Breach review: Once more unto the FPS

If there's one genre that's stuffed to the gills on both consoles and PC, it's the shooter. Even the downloadable space is full of competition these days, with titles like Battlefield 1943, Monday Night Combat and Blacklight: Tango Down all fighting to pull players away from the yearly deluge of big-budget retail titles. As such, it's gravely important that any new FPS -- especially a lower profile downloadable title -- has something that separates it from the crowd. Breach has some well-executed ideas and some cool real-world gadgets, but I'm not sure what that hook is supposed to be.
%Gallery-114420% Breach is a class-based shooter, initially offering players a selection of four different roles: The Rifleman, Gunner, Sniper and Support. A fifth class, Recon, is unlockable once you max out both the Rifleman and Sniper. Unlike similar shooters, classes possess no innate skills, but are instead differentiated solely by their weaponry.

Like many contemporary shooters, players earn experience points with each match, points that can be spent to purchase new gadgets and passive perks. Rather than limiting these upgrades to specific classes, purchasing a new gadget or perk unlocks it for use with any class. You want a sniper with a medical kit and boosted melee strength? Fine. A support with remote motion detectors and extra headshot protection? Go for it. It's all up to personal preference, and there are plenty of real military gadgets from which to choose, ranging from bionic ears and sonic imagers to Dragon Skin body armor. Increasingly powerful weapon unlocks, on the other hand, are limited to specific classes depending on experience you earn while playing those roles.


Using cover grants you an armor bonus.

Unfortunately, once you do earn enough experience to unlock a new weapon or gadget, you'll have to back out all the way to the main menu to purchase it. For whatever reason, Breach does not allow players to customize their loadouts during or between online matches. So, to clarify: If I were playing with some friends and earned enough credits to finally purchase some anti-vehicle SLAM charges, I'd have to leave the match we were playing, go the main menu, open the character menu, purchase my upgrades, and rejoin the match in progress.

In the carrot-and-stick analogy established by so many other FPS titles, it's like someone calling to let you know that your carrot is waiting for you at the post office. It's a strange, difficult-to-forgive omission.

For the most part, each game type is simply a variation of genre standards. Retrieval has each team struggling to capture a bioweapon canister (think single flag CTF). Infiltration sees teams fighting to control as many territories as possible while earning a set number of points. Team deathmatch is ... well, you know, and Sole Survivor is just deathmatch with no respawns.


Convoy is easily Breach's most entertaining mode.

The shining jewel among the different modes is easily Convoy, in which one team must escort two armored vehicles to a specified destination. Meanwhile, the defending team does everything possible to halt the vehicles. The convoy remains motionless without a team member nearby, so at least one attacker is required to tag along at all times. Attackers can make use of each vehicle's mounted weapons, but this makes them easy targets for snipers. Making things more difficult for the escort team are several roadblocks that must be destroyed with special charges located on the main vehicle.

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The end result is a tense tug of war. Defenders take out attackers or disable vehicles with explosives, while attackers crouch behind their armored escorts, make necessary repairs and destroy obstacles. If Breach has a hook, Convoy is it. There's something to be said for Breach's destructible environments too -- and I'll admit it's devilishly fun to blast the floor out from under a sniper -- but it's really nothing shooter fans haven't seen before.

And that's really what it comes down to: Everything Breach does is competent enough, but nothing truly stands out. Some players may be drawn in by its real-world military technology, though I wish the system used to unlock it was a little smoother. Of course, I should mention that few downloadable games pack in this much content. For $15 -- or $20 if you snag the PC version -- there's plenty to keep you busy.

Breach
lays a good foundation, and I hope that developer Atomic Games builds upon it -- especially the Convoy mode -- for future titles. As it stands, military enthusiasts or die-hard shooter fans looking to grind for a new set of unlockables may find something to like. Those willing to put in the time will find some very enjoyable weapons and gadgets waiting for them. I suggest everyone else try the XBLA demo before abandoning their FPS of choice.



This review is based on the Xbox Live Arcade version of Breach, provided by Atomic Games. Breach is available now on PC and Xbox Live Arcade for $20 and $15, respectively.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.