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An imperfect, but fun change to online war gaming.
Atomic Games' new Xbox Live Arcade release "Breach" is not the easiest game to review. Filling the niche of the modern first person shooter in the Live Arcade, "Breach" is really only directly comparable to EA's wildly well received "Battlefield 1943" but with the ideas Atomic plays with in this multiplayer only title, unfair comparisons to big budget, retail shooters like “Call of Duty: Black Ops” and "Battlefield: Bad Company 2" will arise. The easiest way to introduce "Breach" is to bluntly state at 1200 Microsoft Points, it may be too much of a diamond in the rough for the casual gamer to spend their hard earned cash on.

Featuring a non-existent storyline (well, aside from the fact you’re playing as cover CIA operatives), "Breach" appears to be your classic, run-and-gun first person shooter experience. The standard game modes (an optional Hardcore mode modifier removes all on screen readouts and increases weapon damage) of the genre are all here: Team Deathmatch, Sole Survivor (think Team Deathmatch where the last man standing determines which team wins), Infiltration (your standard territory control mode), Retrieval (a fancy way of saying Capture the Flag, or in this case canister), and last but not least, Breach’s most unique game mode, Convoy. Convoy is well worth mentioning as it puts one team in charge of escorting a convoy of two APCs along a set path in the map; each time the team is able to make it to a checkpoint (usually 25, 50, and 75% along or 33 and 66% along), they gain extra time. A squad mate can hope in either APC and control a turret to fend off the opposing team whose sole mission is to cause grief for their opponents and run the clock out. Along the way those in the convoy will have to grab an explosive charge and plant it on a roadblock, or fix an APC that has sustained damage. After one round, teams switch roles.

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If it's not already evident, "Breach" is a purely team affair. There’s no single man free-for-all. It’s a game that demands teamwork, careful game play, and patience. One-man armies need not apply as you will be gunned down, time and time again. This is a double-edged sword as anyone familiar with online gaming knows there are three types of players: the helpful teammate, the mute, and the griefer. “Breach” requires just one of these types, with the other two almost being equally detrimental to game play. The silent loner might do his or her best help out, but communication is the key to success, and the griefer is just as damaging here as they are in other games. I fortunately was able to tackle the game prior to launch date with various writers and the game’s developers, so communication was a constant and there were no shenanigans. This made “Breach” an enjoyable game, despite some of it’s glaring flaws; subtract that communication and the game can be an exercise in frustration.

The big selling point of “Breach” is the active cover system and destructible environments. To be quite honest, the cover is a bit clunky, with no option to move between gaps a la “Gears of War” or even “Quantum of Solace” one of the few FPS’s to utilize cover well. Still for an Arcade title, it’s a nice addition and works more often than not to the player’s advantage. The destructible environments are where a lot of gamers are going to bring “Bad Company 2” into the mix. Don’t. There’s a huge difference between a multi-million dollar retail game that has numerous DLC add-ons and EA backing it, and a small $15, Live Arcade game like Breach. “Battlefield 1943” was a Live Arcade game as well and it featured destructible environments that are a long way’s from being on par with “Bad Company 2,” but “Breach” easily trumps “Battlefield 1943.” Almost every stone structure can be broken apart by timed charges, RPG fire, or even repeated gunfire, leaving only the core structure of a building intact. Wooden structures, including bridges, on the other hand, can be totally annihilated, making campers stay on their toes, as a good spot of cover one minute, can quickly become a death trap, with the floor falling from under your feet, or falling debris sending you to your grave. It’s not a flawless system, and a few times I found myself getting stuck on debris trying to go through a newly “breached” passage, but it definitely keeps players on their toes and you never truly feel safe in a level.

