10th Apr 2004 | 15:20
The story of Breed is a long and troubled one. We're not going to bore you with the sordid (or so we hear) details, but suffice it to say this sci-fi shooter has been in development since the beginning of time, was looking really nice about 18 months ago, and even as little as a year back was still being touted (not unreasonably) as Britain's answer to Halo. Fast-forward to 2004, and Breed doesn't look so hot any more. Not only has the genre (large-scale vehicle-based shooting) advanced immeasurably in the past 12 months, but the game itself has been finished with all the finesse of a plane crash. Indeed, rather than being 'polished' in its final months of development, it seems to have been beaten around the head and neck with a sock full of rusty wheel nuts.
Clearly, we're disappointed. What was looking like a really classy and distinctive triple-A title has emerged as something less than that. But rather than lamenting the wasted potential here, we're going to pick ourselves up and muster a bit of objectivity. And on that basis, Breed is not a total write-off.
I Can See For Miles
For a start, the game looks rather lovely. The proprietary Mercury engine is skewed towards rendering vast outdoor environments, and it does this with some aplomb, offering huge play-fields and a draw distance to rival Far Cry. You'll find island chains linked by imposing bridges, rocky canyons cut through desert hills and snow-swept tundra dotted with alien installations. Admittedly it all looks a bit samey, but pretty nonetheless.
Similarly, the weapons, vehicles and characters are very easy on the eye. Your own USC forces favour chunky Aliens-inspired hardware, with exo-suits, heavy assault rifles and lumbering tanks, while your robotic antagonists lean towards blue plasma effects, mosquito-like Stinger units and anti-grav craft. Clearly, there's a talented art team at work here.
The gameplay also has its strong points, not least among them sheer variety. In the brief training stages, you're taught how to command a squad of USC troops, with a rudimentary orders system and the ability to switch characters at will. This initially seems to be the default playing style, but you actually find yourself doing surprisingly little squad-based FPSing. Within the first few hours of the game, you'll face missions involving driving tanks, manning gun turrets, infiltrating bases and dogfighting in a zippy space-fighter.
But while I could carry on listing trivial redeeming features all day, it's just dodging the issue. For no matter how pretty the game or how varied the gameplay, Breed is B-grade fare at best. It has an amateurish, low-budget feel throughout, not to mention some laughably poor design decisions.
Let's start with some basic technical stuff. Yes the graphics are quite nice, and two years ago the Mercury engine was looking slightly ahead of the curve; but now, it's just plain dated. Things like collision and physics are way behind today's Havok standards, resulting in clipping issues and floating corpses not seen since last century. The draw distance may be vast, but enemies still only come into view within a certain range, and often appear literally from thin air.
While such things may be partially excused, other problems can only be described as straight-out bad coding. Take the AI. To put it nicely, it's dog dirt. Just a few examples of your team-mates' incompetence include: a complete inability to use cover or even move when being fired upon; abysmal path-finding that sees them getting stuck behind every available piece of architecture when in 'follow' mode; an inability to use lifts and other devices; and a propensity to throw themselves off cliffs and drown themselves in nearby bodies of water. (Though with a game this depressing, maybe that's the best sign of intelligence you could hope for.) As for the enemy Breed, the best they can manage is the occasional barrel roll.
Worse still, the missions are simply dull. The overall storyline isn't a bad one (the alien Breed have taken over the Earth and only one orbiting battleship remains to fight back), but once again, it's all gone to waste. The missions are poorly put together, with seemingly random objectives, no sense of tension or pace, and zero reward for completion. The vast environments are rarely put to good use, and though the experience is somewhat saved by the vehicles, it's hardly enough to justify the trouble.
There's also a complete lack of characters in which to take an interest. Aside from a couple of weak protagonists later on, you're stuck solely with your CO, an archetypal battle-scarred veteran whose job is to read out mission objectives in a ridiculously over-egged military growl. In short, he's a cock.
This brings us to probably my favourite thing about Breed - the diabolical voice-acting. I'm not kidding here. It honestly sounds like the developers have blown their sound budget on hookers and got some mates from down the pub to have a go instead. My favourite has to be the Scottish heavy gunner, whose unconvincing highland burr yields such gems as: "Help us oot mun, I need more armo." Any remnant of credibility Breed still possessed goes rapidly out the window at this point.
I could go on. I could mention the clumsy 'my first synthesiser' musical score, the many glaring bugs, the lack of squad tactics - but we've only got so many pages.
Obviously, Breed is a huge disappointment. It's not the worst game in the world, but it is a frustrating and flawed game that will only reward the most forgiving of players. And as much as it pains us to say this after all the expectation, Halo-beater it is not.