"Breach" offers solid action at a reasonable price

Got a yen for another multiplayer fragfest? "Breach," for Xbox 360 and PC, is a decent way to scratch that itch.

It's all that you traditionally expect from a military-themed first-person shooter, with familiar game modes and troop types, while adding a few novel elements to the mix, and it's all for a relatively low price.

"Breach" is an entirely team-based online game, with five game modes and matches ranging in size from four to 16 players total.

As for game modes, they are mostly what you expect: team deathmatch, variations on capture the flag and king of the hill, and even a one-death each, last team standing competition.

The most novel mode is Convoy, where players on one team must safely escort two vehicles past obstacles while the other team tries to stop them. The vehicles are self-propelled along a fixed path, so the mission is about offense and defense, not driving skill.

And all the action takes place on any one of four-and-a-half maps, which is pretty incredible if you think about it. Each map accommodates five different game types? It's something of a design feat. Generally speaking, though, they share a common architecture. They're all mountainous, providing for multiple elevations to shoot from, and have tunnels, bridges, multilevel buildings, and lots of cover to use. (In case you are wondering about that half map, it's Nocturnal, a duplicate of the game's Passage map, but with most of the lighting turned off.)

And most every manmade feature in the environment -- the buildings, bridges and roadways -- is destructible. In other words, in "Breach," if you can't manage to shoot an enemy holed up in a building, you can try to take out the building -- either by nailing it with a rocket-propelled grenade from far away or sneaking up and planting charges.

Or you want to make it harder for the other team to score in Retrieval, the capture-the-flag game? Blow up strategic bridges and make them take the long way around.

I've literally been taken out in a match by some lucky punk who missed shooting me and instead broke the wooden plank above my head, which fell and smashed in my noggin. And I think that's cool.

Really, the only thing wrong with the maps is that, while they are perfect in scale for matches of 10 to 16 people, they are way too large to comfortably accommodate smaller groups. There's just too much room to run around and get lost, and that really disrupts the pace of game-play.

As far as what weapons you get to use, well, that depends on the character class you choose to play at any given moment. Riflemen get automatic rifles, Gunners have heavy machine guns, Snipers get sniper rifles, Support get shotguns, and Recon ... well, they get long-range rifles, but that class is locked initially. You don't get to play as Recon until you've leveled up other classes first.

All the weapons are customizable to a point, with different sights, suppressors and other attachments available for purchase as long as you've got the in-game cash and the appropriate rank. Oh, and there's two kinds of ranks: your overall rank and your class rank. For weapons, it's the class rank that matters. In other words, you've got to get enough kills with a default gun to unlock the next weapon available for that character class.

Where overall rank matters is in two other areas of customization: perks and gadgets. You get one of both per class, though they're the same across the board.

Perks personalize your character with various buffs or abilities. For instance, one improves your ability to survive a headshot. Another extends the radius of damage you cause with explosives.

And Gadgets are based on real-world equipment, meant to make your life easier in the field. DragonSkin armor makes you a little harder to kill. An IR Detector makes it easy to find snipers. The Bionic Ear gives you a sound-based sense of when enemies are near.

As far as leveling up goes, it's what you expect. You get experience points for killing enemies and accomplishing goals during missions. It's fairly novel, however, that higher level players count for more points than newbies do.

Oh, two final words about combat before I attack the worst thing about the game. First, there's a click-to-cover system in place, which allows you to take shelter against any hard structure and blindfire or lean out and fire from cover.

The second is that suppressing the enemy matters. If someone is sending a barrage of bullets your way, your aim will get shakier. It's a neat, seamlessly incorporated effect.

So what's the big problem with "Breach"? All the matches are player-created and hosted. Plus, there's nothing to tell you how good your connection to a particular match would be. This results in several things, the worst being potential lag. If you've got a bad connection in relation to the game's host, you'll find the game will stutter and lag regularly, especially when a lot is going on on-screen.

Another issue is that, in my experience, some game hosts don't take losing well. In the first day the game was available to everyone, I played in numerous matches where the host rage-quitted. Basically, they dropped out just before the game's proper end because they were losing. The result is that that match automatically ends, and any and all points everyone earned go bye-bye.

Sure, the game system tries to make someone else the host, but the new game starts from scratch. And, generally, all the players quit the match in disgust at what just happened.

You can host your own match of course, dictating the match type, map used initially, number of rounds on that map, if there's friendly fire, the number of players allowed and whether you want to be hardcore (no map or HUD, so you don't even know how much ammo you have left.)

Ultimately, while "Breach" isn't a standout in the world of multiplayer shooters, it's a good deal for the price: 1200 points ($15) as an Xbox Live Arcade download, or $19.99 for PC, available through Steam and a few other services.

"Breach"
Platforms: Xbox 360, PC. Reviewed on Xbox 360.
Developer: Atomic Games.
Price: 1200 points for Xbox; $19.99 for PC, available at some retailers or as download from Steam and Direct2Drive.
Rating: T for teen.
Recommendation: It's a solid military shooter worth a look if you want a good multiplayer game.

Image courtesy of Atomic Games
A player is killed by a building-crumbling blast in "Breach."

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