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When you get down to the nitty gritty, “Breach” plays like a hybrid of “Battlefield 1943” and “Rainbow Six,” that could use some more polish. You don’t slide around the screen as in some major retail FPS’s, instead your character moves at a more natural pace, with a sprint option allowing you bursts of quick movement. Aiming is extremely easy, almost to a fault, as there’s no head wobble to make blasting an enemy more difficult; sniping is definitely a few years out of date, that is to say, your aim is 100% steady. I found this welcome, given the large scale of the maps, and the fact that a sniper can be taken out very quickly if they’re wild their shots. In all honesty, “Breach” is a very easy to pick up game, and the only source of frustration I encountered was some lag, that for reasons unknown made a few rounds of Convoy nearly unplayable. I can’t say whether this is Atomic’s fault or due to the players in that match, but for those familiar with the few months of game crippling lag EA ignored in “Battlefield 1943” all the other modes ran smoothly and later games of Convoy were infinitely more approachable.

”Breach” is a game that requires players to invest time and effort. Initially players are given the options of four classes: Rifleman, Gunner, Sniper, and Support. As they gain XP from kills and completing match objectives, new tiers open in each class, giving a new weapon to select as well as gadgets and perks to buy with XP Credits (don’t worry, XP Credits are equal to the XP you earn but don’t actually reduce your XP total). Once players reach all three tiers in Rifleman and Sniper, a fifth class, Recon opens. According to the achievements list, it appears 48000 XP is the maximum, and after putting in some hours on the game, I found myself just approaching 4000 XP. Luckily the unlockables including perks that reward players with double XP provided they take a 50% reduction in health can help the brazen and bold advance, provided they can prove their worth. I wasn’t able to play around with many of the gadgets, as they are unlocked at higher XP levels, but a few sound quite interesting, including a Sonic Imager and a simple but vital Medical Kit. The developers did mention one aspect to the XP system that isn’t as obvious: the higher level an opponent is, the more XP you’ll gain from killing them, meaning it pays to go after a foe who might have some advanced firepower and perks, than picking on newbies.

breach jungle firefight

So one final question may still remain: is “Breach” worth your time? Provided you know what you’re getting into and taking into account this is not a full price, retail game, I’d say “Breach” is worth a purchase, especially if you have some friends to play with, guaranteeing communication. I strongly advise you give the trial version a test run first, if you aren’t sold, save your 1200 points. The game launches with only five maps which might seem miniscule, but this again surpasses “Battlefield 1943” and unlike that title, the variety is very noticeable and the sheer size of the levels is impressive, mixing wide open exteriors with scattered buildings, tunnels and passageways, giving all classes a change to shine. As you’ll read below, “Breach” definitely takes a hit in the A/V department, but from a pure game play standpoint, it’s a moderate success.


  • The graphics definitely won’t wow anyone. Textures are often reused and simple things like damage animations on debris, including non-useable vehicles is non-existent; the environments are merely serviceable.

  • Weapon models are a hair better, but reload animations are methodical and stiff. Character models are the game’s strongest point, but limited to three or four skins per side.

  • Screen tearing is an issue and it’s important to note this is an aesthetic problem that doesn’t affect game play, but an unpleasant occurrence.

  • Audio

  • The musical score is generic and the highlight of the audio department, with some limited themes only noticeable at menus

  • The sound of the weapons are weak to a fault, almost as if things were dialed back a notch. Rifles are definitely distinguishable from an heavy machine gun, but the lack of aural kick hurts the game’s ability to be immersive.

  • Voice clips following kills are repetitive and juvenile.

  • Some rare sound dropout issues occurred during a game at full player capacity; these were very minor both worth pointing out.

  • Conclusion

    Sub par to moderately effective visuals and sound could wind up being a strong deterrent to players wanting to check out “Breach.” Those who do and want a cooperative, tactical first person shooter, will find their efforts rewarded. “Breach” delivers on providing a more value priced (800 points might have been a smarter selling point) alternative to the $60 (plus countless more dollars in DLC) retail outing, as well as implementing some ambitious elements to the genre with the destructible environments. “Breach” won’t be earning any awards in 2011, but it’s still a fun game overall, rough patches and all. Just be sure to try before you buy. Rent It.

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