Breach & Clear (Vita): A Short Pause Review
Title: Breach & Clear
Developer: Mighty Rabbit Studios
Platforms: PlayStation Vita
Price: $14.99 (PSN)
With the exception of Clash of Clans, Words with Friends, and Super Stickman Golf 2, I’ve never found myself enthralled with mobile gaming. Sure, there are a ton of well-received games like Hearthstone available on the iPhone now, but I’ve never warmed up to the idea of touchscreen-only gaming. There are those games which manage to rise above my input bias though, and Breach & Clear, which launched on mobile devices in 2013, is one of them. I was a huge fan of this tactical strategy game when it released on iOS a few years back, and I’ve spent more time with it than almost any other mobile game not named Clash of Clans. When I first started playing it, I thought to myself, “This would be so cool to play on the PlayStation Vita, especially with trophy support!” Well, that day has finally arrived; Mighty Rabbit Studios has brought this addicting military strategy game to Sony’s portable gaming system and, despite some technical issues and a strange menu layout, it’s pretty much the same addicting experience I remember it to be.
Breach & Clear is described as a turn-based strategy game, but there are also RPG elements sprinkled throughout. When you first boot up the game, you’re prompted to choose one of seven different factions to play as, each one excelling in a specific stat that differentiates one group from the next. For example, the SEALS begin with their Reaction stat 75% complete, whereas the S.A.S. begin with 75% of their Evasion stat complete. How you approach strategy games will ultimately determine which faction you should align with, as ranking up your stats takes quite a bit of time. Each time a member of your fireteam ranks up, you only get five points to apply to any of their six abilities. When choosing your fireteam, there are six different classes to choose from for each of your four members, including Medic, Intelligence, and Fireteam Leader options. Each class has unique perks that will boost both individual and team abilities. There’s a lot to take into consideration here, so make sure you take your time building a team that will fit your overall scheme in combat.
Speaking of combat, while this may be a top-down tactical shooter that gives you a bird’s-eye view of the action, there are still moments of sheer intensity when you see your plan coming together — or completely backfiring. You start each mission by choosing which entry points you want your team to start from; do you want all four troops to come through Point A, or should you split your fireteam up into groups of two and breach from two different entry points? You can even choose to use a lockpick to breach, which greatly reduces your team’s chances of alerting any nearby enemies, gaining you the element of surprise. If you’re the type who likes to announce your presence with authority, slap a breach charge on the door and blast your way in. If you’re lucky, you’ll kill any nearby enemies with the blast. My favorite tactic is to stack up two troops at one door, use the breach charge, and bust in weapons hot. While all of the enemies around the map direct their attention to the noise, I then have two other soldiers, armed with silenced weapons, use the lockpick method and make their way through the facility stealthily, dropping enemies who are focused on my two obnoxious party crashers. There are multiple ways you can approach each mission, and you can mix-and-match soldiers and tactics as you please.
Once the initial excitement of the breach has passed, it becomes a vigorous game of chess between you and the enemy AI, which — for the most part — proves to be very challenging. When you make your way through the map, you will be able to direct your fireteam’s movements, positioning, and aiming direction with each turn. You can only move a certain distance per round, and that distance varies depending on the speed with which you choose to move your soldiers. If you choose Normal Speed, they can move a greater distance, but their accuracy will suffer. On the flip side, choosing Half Speed will sacrifice distance for much better accuracy. It’s also important to make sure your troops are looking in the right direction as they move along the path you’ve chosen; checking corners and doorways from behind cover before entering a particular area will be beneficial to your fireteam’s survival. How quickly you dispatch of enemies will depend entirely on your strategy, team skills, and equipped weapons and attachments for your soldiers. The class-specific special perks I mentioned earlier come into play during combat as well. For example, Fireteam Leaders have the ability to draw enemy fire for one turn, which allows you to flank other members of your squad to get in a better position to eliminate an immediate threat. Weapons specialists are able to lay down suppressive fire in a chosen direction, which may allow you to move a wounded solider out of harm’s way so that they can heal themselves during the next round. There is a lot of depth and strategy that comes into play here, and it’s quite rewarding to see your well-oiled machine execute a plan flawlessly to get the perfect 4-star rating at the end of the match. These ratings are based on how long it takes you to complete a mission, as well as the survival of all of your fireteam members.
The stars you earn as you progress will not only unlock new areas of operation, but also higher levels of difficulty for each area. You’ll want to make sure your fireteam is ranked up significantly before you jump into any mission on the Insane difficulty level. Speaking of unlockables, there are a total of 24 weapons you can buy with in-game currency (which you earn from each mission), but some of the later weapons will require a concerted effort on your behalf if you hope to unlock them all. The same thing applies to the areas of operation; at first you’re restricted to Afghanistan, but as you complete missions and gain stars, you’ll open up the other six areas. Each area of operation has five maps, and each map is available for the three game modes that are included. Terrorist Hunt is exactly as it sounds, requiring you to eliminate all of the terrorists around the map. Bomb Defusal (my personal favorite) not only tasks you with eliminating enemies protecting an armed bomb that’s counting down, but also necessitates you get your soldiers in position to defuse it. Make sure you position the rest of your team to cover whoever is defusing the bomb, because another wave of enemies will move in to try and prevent you from doing so. Lastly, there is Escape Plan — the weakest of the modes — where you have to try to maneuver your team through the map to an extraction point. Even though there are only three game modes here, the variety in level design throughout each of the areas of operation keeps things from becoming repetitive and stagnant.
While the strategic gameplay is as engaging as ever, the Vita version of Breach & Clear unfortunately sports some glaring issues, some of which may be addressed post-launch via an update. As of right now though, it’s hard not to notice them. First, Breach & Clear suffers from some lengthy load times, especially when compared to the iPhone version which performs much better. It’s not a deal breaker, but when it comes to gaming on the go and playing in short bursts, load screens are much more of a hassle to deal with. I also encountered a few bugs during combat. Occasionally, after selecting a certain movement speed for a soldier, if I were to go back to try to change it, the game would hang up and I’d have to select different characters or actions in order to reset that character’s move. I even had the game crash back to the Vita’s XMB because of this issue. My other complaint is the menu and user interface, which is sort of a mess right now, and pales in comparison to the much better design found in the iPhone version. In fact, it’s not even close. The text on the screen is super small and can be difficult to read if don’t have the Vita up to your face. Maneuvering through the menus is a little wonky as well, and it takes a little getting used to. I’m not going to say this is a lazy port — I don’t have the first clue how hard or easy it may be to bring a game over to another system — but it doesn’t feel like this game was optimized for the Vita very well. Hopefully, these are issues that can be addressed by means of an update.
Despite some bugs and a questionable menu design, there’s a lot to like about Breach & Clear on the PlayStation Vita. It offers up an intense, strategic experience for those of you who like to plan your attacks and see them executed to perfection. I would’ve liked to have seen some form of leaderboard support here to help develop a community, and I can’t help but imagine how awesome a multiplayer component would’ve been. That being said, there is enough heated action and strategy on display here to keep you grinding for all those stars (2100 to be exact) and weapons. Watching your team evolve over time to become a truly bad-ass unit and carry out missions flawlessly is incredibly rewarding, and having all of that control in the palm of your hands is a good fit. If you’re able to look past the technical issues and menu design, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more engaging strategy game on the PlayStation Vita. Dismissed, soldier!
- Deep, Strategic Gameplay
- Class Perks & Abilities
- Level Design & Variety
- Randomly Placed Enemies = Replayability
- No Multiplayer or Leaderboards
- Glaring Performance Issues
- Menu Design & Navigation