Breach Review

The success of Battlefield 1943 proved there was enough interest for good downloadable first person shooters. Other games such as the XBLA hit Monday Night Combat have built upon the interest and it has turned into a great alternative to the big shooters such as Call of Duty and Bad Company 2. Does Breach have what it takes to continue the momentum? Read on to find out.

Breach is a multiplayer only first person shooter set in a modern day combat scenario using weapons and gadgets currently used in Iraq and Afghanistan. You take control of one of two factions, the Black Ops or the Op For and must battle to win over a number of game modes.

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Breach uses a experience levelling system which initially limits you on your choice of weapons, perks and gadgets. These are all unlocked as you gain experience by killing enemies and completing tasks such as capturing points or winning games. There are a five classes of soldier to choose from and they come as no surprise being Riflemen, Gunner, Support, Sniper and Recon. The Recon class is locked until you fully level up the Support and Sniper classes. Each class have three weapons such as the M4A1 for riflemen, M240 for the Gunner and M40A3 for snipers, they come with a number of purchasable weapons attachments including sights, grenade launchers and suppressors. The selection of weapons are good and have enough variety to make a noticeable difference in combat but they do take a lot of XP to unlock which I found to be high.

Perks are now a FPS staple and Breach does not disappoint with a mix of both common and original ways to beef up your player. Conditioning allows your character to run for a longer period of time and newer ideas include the Vendetta perk which places a temporary IR marker on the enemy that previously killed you. Gadgets can also be equipped on your character, they are all based on real life gadgets used on the battleground. Old favourites include armour and motion sensors through to new gadgets including an IR Sniper Detector which bounces an IR beam off sniper scopes to locate them. The Sonic Imager allows you to see through scenery such as buildings and looks much like a real time X-Ray. The most interesting perks and gadgets are unfortunately locked away until you gain enough XP which again does take some time to gain. Overall there are a good mix of perks and gadgets which should keep everyone happy, though you can only equip one of each per class at a time.

There are a total of five maps to play on. Silo is set in a mountain range with a rocket silo in the center, bridges and tunnels connect the valleys and paths to make for an ideal sniping map. Peak is set in a snow filled landscape on a mountain, again with tunnels and bridges connecting the areas to each other. This is a smaller map which allows for all styles of combat such as close range with shotguns or long with sniping. Ascent is an interesting map which forces you in to combat tactics due to the choke point at the top of the map which must be navigated to reach the opponents half of the map. The final map is called Passage and can be played in day or night settings effectively giving you two maps. This is another good mix of close and long range combat with open areas at the sides and a main tunnel with branching smaller tunnels in the center.

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No first person shooter would be without a variety of game modes to play on, Breach features the commonly found modes such as team deathmatch, capture the flag, survival and headquarters. The final mode is of most interest and quite original; Convoy pits two teams against each other to attack or defend a small convoy of vehicles. The defending team must escort the convoy around a set course on the map against a time limit, along the way destroying any roadblocks in the vehicles path with charges. The attacking team must do their best to stop the convoy by killing any enemies escorting the convoy or disabling the vehicles with explosives. This is an immensely fun mode which really allows you to work as a team to keep the convoy moving (or stopping if attacking) while keeping the opposite team at bay.

The first of two main features of Breach is the destructible environment, something that games such as Bad Company 2 used with great success. Explosives such as rocket launchers can be picked up from boxes located on the map and used to destroy buildings and other scenery. While there are plenty of buildings to be found on maps, they are usually located around the sides which I found to be a little under used. I would have liked to have seen more destructible scenery in the maps to bring the feature to life. The destruction damage is more accurate than the Battlefield series, allowing you to shoot single bricks in a wall for example, perfect for maximum cover. You can be initially under equipped to fully take advantage of the destruction as rockets can only be found in ammo boxes and come in limited supply. Gadgets such as sticky bombs can be unlocked as you gain experience, but you may find by then that there are other better gadgets to use and this feels a little wasted.

The other main feature is the cover system which is not found in many games. Your character can use scenery such as a wall, fence or rock as cover which gives you more defense against the enemies gunfire. There are two firing modes when in cover; a blind fire leaves you less exposed but at the cost of inaccurate aiming, while peeking out from cover allows you to look down the sights of your weapon with the penalty of leaving you more exposed. The cover system works well and is a very welcome feature to the game.

