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A touch of military-grade tactics in Breach & Clear

Xav de Matos, @Xav

This is Portabliss, a column about downloadable games that can be played on the go.

Taking cues from the realism and mission planning in the original Rainbow Six games, Breach & Clear offers iOS players a turn-based, tactical strategy game with mountains of potential. Sadly, the Gun and Mighty Rabbit Studios project never reaches that potential, because much of the game is still in development.

Initially, Breach & Clear captured my heart. Missions require strict planning and can be slow and plodding, which is directly up my extraordinarily boring alley. A customizable four-man squad, drawn from real world military organizations in the USA and Canada, enters a mission and can approach from a number of different entry points. In Breach & Clear's lone mode, Terrorist Hunt, the goal is to wipe out each room. It's entertaining at first, but after multiple plays of each of the game's fifteen missions at varying difficulties, Breach & Clear gets stale.

Gallery: Breach & Clear (7/26/2013) | 26 Photos

Each individual squad member moves along a limited number of tiles on a grid, but the game also adds line of sight variables to movement. In addition to the typical move command, Breach & Clear lets players choose the direction of the soldier's vision as he moves. This allows your team to scan a room as they enter, spotting enemies they wouldn't see if they only looked dead ahead.

Moves are set for an entire squad in one turn; you tap and drag destinations and where to scan, before you execute your command. Any enemies that enter a squad member's line of sight will be immediately engaged during this process, so you have to focus your initial strategy on intelligent movements. You're better off moving behind a wall than into an open space, for example. Successful execution of a plan can be exciting the first time through, but subsequent jaunts to the game's tiny terrorist strongholds lose some luster.

It was the attention to detail in movement, my squad's immediate awareness of its actions when faced with an enemy, and the enemy AI's wise decisions to stick to cover that kept me hooked. Sending two teams into a location from different points, scanning and clearing rooms and hooking back up into a successful foursome makes you feel like a tactical powerhouse. It's the same feeling that other military simulation games like Full Spectrum Warrior and the ARMA series have offered in the past. Mistakes are costly, and pushing forward through each location can be exhilarating, but no amount of enemy position randomization can save a game that is limited to 15 extremely small maps. Eventually, missions are just busy work to collect more coin and XP.

Though Breach & Clear is a premium app, there are still plenty of options to spend real world money. In-game currency is earned by completing missions, but can also be purchased. Players can also purchase permanent XP and Money boosts - offering "2X" more for each - at $1.99 a pop. Oddly, when those options are purchased, they remain in the store as purchasable items.

Breach & Clear offers potential on iPad, frustration on other iOS devices
Breach & Clear features an impressive number of customization options. Characters can be customized, too, allowing players to select a squaddie's name, portrait and specialty. These character-specific specialties allow you to do things like heal your team or provide stat boosts in certain situations. Consumables are also available, like a UAV drone that can spot enemy locations, placing their position on your screen.

As an aside on customization and realism, female soldiers are strangely absent from Breach & Clear. Given that both the US and Canadian armed forces now allow women in combat – a policy shift that only recently happened in the US – the lack of female soldiers is disappointing and belies Breach & Clear's commitment to military realism. The omission doesn't color my complete view of the game, but it's a notable omission for all players.

In terms of its narrative, Breach & Clear offers no context for its missions. Apart from kill anyone that isn't you, there is no story whatsoever. While that's certainly forgivable for a quick pick-up and play game, a little context about the engagements taking place in real world locations (China, Turkey, Afghanistan) would have been appreciated. But that isn't the real issue with Breach & Clear.

Ironically, while Breach & Clear is based on careful and deliberate planning, the game itself was released with many missing pieces that are promised as future content. The words "Coming Soon" are spread across multiple sections of the menu. More campaign locations, gameplay types, even customization options are all planned but are unavailable at launch. The only areas where Breach & Clear feel fully fleshed out is in its customizations, the one area that ties directly to in-app purchases.

Breach & Clear offers potential on iPad, frustration on other iOS devices
Breach & Clear suffers from more basic problems as well. I spent most of my time playing on the iPad, where the game's small icons and text were manageable. On iPhone, however, the universal app is a disaster. Text is minuscule. Icons are laughably slim. The grid in missions is so small that I had to zoom all the way in to accurately set up my squad routines. The game simply isn't built for comfortable play on any device smaller than an iPad.

Breach & Clear has a number of new features and campaigns promised for the future, and if those additions are free then I expect to return to the game. Those interested in slow, meticulous planning and real world combat scenarios may find something to like, but in the face of other iOS strategy games - like the much more enjoyable (and much more expensive) XCOM: Enemy Unknown - it's difficult to get fired up about Breach & Clear in its current state.
This review is based on Breach & Clear, played on both an iPad 3 and iPhone 5. The app is universal, but saves do not transfer between versions. Breach & Clear was purchased by the reviewer. It is available for a limited time at $1.99 (50% off its regular price).

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