Well well, it's finally here. Technical problems scuppered a planned preview of Breed last year and we applied the patch to the review copy before proceeding, only to find that that stopped the review code from working too. Two installations later we were able to get in on the act and see how the finished product looked.
Taking an extra six months out from Halo's release at least minimizes many comparisons, which is fortunate, seeing as Bungie's title has had a two-year head start on another format. To recap the short history lesson for those not eagerly awaiting this squad-based shooter, Breed's early betas were (in our opinion, mistakenly) released, and received a savaging from the community after a year of hype. When the next demo didn't run much better that further dented anticipation for the game.
Therefore it's good to be able to report that the graphics while playtesting were smooth shiny and polished, though our Radeon card had some part to play in this improvement of looks as well as the tweaking under the hood. Any gamer used to Hidden And Dangerous or Syndicate will be at home with the multiple character control and using a different squad member for a given situation. Also there was enough of a negative reaction to the godawful voiceover adorning the training mode demo that in the main game anyway, it's either a different actor or they went for another take. He now spells out the initials for Heads Up Display rather than calling it the “Heeoood” like he did in the demo. The alternative voice takes a lot longer to grate. Sounds are also suitably meaty though I turned off the music straight away to concentrate.
One piece of advice early on…play the sniper and let the others back you up. It's slightly sexist (although tactical) that this character takes damage the most quickly and easily. The “death drain” that affected your squad in the demo has been tweaked; health now has to fall below 40 before it stops auto-healing, and from 10 health you basically have just over that number of seconds to find a health pack otherwise the character dies. That gives some time to retreat when under bombardment which wasn't in those early versions. The other reason for sniping to cover your teammates is of course, your own accuracy tends to be better and you never can tell when the sniper will switch to her automatic rifle and drill the Breed close-up, letting artillery bombard everyone to death. Hill-based aliens will need similar pinpoint sniping as the range is longer than the rifles and shotgun, though if you had time you could try grenades. It makes for frenetic melee combat and while it's annoying that your teammates sometimes bump you and get in the way of your shot, you can't say that wouldn't really happen in battle. This is where Halo has the advantage though; as your fellow Marines would usually jump in a Warthog and help you fight and you're a cyborg, you're more likely to care about not catching them in a crossfire than here in Breed.
The squad commands also have to be mastered for you to get the most out of the game, I didn't mind the three squaddies running around shooting anything else while I was sniping, they needed little in the way of micromanagement except during the toughest bombardments and really the game held my interest on terra firma. Once I had to start flying around it was like playing a console-based Star Wars spin-off and forced me to re-suspend disbelief even if there were many point-and-shoot-relevant target moments. Thankfully the use of Breed and human tanks and gun emplacements on the ground made up for this.
There's already been a patch release for the first set of bugs, which is why we didn't push many complaints about characters getting stuck or spontaneously dying after falls- we only had one incident of the latter during testing and that was on our unpatched review code. The truth after three years from engine code to finished game, is that Breed isn't rubbish, but its expanded ideas came too late to make it a hit when Halo has had a six-month head start on the PC.
Knowing all this beforehand, somebody took the decision to lower the RRP so now that it's not a full-priced game, enough people took a chance on it to send it into the lower reaches of the charts. So the project wasn't totally in vain. Brat Designs answered their critics with some nifty extra development so that on the looks front at least, there wasn't much for me to pick holes in. It started out life at £20, in summer sales don't be surprised if this falls to £10 quickly and when it does, don't entirely rule out giving it a try, especially in the face of no new maps at all for multiplayer Halo. In spite of “getting away” with the negative advance word of mouth, Brat and CDV need to make sure anything released to the community to play is something they would personally pay £30 for themselves- and hire better acting talent for the voices from the start. That way we won't end up with Brat programming the FPS Equivalent of Z to Halo's Command And Conquer series, again. Like recent newcomer Painkiller, the extra point here takes its midprice cost into account. Even if we've convinced you to give it a go, play the final demo and don't pay more than £15 for it.