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Breakdown (Xbox)
MSRP: $19.99
Number of Players: 1
Developer: Namco
Publisher: Namco

Rating:
***1/2
out of
*****

Back in the early 1990s, a game called Supreme Warrior was released for the 3DO console and the 32X add-on for the Sega Genesis. It was a horrible first-person fighting game based around "interactive" video clips ala the infamous Night Trap and Sewer Shark games. In fact, it was made by Digital Pictures, the developer of those unforgettably lame titles. What does this have to do with the new first-person fighting game, Breakdown, that I'm supposed to be reviewing? Well, when I heard that a first-person fighter was in development for the Xbox, Supreme Warrior was the first game that came to mind. I didn't think that Breakdown would be much different. Thankfully, Breakdown certainly is nowhere near as bad.

Breakdown casts you in the role of Derrick Cole, who awakens in a futuristic laboratory suffering from hallucinations and amnesia. After a lab technician puts him through a series of "training" drills (to get you used to the controls), Derrick is drugged by eating a medicated hamburger. (Don't ask.) A female compatriot -- named Alex -- comes to his aid as the lab is suddenly overrun by soldiers. Derrick and Alex team-up to fight the soldiers and, in the process, uncover some pretty interesting secrets about the lab and the research going on there.

This is a first-person FIGHTING game, so there's an emphasis on hand-to-hand combat rather than using weaponry. (Although, there are weapons such as pistols, grenades and machine guns at your disposal as well.) Using the Xbox controller's triggers and analog sticks, you can throw a variety of punches and kicks, including uppercuts, roundhouse, straight punches and combos. At the beginning of the game, it seems like this control method will not work very well but, as the game progresses, your fighting prowess increases due to a plot development and the game becomes much more interesting.

Breakdown is propelled by a strong storyline. The game doesn't tip its hand and spell everything out at the beginning which really helps to keep the gamer involved in what's going on and interested in finding out as much as possible. As you move through the lab, Derrick begins to hallucinate more and small clues to his true identity are revealed.

Unfortunately, some of the game mechanics keep things from being as engrossing as they ultimately could be. The puzzles that are presented are fairly simple -- which is good -- but the environments are surprisingly sparse and non-interactive. Aside from opening doors and flipping a few switches, there's not much for Derrick to interact with. Being that the graphics are really sharp, with a lot of small details in the offices and labs, it was disappointing to find that objects couldn't be moved around or even destroyed in most cases. A small complaint, but I feel it's a very valid one.

There are some minor control issues as well. Targeting your enemies in the game is done by pressing the 'A' button and since you're frequently confronted by multiple assailants, it's sometimes difficult to target the one doing the most damage to you in the heat of the battle. Also an annoyance is the method of collecting items. As you defeat enemy soldiers, you have to stand directly over their body and press the 'X' button. This will allow Derrick to pick up the item. However, he won't put it away or use it; he'll just look at it. You have to press 'X' again to get him to file it away or, in the case of rations, eat it. While this is great at the beginning of the game, before you've gotten a feel for the environment, it gets old fairly quickly. Also frustrating is the fact that the soldiers seem to carry only one item at a time.

Replenishing health is done by eating food or drinking juice. Food and drink is dispersed throughout the game in semi-realistic fashion. Rations are carried by soldiers. Hamburgers are found in the lab's cafeteria or on worker's desks. Cans of juice are carried in vending machines. (Apparently, Derrick keeps a lot of change in his pockets.) Later, health can be regained by defeating stronger enemies and absorbing their life-force. But that's a development about which I don't want to give too much away.

Overall, Breakdown is a unique game with a strong storyline and interesting gameplay. It's certainly not as groundbreaking as it could have been, but it's certainly worth playing through for the experience of "being" Derrick Cole for awhile. One would hope that Namco makes a sequel that addresses some of the minor problems inherent in this game. That would be a game I could recommend wholeheartedly. As it is, Breakdown is a solid, if slightly underwhelming, game that's worth a rental.

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