Reviewed: June 20, 2004
Released: April 9, 2004
At first glance Breed seem like a total rip-off of every cliché sci-fi movie, book, and previously released computer game ever made. Even the four-man tactical team-based combat that allows you to cycle to any of the characters can be traced back to games like Space Hulk.
Even the story borrows from popular films, mainly Starship Troopers, with a hive-like alien species bent on the destruction of the human race. To their credit, the Breed are a bit more clever than the insect race in Starship Troopers. Rather than throwing “rocks” at Earth from light-years away the Breed attack the expanding Earth’s outer colonies. When Earth musters up their entire space fleet and sends them off to defend the colonies the Breed flanks the fleet and easily conquers our defenseless planet, killing most and enslaving the rest.
After a seeming victory in the colony wars the remnants of the fleet (one starship, the USC Darwin) limps home to find Earth has a new landlord and they aren’t looking for new tenants. They engage a cloaking device and remain in orbit launching strategic strikes on key objectives to try and retake the planet before the Breed can secure a permanent foothold.
Breed is an ambitious project on a scale destined to redefine “large-scale military conflict”. Brat Designs has created an impressive engine capable of seamlessly transitioning from space to air to ground combat – no loading, no pausing, nothing but action. You can literally drive a tank up to a Falcon fighter, jump in and take to the unfriendly skies. Or how about piloting a dropship through hostile waves of fighters, reentering through the atmosphere, skimming the planet surface taking out ground installations before landing and deploying troops or land vehicles.
But with great ambition comes great responsibility, and Brat has focused too much of their attention on the smaller issues while overlooking the “big picture”. Breed features a lengthy list of impressive features but the list of troublesome bugs, glitches, and annoyances is even longer.
As per the rules of GCM game reviews, the rest of this review is based on the un-patched shipping version of the game. As of this writing there is a patch that fixes a few of the issues but not nearly all of them, and there are so many small annoying issues that it can easily send the most dedicated gamer scrambling for the uninstall button.
The first is the annoying copy protection scheme, which can literally take upwards of three minutes to verify you have the original retail CD in the drive. And you have a 33% chance that even if you do have the CD in the drive the game is going to say you don’t and bail. And if the game bails and you try to run again without restarting the computer a copy of Breed.exe is still left running.
If you are fortunate enough to fall into the 66% group you can sit back for another 40-90 seconds while the game loads, only there is no load screen so you can easily think your game has stalled. The next screen is a pop-up that shows a bunch of game resources loading then you actually get a menu asking if you want to play. This should have had a buzzer on it or perhaps a feature where it could dial my pager number. After all, it’s been over four minutes since I clicked the desktop icon.
Now before you go accusing me of having some lame computer, I was running Breed on a Pentium 4 4.0GHz with a gig of RAM and a bleeding-fast SATA hard drive – exponentially better than even the recommended specs. I did manage to locate a “no CD patch” that eliminated about 2-3 minutes of this annoying wait time, but the recent update patch negated the “no CD patch” so I am once again doing laundry while I wait for Breed to load.
Admittedly, a 3-5 minute wait to play a good game is tolerable but not when that game dumps you randomly or slips into some eternal bug that forces you to restart. Simple things like saving a game or loading a game can trigger all sorts of crazy events. I was 24 minutes into one mission and I saved my game. I died shortly thereafter and I tried to load that save and the planet was gone – my men appearing to fall into a sunset sky to their deaths. Bailing entirely out of the game and restarting was the only way to get the landscape back (and this was the patched version).
One you get into the game and assuming you can stay in the game for a lengthy period of time there is actually some good gameplay to be had, but even here there are some imbalances and problems starting with squad-AI.
The first several missions have you in control of a four-man (or rather 3 men and one woman) strike-team. You are free to play as any of these characters and switch to them at will. The three you aren’t controlling are handled by the computer and respond to commands your character issues via the function keys.
With a single keystroke you can deploy your team, regroup your team, change formation, request additional ammo, or a med kit. Movement is troublesome since your sniper is very fast and your heavy gunner is equally as slow. Keeping your team together is nearly impossible, and there are pathfinding issues that still haven’t been patched. Characters can get caught behind a rock, a tank, or slip down a cliff that is impossible to get back up. Even worse, they will fall into water, and nobody can swim in this game.
Even with the spotty AI there are some moments of sheer brilliance. Once, I got caught reloading in the middle of a firefight and was about to die when my teammate cut in front of me and took out my target for me. Sure, it was pure luck, but it was one of those movie moments. Enemy AI is merely average, relying more on numbers than tactics, but even so there were those few random moments where two or three Breed soldiers distracted my team while 20 flanked my “six”.
But much like the game, when the gameplay mechanics are working Breed is a lot of fun, and any lapses in the AI can be more than made up for by simply cycling through the squad and micro-managing the mission. A good example is the first mission where you could go in guns blazing and shoot the place up. This strategy works and is exciting, but also needlessly dangerous.
Instead, you can assume control over your sniper and creep ahead sniping Breed from the cliffs, from the hover-tanks cockpits and gunnery turrets. In fact, taking out the long-range turrets is a huge tactical advantage to this game and thanks to an unrealistic sniper range and accuracy; you can take down Breed from miles away. I actually fired and counted to six before the target dropped.
There is an impressive selection of vehicles in Breed, both ground and air. You can jump into a buggy and buzz over the landscape with a chaingun clearing the path. There are also transport vehicles and tanks where multiple members of your squad can mount various weapon turrets and defends the vehicle as you drive, or let the AI drive and you can take over the weapons. It’s pretty flexible and total fun.
