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game: Breakdown
four star
posted by: GF! Back Catalogue 10/2004 => 1995
publisher: Namco
date posted: 12:00 AM Thu May 27th, 2004
last revision: 12:00 AM Thu May 27th, 2004

By Eric Qualls

Breakdown is one of those games that even after you realize it isn't really the greatest game on the planet, you are still willing to push forward because some of the things you get to do are just so damn cool. Literally everything you do is seen from the perspective of your character. That includes picking up and drinking a can of soda, eating a hamburger, and even vomiting that same hamburger into the toilet. Of course, you also get to fight and explore in the first person perspective, but Breakdown goes above and beyond to try and immerse you into the experience like no game before it.

In Breakdown you play as Derrick Cole. At the beginning of the game Cole wakes up in a sterile laboratory and is suffering from a severe case of amnesia. Suddenly, the lab is invaded by a race of superhuman warriors known as the T'Lan, and with the help of a strange woman named Alex; Cole slowly begins to remember things about his past. From that point on the story revolves around Cole rediscovering himself and uncovering the mystery of the T'Lan.

What makes Breakdown interesting is that you experience everything through the eyes of Derrick Cole. All of the cut scenes and scripted sequences happen from the first person perspective, so this make the storyline seem all the more interesting because after a while you kind of become attached to the character. You really feel like you are Derrick Cole. When you punch and kick, you see Cole's feet and hands moving out in front of you. When you do a back flip, your view does a full 360-degree rotation. When you take a punch, you stumble backwards and sometimes fall. And when you get thrown off of a building and fall to the ground, you experience the entire sickening plunge through Derrick's eyes. That is just cool.

Something else that is interesting is that every once in a while you'll experience sequences similar to the insanity effects in Eternal Darkness. These are really Derrick hallucinating as he is trying to remember his past, but you get to see some strange stuff. You'll see people and objects that aren't really there, and other things like the flesh dissolving off of your arms and all that you can see is your bones. These hallucinations are some of the coolest parts of the game. I just wish there were more of them.

Another thing that really immerses you into the experience is the realistic way you interact with objects. For example, the way you replenish your health is to drink a soda or eat a ration bar. The way you do that is go to a soda machine and press X to insert a quarter, press X again to pick up the soda from the machine, and press X again to drink it. It seems like a lot of button presses to do something that is routine in other games, but it really adds to the experience. Everything you do is handled the same way. From picking up a spare clip off of a body to pressing a switch to answering a phone, you have to go through this process. On one hand, this is sort of cool because we haven't seen this sort of thing from a videogame before. On the other hand, it sort of seems like you are putting off a weekend of chores so you can go on a yard work simulator. I can drink a soda and answer the phone in my own life, thank you very much. I'm not saying that these little details are bad, because they really do add a lot to the Breakdown experience, but I don't think we are going to be seeing things like this too much in the future just because they really aren't necessary.

When you aren't busy looking at your hands (How come they call them fingers when I've never seen them fing?) and looting corpses, the rest of the time you devote to Breakdown is spent in combat. Early in the game you can use guns, but when you come across the T'Lan warriors (which is also very early in the game) you have to rely on your feet and your fists to do them in. The shooting is a little too easy thanks to an auto-aim feature, but it is still quite satisfying to change targets with the press of a button and fill them full of lead. Through most of the game, though, you are fighting T'Lan and you aren't able to shoot them until near the end of the game when you find a special weapon. The hand to hand combat in Breakdown is surprisingly well done for a first person game. The left trigger controls your left arm/leg and the right trigger controls your right arm/leg. You can perform combos and execute different moves by pressing the control stick in different directions. Let me tell you, first person fistfights are very satisfying. They are in a videogame, anyway. Nothing beats giving a T'Lan a little thunder and lighting and watching them fall to the ground in defeat. For the most part, the combat in Breakdown is fun.

Even though it is fun, the gameplay in Breakdown is far from perfect. The first problem with the combat is immediately evident when you have to fight more than one enemy at a time. You can only realistically fight one enemy at a time, but the game regularly throws several T'Lan at you. You literally cannot win when fighting several enemies at once because while you are blocking and punching in one direction, three enemies are behind you beating the crap out of you. That brings us to the second problem: The enemy AI is just retarded. Most of the enemies won't follow you if you run away from them, and since you are much faster than them it is easy to just run to a safe spot and plan your next attack. When you are facing multiple enemies pretty much the only way to survive is to try and exploit this weakness in the AI by singling one of them out by doing a series of hit and run attacks until all of the enemies are dead. Where is the fun in that?

Another severe weakness in the game is that the levels are boring and poorly designed. There are far more empty rooms than rooms with any enemies or objects in them, and that is just unacceptable. You can spend minutes at a time just going through door after door after door and seeing a whole lot of nothing that has any relevance. The levels are also very linear and most of the time the first unlocked door you come to is the one that is going to lead you to the rest of the level. Of course, there are other sections of the game where there are several rooms in a row where you have to fight an enemy or do something special in each one. The levels could have been about half as big and the game would have flowed together much better.

The graphics in Breakdown are sub-par, but effective nonetheless. The characters are detailed and look good overall, especially the T'Lan, but the animation is pretty bad. All of the characters move in a sort of stiff, unrealistic way and it just doesn't look right. The environments suffer from a severe lack of detail and much of the game is made out of bland gray walls. The sort of bland visual style seems almost appropriate, though, so it is hard to really come down on the game too hard.

The sound in Breakdown is also best described as bland, but appropriate. The dialogue is well done and the voice actors did a good job giving the story some life. Sound effects for the guns sound just like you would expect, but the sounds of punches and kicks are surprisingly realistic and very good overall. The music is also pretty good, but none of it really sticks out.

Overall, Breakdown is a flawed game, but it is still entirely worth checking out. It has a cool story and goes above and beyond to make you feel like you are the main character and that you are experiencing everything that happens. The gameplay is fun and satisfying, but the poor AI and level design ultimately sour what could have been a great game. Breakdown is far from perfect, but it is still worth checking out just so you can see the world through Derrick Cole's eyes. It isn't a terribly long game, however, and has little to no replay value, so I recommend that you rent this first and see how you like it.