Strategy RPGs scratch a certain itch of mine. Managing teams and armies, manipulating every piece of gear and every little stat to create the ultimate characters in each of their respective fields, and then using them calculatingly to clear a field of enemies is always hugely satisfying to me. In order for all of that to come together though, the game needs clear presentation, strong visuals, and some sort of narrative hook to keep you engaged. Breach & Clear fails on all three of these fronts.
Breach & Clear started out as a mobile game just under two years ago, with a small pricetag and an even smaller amount of content. The development team continued to work on it, adding more levels and items, eventually bringing it over to Steam late last year with a large amount of content. Now the game has been ported to Vita, offering a chance to experience everything the mobile game has to offer in one package, rather than shelling out money on microtransactions to obtain everything piecemeal.
Breach & Clear is framed as a hardcore military simulation tool. In it, you command a customisable squad of four through a series of missions in a variety of different locations. The squad is commanded in a strategy RPG style similar to Fire Emblem or XCOM. Unlike those games however, actions and commands in this game all happen at the same time. Instead of each character acting one by one, you assign everyone their actions and then press start to see it all play out.
There’s nothing very hard-core or realistic about any of this, the game tries to paint itself as something akin to Arma when it’s really just a watered down strategy RPG. That doesn’t make it any less fun. It’s very satisfying to plot your moves and clear a room without any casualties. The fact that you can’t see enemies until they enter your field of vision also helps add to the strategic depth.
There are seven different broad locations, which include China and Mexico, and each of these areas has five selectable levels. You start out with one area, and one level in that area, unlocked. Clearing missions gives you stars based on your performance, and as you collect more stars, new areas and levels will unlock, as well as new weapons to purchase from the shop to equip your characters with. Locations and their visuals are varied; you’ll find yourself in thick forests or sterile office buildings.
The graphics though are not particularly impressive, especially the character models. When the camera is panned back it’s mostly an inoffensive experience, but every time the camera zooms in on your mission-winning kill, you see just how little work was put into giving this game any kind of strong art-style or visual design.
There are also three different mission types that you can play on every level in the game. The default mode, Terrorist Hunt, sees you entering an area and clearing out all enemies as quickly as possible. Some levels only have one or two possible entrances for you to take advantage of, but when they rise to four in some areas, it can create some challenging encounters. Bomb Defusal, meanwhile, adds the further challenge of tracking down and disarming bombs in the level within a time limit.
Oddly enough, the game decides to assign a useless seconds and minutes timer to these sections, but with each turn equating to 5 seconds, it would have made more sense to just tell you how many more turns you have left to act. Finally, Escape Plan has our squad members randomly scattered among a map filled with enemies, and the goal is to guide them all to the designated safe exit. The other two game modes lead you into a thought-process of operating as fast as possible, but this mode seems more focused on slowly eliminating hostiles instead, making it one of the harder mission types.
There’s certainly a decent amount of variety in the gameplay. You even have a large amount of weapons, attachments, and body gear to purchase and equip your characters with. Despite this, though, it’s hard to stay engaged with the content when there’s absolutely nothing hooking you to the experience. The game has no story, no cutscenes, and no dialogue beyond the quips you hear from your characters when you select them. Perhaps the framing of this being nothing more than a “military simulation tool” is an excuse to forgo any kind of story progression, but without a narrative hook, I found myself losing all motivation to play after a couple of missions.
Unlike most strategy RPGs, turns operate in a more real-time format. You don’t individually target and attack enemies, and likewise, there isn’t an enemy turn in which they target you. You assign your squad members their commands, and upon pressing the start button, your characters, as well as every enemy, act all at once. While the game gives you handy numerical popups of how much damage you’ve done or taken, it’s almost impossible to read any of it when everyone is on top of each other, and the turn is playing out in real time with no way to pause or slow it.
Additionally, with no way to specifically target or attack enemies, it’s hard to tell if or how you’ll be able to take them out. A vital part of strategy RPGs is always being able to calculate the numbers, and planning your move based on the pros and cons presented to you. Breach & Clear makes it impossible to perform these calculations, refusing to even let you observe your characters stats when you’re in a mission. Because of this, any tactical planning beyond where to make your characters walk is virtually impossible.
Perhaps the most egregious negative aspect of this game is the visual presentation. When I first started the game, I was presented with a virtually unreadable menu asking me to do something involving making a character. The small, ant-sized text persisted into the main menu, and the rest of the game as well! Maybe it was just me; I wear 3 year old glasses and stare at screens all day, my eyes are probably just overworked. I decided to let my friend take a look at the menu, and he said something along the lines of, “I have better than 20/20 vision and I can’t read any of this”.
Even beyond the molecule-sized text, the in-game visuals worked against me half of the time. Half of the levels are dark and shadowy. The visual aid in this game that shows you the areas of the map you can stand on, a series of octagons, are almost completely black. I’d load into a dark, forest area full of trees and rocks and be immediately overwhelmed, unsure of where I’m even supposed to go. When I turn to my handy octagonal guide, I’m still left just as confused as they blend into 70% of the environment.
Breach & Clear is playable and it is even quite entertaining. Clearing missions and customising characters is satisfying, and the sound design and music help engage the player. Everything else though, does the opposite. Low quality visuals, poor menus, a complete lack of story and game-breaking glitches render this game, at least on this platform, nearly impossible to enjoy in the long term.
Version tested: PS Vita