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Presentation is acceptable with an easy menu navigation which allows you to choose between jumping straight into a game, hosting your own match or a very handy feature to search for matches currently being played which you can filter, browse and join. You can also bring in a party of up to four players and join a game. Graphically the game is average, textures look lower quality compared to other downloadable games such as Battlefield 1943 or Monday Night Combat.  Some leeway can be given considering this is a digital download with limited space, but I expected better overall graphics for a new title. There are occasional stutters in the frame rate during explosions or close combat but these are not a major issue. Sound effects are a mixed bunch, the weapons noise can sound tinny at times and there are issues with the distance of hearing ricochets even though you are far from the actual source. The announcer chatter, especially when playing Infiltration, can start to grate on you if points are regularly being captured.

The PC version of Breach uses dedicated servers while the XBLA version relies on a player hosting the game. This can lead to some issues with lag, especially if you live (like myself) outside the US. Games can at times be essentially unplayable, with shots not registering or your player being killed for what appears to be no apparent reason because another player is a second or two ahead of you. I did try hosting a few games with other UK players and the game was much smoother and extremely enjoyable experience so it is something to be aware of. This review is based on playing the game before release with a small number of players, I would expect the matchmaking to improve once the game is released and there are more local players to play against.

Breach costs 1200 :MSPoints: which is good value for money. The experience system will keep you playing to unlock more items but each required milestone may seem a little steep at times. The number of maps combined with the various game modes such as the Convoy mode keep the game interesting,. The cover system works well and the destructible environments, while a little underused, keep the game exciting and bring something rarely seen to the FPS genre. FPS fans should check this game out, providing there is no lag the game is great fun to play!

24 Hours Later

I do not usually update my reviews unless there is a mistake, but Breach has prompted me to make a decision to update the review based on playing the game once it has been released. I spent around 14 hours playing Breach before the official release on the 26th as part of my review. There were under 50 other reviewers playing the game, while I did experience lag I thought this was due to the low number of players in the UK. I originally mentioned in the review that I expected this to improve once the game is released and there are more local players to play with.

After spending several hours with friends playing Breach after the release, the lag has not improved, in fact it has got worse. The main problem is that any person can host a game and anyone can join them. If the host does not have a good connection it can affect all players in the game. Generally, playing with other UK players does seem to make for a lag free game but once random people join this can cause problems if for example US players have joined.

On release day I experienced a lot of lag. I have a good connection and regularly host other games with little issue. My friends also experience the lag and reading around various game forums we are not the only ones. Other issues such has the infinite loops on the game loading screen after the host has quit and a new host is selected can only be resolved by restarting the game. Invites to party lobbys are sometimes unresponsive and at times impossible to join unless the game is restarted.

No doubt Atomic Games are aware of the issues I have raised along with many others and I hope they are working on addressing them. As mentioned, my review was based on playing the game before release so I think updating the review to include my thoughts of it after is quite important, especially when the game is more broken than before. As a result I have updated the final score to reflect this, the new score is 6/10 (previously 7.5/10). If a future update addresses these issues I will update the review accordingly.

Three weeks later

As promised, I would update the review once a patch has been released for the game. Amongst the changes (full list here) were improvements to the network code with claims of a 33% increase in performance and fixes for the lag. I have played the game for around five hours since the update and the patch seems to have worked. Before the patch, the majority of games were unplayable due to the lag but since the patch the majority of games now play absolutely fine. There are of course some games that have lag or one or two players that are lagging, this is expected, but they are much further and few between than before. I can now shoot people and hit them first time because they are where they are supposed to be and grenades and other throwable equipment land where they are expected to land.

Overall, the patch works and the game is very playable now. There are still some issues with the framerate when there is a lot going on such as explosions but they seem almost trivial considering the game was previously unplayable. The update allows for an extra thirty minutes of demo play (a total of one hour), so if you were previously put off by the lag I would definitely recommend you try the game again. I have adjusted the final score to reflect the changes in the update, it was previously 6/10 and is now 7.5/10.

The cover system works very well and is good to see being used in a game. Destructible environments are a little underused. Providing there is no lag, the game plays very well, in particular the Convoy mode.
The graphics are average for the downloadable FPS genre, there are some highlights watching explosions and buildings being destroyed but overall they are lower quality than previous titles.
Sound effects are not great, at times they sound tinny. The constant announcer chatter in some modes can be annoying.
7.5Final Score

You can download the demo or purchase the full version of Breach on the Xbox Marketplace.


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