leave in a body bag.

Everything else plays and feels like any other FPS since the days of Wolfenstein, which is impressive since Japan is not known for developing FPS’s.

7/10

Balance:

Let me tell you now—this game is frustrating! Because this is such a unique game that utilizes an ambitious combat system, it will take time to get hone your skills, and in the meantime, you’ll be dying—a lot. Luckily, Namco was nice enough to allow you to continue very close to where you perish. Very rarely did I have to do difficult parts over again—which is good—because I died often. It is also very strange that it is incredibly easy to whack off a couple of Ta’lan, but yet it is difficult to off a group of puny soldiers. It does get easier once you are able to block bullets with your freaky hands, but because soldiers have long-range weapons, they end being harder to kill than the bare knuckled Ta’lan.

The last half of the game (though incredibly cool) is so ridiculously hard that I wanted to personally punch Namco in the face. Part of the frustration comes with the fact that the combat engine was not accommodated to face multiple enemies at once, and instead of taking this into consideration, Namco decided that sanity is overrated, and thus makes you fight hoards of T’lan at once.

6/10

Replayability:

If you are able to make it through this game (and I will personally congratulate you myself if you do—honest!) you probably won’t be picking it up again. While you do unlock a gallery mode and an expert mode (which I think is a sick joke on Namco’s part) neither are worth picking up the game again for. The only way I would see people playing this game again is finding new bone crushing combos, but even that is a stretch.

3/10

Originality:

Hell, this is a Japanese FPS, which in itself is worth noting. But to be honest, this game is a very fresh take on the aging FPS. Ditching the guns for a pair of fists is an interesting idea that actually turned out really well. Pounding on skulls was entirely more satisfying to me than firing the overused and boring gun. Plus, Breakdown does a marvelous job of making you really feel like you are in the thick of the action, something that can’t be said about most FPS’s.

9/10

Appeal:

Just the idea of hand-to-hand combat in a FPS should be appealing enough to any gamer who enjoys these types of games. Not only is the combat the selling point, but the story should keep you playing, even after the joy of pounding on Ta’lan grows thin. Fans of survival-horror, mysteries, and science fiction will certainly enjoy Breakdown.

8/10

Addictiveness:

Depends on how much patience you have? If you are likely to crush your controller after a couple of deaths, than your controller will likely be in pieces before you get to experience Breakdown’s enticing story. But if you are able to get through its flaws, uncovering the mysteries of the game can be a rather addicting experience. You’ll likely have a love/hate relationship with Breakdown, as there are many things are done so well, and others that will want you to quit, but those who stick with it will surely find it rewarding.

7/10

Misc:

I just want to say again how much I enjoyed Breakdown’s use of hand-to-hand combat in a FPS. I’ve always had fun plowing through enemies with machine guns and the like, but nothing can compare to experience of giving a realistic beat down with your fists. I also didn’t realize how deep the combat system was until I really fiddled around with it. At first, it may seem like there is little beyond a couple of combos, but the more you play the game, the more you realize how many blood begotten options you have with your hands and feet. If Namco were to have tweaked the combat to allow you to fight multiple enemies it could have been almost perfect. Whatever the case, it was a refreshing game experience, which is something I can’t say very often.

8/10

Final Scores:

Story: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 8/10
Controls: 7/10
Balance: 6/10
Replayability: 3/10
Originality: 9/10
Appeal: 8/10
Addictiveness: 7/10
Misc: 8/10

Overall Score: 73/100