Breach Hands-on Preview

16 Dec 2010  by   Paul Younger
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After the demolition jobs delivered by Bad Company 2 and Red Faction: Guerilla, games boasting heavily destructible environments seem to have gone somewhat out of vogue as of late – shooters such as Medal of Honor, Halo: Reach and the upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops concentrating more on traditional FPS elements over the ability to disintegrate everything in sight.
Here to fill the demolition void is Atomic Games’ Breach which – more than any other of its features – makes a big deal out of being able to turn walls to rubble, sand bags to dust and bridges to… rubble.  The thing about making a big deal out of something is that you have to be able to back it up, it has to work perfectly. 
Being an XBLA title, Breach already has to deal with the perception that (a few notables aside) the genre tends to struggle downloadable form and so if it’s to build a sizeable enough community to sustain an online only shooter it’s going to have to be good. Really good. Battlefield 1943 good. 
While there may be a lack of recent competition in the realm of destruction there is recent competition in the FPS genre from the aforementioned behemoths.  It takes a lot to persuade long-term COD, Halo et al players to invest the time and money to pick up, learn and appreciate a new multiplayer shooter so Breach is going to have to strike the right cord immediately. 
Our one-on-one demo presentation from Peter Tamte, President of Atomic Games, showed just how in-depth and exhaustive the physics engine that powers Breach’s destructible capabilities really is.  Aside from being able to blow holes in walls a la Bad Company 2, players can shoot out individual bricks to create DIY windows for assaulting the enemy through, break support beams to cause buildings to topple over and, unlike Bad Company 2, destroy the interior walls of a structure independently of the outer ones.
This ability to alter the environment in such a way takes a bit of getting used to at first, requiring you to rewrite years of shooter experience.  During our first couple of rounds we approached the game as we would any other multiplayer shooter; flanking the enemy, finding a suitable spot to take out a guy in a distant house, storming through doors and gambling that we’d shot them before they shot us.  Playing Breach in such a manner is possible but it kind of misses the point and doesn’t take full advantage of what’s on offer.
For example, why risk life and limb stepping foot into an enemy occupied building when you can simply blow out a wall from afar with your grenade launcher and bring the ceiling crashing down on the poor unsuspecting sod?  Or, why assault through the main door (which is surely being watched) when you can set an explosive on an outer wall or roof and crash in unexpectedly? 
The latter tactic works particularly effectively if you can coordinate with teammates to enter from multiple locations in unison.
Tamte was keen to stress this kind of play is what Breach is all about – in his own words it’s a game of “using cover and destroying cover”.  It’s an interesting concept that has been tried before but not quite to this level in a multiplayer shooter.  Perhaps that’s because it’s a deceptively difficulty gameplay mechanic to design for, while it may seem simple to say “let’s have loads of stuff you can blow up” you’re always going to have to put some limitations on what the player can achieve in order to prevent every map becoming a desolate wasteland of wreckage and ruins within the first couple of minutes.
Both the maps we played featured sections which were almost entirely impenetrable to our bullets, grenades and plastic explosives.  A bunker complex, for example – with sturdy rounded walls, narrow corridors and metal walkways which you could only affect in very minor ways (such as blowing chunks off of cinder blocks or smashing your way through a very obviously highlighted weak point in one of the major walls) – presented a break from the structural carnage elsewhere.
It’s in these areas that Breach feels more like a typical shooter and lacks that same unique feel it achieves in its non-static locations.  It attempts to break away from this generic feel by adding a Gears of War style cover mechanic that throws the camera into third-person and allows you to “blind fire” (blind fire in shooters is never really blind) and it also features some nifty gadgets – a fancy hearing aid that pinpoints sounds made by the enemy being our favourite – but it doesn’t have the same slick, smooth feel to the gameplay as its higher budget, disc based rivals.
Of course this may change come its release early next year but for now, when the action takes place away from the “let’s blow shit up and surprise these fools” or the “wait until that guy crosses the bridge before blowing it up” areas of the maps, it takes a bit of a downturn and seems very run of the mill – the shooting mechanics and player movement lacking enough finesse for it to be otherwise.
What is impressive though, like the downloadable Battlefield 1943, is the scale and ambition of the project.  This is a sizeable development complete with different character classes, an EXP based levelling system and five different game types that really does resemble a hefty multiplayer component of a fully fledged disc based shooter.  If the small creaks can be ironed out Breach could turn out to be enormously entertaining and advance the cause of download-only FPS titles. 
Despite the faults we came away from our time with Breach hoping that it does go on to do well; there was just something special about that moment we managed to use our fancy hearing aid to track the enemies inside a building, load up our grenade launcher, shoot out a support beam and send half the place crashing down a cliff with them inside it. Whoop-whoop.
For more on Breach read our recent interview with Atomic Games’ Peter Tamte.

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