Breakdown review

A game with enormous potential, says Edge. Pity about the irksome gameplay, then...

It's arguable that upping the amount of manual labour in a game can sometimes be a good thing. Having a strong work ethic (as in, say, Morrowind or Shenmue) can be a way of grounding the player in the game world, of strengthening the illusion through a deliberate use of dullness. Small wonders become greater when they feel like you are getting a reward. Entering a new town in Morrowind feels all the more exotic, actual and populated when you've just had to trek across a square mile of wasteland. Of course, this idea of flatpack gaming - where the player is rewarded just as much by the DIY as the result - is as fatally boring to some as it is engaging to others.

Breakdown, thanks to its persistence on keeping the player in firstperson for the entirety of the game, comes so very close to hitting the sweet trade-off of increased immersion for increased legwork. The plot is hokum - lifted nearly wholesale from Half-Life but made enjoyable by the consistency of the viewpoint. Having to play through cut-scenes is an excellent reinforcement of the game world, and there are plenty of times where you feel embedded: shimmying round the outside of an office block at a dizzying height, puking poison out of your mouth or reeling from a rocket blast emphasises your role and relationship with the world around you.

Breakdown is far more cumbersome than it needs to be. Having to hold each piece of ammo up to your face is just one chore too far, for example, but the awkwardness extends into far more important places: fist-fighting is imbalanced to the point of ruin. Against multiple opponents, it's a jagged, unholy mess - against just one opponent, it's a triviality. And navigating the game is a maze of invisible walls leading ultimately to a linear pathway, which is fine if the set-pieces are strong, but they're not. The environments, while large and pocked with some detail, are monotonous and monochrome. Every time the player steps into some new scenery, they'll be kept there for the next hour or so of play. In particular, the last few hours are so identikit - both in terms of location and each particular confrontation - that the grandeur needed to drive the experience is absent.

The result of all this? The sensation that you're playing something with enormous potential. However, those moments where you feel justice being done are few, and a brave mess is still, after all, a mess.

Breakdown is out on Xbox on 18 June

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