Aerial combat is an interesting element to the game but not nearly as fleshed out as it should be. The crafts are VTOL so you can hover to gain altitude before kicking in the jets and skimming the landscape. You have direct-fire rockets and lock-on air-to-air missiles but there is no way to lock onto ground targets.
Weapons are excellent and you have a good assortment of futuristic firepower as well as access to alien weaponry. Most weapons have secondary functions and can carry obscene amounts of ammo so there is seldom a fear of running out, at least for non-specialty weapons. Fortunately, you will find supply pods scattered along your waypoint path so you can reload on grenades and sniper ammo just about the time you need to.
Health is handled with an interesting twist. Your soldiers are all genetically engineered and have the ability to slowly heal. As long as you remain above 50% you will heal back up to 90% but if you drop to 25% or lower your health slowly drops as you bleed out and die. Of course, you can summon medical assistance from anyone on your team and get up to a stable or self-healing level. There are also special health pick-ups that will take you well above 100% but this slowly ticks back down to 100% over time.
The mission design is nicely varied and takes place in several unique environments scattered about various continents around the world. Each mission has multiple waypoints and these will often update mid-mission giving the game a deceptively unscripted feel, at least the first time you play it.
Breed is based on an engine that has been in development for three years and subsequently looks like a three-year old game, at least when compared to modern marvels like Far Cry, Halo, and Unreal Tournament 2004. To its credit, the game world is massive, going from the depths of the ocean to high in Earth’s orbit, and the view distance rivals that of Far Cry only with far less detail.
Breed takes place mainly outdoors and most of those environments are sparsely populated. You get patches of trees, the occasional rock, and some of the nicest rippled water you will see in a three-year old graphics engine, but the terrain has a very low polygon count – you can actually see the triangles and creases in the “rolling” hills and mountains.
Naturally, this allows for the massive draw distance while keeping the game playable, but there is definitely some pop-up, especially when you are flying around. Trees will draw in followed by their shadows popping up beneath them. Then you will see the glow of the Breed weapons followed by the actual aliens appearing holding that weapon, but all of this is at the outer limits of the horizon. Everything within a tactical strike range is superbly drawn and animated.
There are a few indoor levels but these are simplistic in design and decoration. The Mercury engine is definitely geared for outdoor environments and that is where it shines, but there are some moments of colorful and animated texture design that really made the indoor sections a pleasant diversion from fighting outside.
The HUD is excellent with intelligent icons along the top of the screen indicating the various functions of the command keys. The circular mini-map is nicely detailed and quite helpful, but can easily be toggled off if you want to see the real world. The team info shows each team member and their current health while the larger meter shows your current health. If you are in a vehicle you get speed and altitude readings along with a compass heading. Your current weapon is also indicated in the lower-right corner along with total ammo and any remaining ammo in the current clip.
The music in Breed is a unique mix of techno and rock with a subtle sci-fi military theme that is hard to describe. Some of the music even has lyrics. Much of the game will be played in silence then a big battle will trigger some intense synthesized music that really complements the combat. While it doesn’t begin to approach the majesty of the Halo soundtrack with it’s haunting choir, Breed offers its own unique signature style.
You are either going to love or hate the voices. I really enjoyed the gravely voice of the commander who leads you through the tutorial and then communicates with you before and during the missions. He even drones on during the menus with endless patriotic banter trying to motivate and encourage his troops in what is almost assuredly a hopeless situation. The voices of my team were a bit melodramatic and if I hear my sniper squeal “OW” one more time I’ll kill her myself. I did appreciate the calls of “Breed at 5 o’clock”, etc.
Breed gets better the longer you play it. There are 18 missions and you can expect about that many hours, at least on the normal skill setting. You can crank it up to increase the challenge if you wish and probably get a max of 30 hours, crashes and restarts not withstanding.
Breed claims support for up to 32 people in a variety of traditional online game modes. I’ve been playing the game for nearly a month prior to this review and the most I’ve ever seen at GameSpy Arcade even playing was four people and most of the time its just one or two. If you glance at the forums there are people claiming the multiplayer “kicks ass” but until I can actually find somebody playing, that feature and those claims will remain untested.
Admittedly, a solid multiplayer experience would benefit this title immensely, the giant maps and multi-station ships and crafts are all perfectly suited to massive online combat but I think the single player game really needs some attention before anyone worries about multiplayer.
If Breed had released two years ago, or even last year, it would have taken the gaming world by storm, but now it seems it’s too little too late, and when combined with the troublesome bugs and odd glitches, most gamers aren’t going to tolerate the problems to enjoy what is otherwise an ambitious and extremely fun alien shooter.
A recent patch has fixed several small issues but be warned that all of your previous saves will be deleted and you will be starting over. The initial load time is unforgivable and unfathomable in today’s world of high-end PC’s, especially for an engine three years old. The copy protection is worthless as anyone wanting to steal the game will do so leaving legitimate owners suffering through a lengthy and buggy disc check.
If you can suck it up long enough to get to the main menu you will find a very unique shooter with a mix of squad and personal combat that ranges from ground to air to space. Breed is a refreshing diversion from a game like Halo but it’s certainly no substitute.
GCM Update: During the final edit of this review GCM has heard allegations from Brat Designs that CDV had shipped a non-final version of the game. CDV has not publicly refuted these claims, but it would certainly explain the overwhelming problems found in the retail release.