Two years ago, a group of veterans returning from combat in Iraq asked Atomic Games to make a game based on their experiences. The game, Six Days in Fallujah, attracted the interest of Konami, who called it a "very compelling interactive experience." After a few weeks of public outrage over the game's subject, Konami said, "Well, maybe not that compelling" and dropped the game. Atomic soldiered on and completed the game last year but, without a publisher willing to take a chance, it still hasn't seen the light of day. In the meantime, the only thing to come out of this sad dance is Breach, a multiplayer-only sibling to Six Days in Fallujah. I still can't decide if it's a shame that we'll likely never see what Atomic had in mind for the original game because, whatever your views on its purpose, Breach is terrible and only seems more so in the overcrowded market of modern multiplayer shooters.
The game does have a few things going for it. For one thing, the environments are destructible. The various grenades, rockets, and explosive charges that normally populate these types of shooters now have greater significance in demolishing enemy cover and, best of all, actually crushing enemies as you literally explode the houses they're hiding in. Imagine using a few grenades to destroy a wooden bridge to keep your enemies from crossing it later, planting an explosive charge on a wall outside a house and using it to kill those enemies hiding inside, or even shooting out the supports for a tower and watching as it crashes to the ground. All those are possible in Breach and, when it works right, it's an amazing moment. It's so fun you can even forgive the places where it doesn't work, or the strange inability to actually destroy certain specific elements in the environment.
The destructive potential of the game is balanced by an active cover system, although I'm still not sure what the word "active" is meant to represent beyond suggesting that cover in this game is only temporary. Combat is incredibly deadly in Breach but thankfully there's an abundance of low walls, waist-high piles of rubble, and piles of sandbags to put between you and whoever is shooting at your face.
Breach also offers up a load of realistic gadgets and weapons designed to make you more effective on the battlefield. Some, like the M203 grenade launcher, are obvious in their application. Others, like a beam that reflects off of sniper scopes, making them easier to spot, help your awareness of the enemies' position. Some of the new gadgets are ridiculously cutting-edge, almost to the point of seeming unrealistic, but they make a nice addition to the game.
Even counting all the interesting things that Breach does, the overall experience is unsatisfying and just feels wrong. The stickiness of the cover system is part of the problem. Not only is it inconsistent, but it also limits your angles. Imagine crouching behind a wall, only to see an enemy come racing past you and then be unable to hit him or her because you can't move your gun far enough to the side. Even when you're not facing this problem, the hit detection seems off. I'm not sure if it's a result of latency of poor collision models, but it doesn't really matter. If I aim at an enemy and miss them, I don't really care why. I just want the game to work the way I want it to.
Perhaps Breach's most significant shortcoming is that it's not all that different than anything else we're already playing. Yes, the destructible environments and cover systems are interesting, but when you stack that against the familiar toys, modes, and visual style, there's really nothing about this game that makes it stand out from the crowd. (Notice, for instance, I haven't felt obligated to tell you that you can be a sniper, or that there are capture-and-hold objectives.) I tend to agree with the reviewing philosophy that says games should be judged on their own merits and not unfairly stacked up against the other offerings in the market. On the other hand, saying this game is or isn't as enjoyable as the six other AAA modern military shooters from last year is not only fair, but absolutely essential to deciding whether or not it's worth your time.
For the price, it may seem unreasonable to hold Atomic's latest game to the same standard we use for Bad Company (or Call of Duty or Medal of Honor or SOCOM or ... well, you get the idea), but potential fans for Breach likely already own one of these other games. If they're already playing one of those other games, how likely is Breach, in spite of its other flaws, to attract the numbers of players required to make investing in the game worthwhile? In other words, suppose they gave a multiplayer war and nobody came.
Bottom Line: Whatever it ought to have been, it's not. It has a few new features, but nothing to separate it from the more popular, more polished games that cover exactly the same ground. It may be inexpensive, but the cost-to-value ratio is still too high.
Recommendation: If you're attracted to this kind of game, last year's entries are far better and have been discounted quite a bit by now.
This review is based on the XBLA version of the game.
Developer: Atomic Games
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: January 26, 2011
Platform: XBLA, PSN, PC
Available from: Xbox Live, PSN, Steam
Steve Butts would like to thank the other members of the editorial team, whose constant puns have made this review no day at the Breach.