Hello all! Last week, we checked out an anime-based game some of you likely didn’t even know existed. It had little to do with the source material, but it was a lot of fun.

This week brings us to an Xbox title that’s kind of experimental, though it doesn’t seem that way at first glance. I’ve owned this game for years now, and I’m still trying to decide if I like it, quite frankly.

Whatever this game is about, you can be sure that there will be punching.

Breakdown is an Xbox exclusive from 2004, developed and published by Namco. In this sci-fi yarn, you play as Pro Tagonist *checks notes* you play as Derrick Cole, an amnesiac dude who wakes up in a facility after being injected with T’Langen. T’Langen is a serum designed to create super soldiers—a Super Soldier Serum, if you will.

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It soon all goes to hell, as these things do, and together with Alex Hendrickson, a female agent who’s just sort of there, you make your way through the facility, fighting off soldiers and T’Lan. T’Lan are big, muscular, Drax the Destroyer-types who are impervious to bullets. I mean, guns are hilariously ineffective against them.

“It’s basically a Nerf Blaster here, but take it anyway.”

Luckily, Derrick is full of T’Langen, so he’s able to go toe-to-toe with the giant T’Lan warriors. Breakdown is more accurately described as a first-person-brawler rather than a shooter, as you’ll spend the majority of your time in hand-to-hand combat. The game features a simple, but effective move set. You block when you have to (later, you get the ability to block bullets), and you attack with basic punch/kick combos.

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Bear in mind, again, that this all happens in first-person, so it’s a bit tough to get used to. Even today, there’s not a whole lot of first-person-brawler games like this (well, here’s one). Chivalry comes to mind, also, and the quite excellent Zeno Clash, but they’re generally pretty rare. So it’s hard to judge distances at first, like how far can you punch and kick, and such.

But you do get used to it, and your attacks have plenty of impact; there’s a great sense of power in the audiovisual feedback during the fights. A well-timed charged punch can send your enemies flying; note that they can also do the same to you, knocking you to the ground and causing you to lose your situational awareness for a bit. This can be annoying, particularly when you are surrounded by T’Lan giants who enjoy cracking you in the back of the head.

You can drink cans of juice, too!

I wonder, though, if Breakdown took the first-person philosophy a bit too far. You heal up by eating candy and energy bars and drinking canned juice found throughout the game. Simple...except to pick up a candy bar, you have to first look at the bar, then press X to sort of focus on it. Then you press X to grab it off the table or whatever. Then, you press X again to finally eat the candy bar.

That’s three button presses to use an item, and this same rule applies to any item you choose to interact with, including ammo pickups, which can be aggravating to pick up when enemies are shooting at you. It’s clunky. The whole game, in fact, is clunky overall. There’s an unrelenting stiffness to the whole affair, from the gameplay (punches and kicks have impact, sure, but they’re still stiff) to the story; it’s an inconsequential plot that’s maybe a bit too busy, what with super-soldiers, Derrick gaining the ability to shoot energy blasts (and totally Dragon Ball Z his way through this mess) and time travel, all happening over the course of this maybe eight hour game.

I mentioned earlier how I’m still not sure if I like Breakdown or not. I like that it tried something new. One thing I like to say about games is, I’d rather see a game experiment and fail than just do what everyone else is doing. Breakdown, by this standard, is kind of a hot mess; it did something really new, even if it seemed to forget that a video game consists of multiple parts. Sure, you can have a gimmick, but it can’t be a crutch. And Breakdown’s first-person-brawling is all it has. It’s not even a crutch; it’s more like the support beam for the entire structure. Remove it and it all falls apart.

I mean, is just stepping on things to pick them up not okay? Many developers seem to think so. Even one button is pretty okay, but just picking up a can in Breakdown is a chore, and I keep coming back to that because it sums up the whole game nicely. Much of it feels like a chore, existing only to get you to the next fistfight.

I guess.

There’s just so little here. I guess maybe that’s common in games of the era, but still. None of the characters are particularly interesting, the story is a mess...I like punching the big dudes, but that’s not a game. At best, that’s an idea. It’s a good one, as the games I mentioned up there (Condemned, Chivalry, and Zeno Clash), but one single idea does not a game make, sadly.

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I was really kinda bummed with this replay of Breakdown; the fights can be visceral and fun, but they exist in a void, with nothing interesting happening around them. The time travel twist sounds cool on paper, but really, it just sort of happens awkwardly. Still, the game remains a curiosity on my shelf; the kind of thing I’ll see again in the future, go “huh,” and play it again. Another “one and done” kind of title, Brerakdown is probably worth checking out. If you can deal with all the clunkiness, you can have a decent time.

Thanks always for reading my stuff! As always, leave comments, suggest future games to be featured as Game of the Week, read more of my stuff at Current Digital (like this article on Cibele) and find me on Twitter!

Next week-Brutal, senseless violence meets voyeurism in this...wow, that gave it away. Cheers.