Keith's Crappy Videogame Blog


Breed (PC, 2004, Germany): You Win, I Lose
October 6, 2010, 4:11 am
Filed under: Breed (PC, 2004, Germany)

I really hate to admit it, but this game beat me, rather than me beating it. It’s not the first time I’ve encountered a game that, for a variety of reasons, I just couldn’t entirely finish. Sometimes it’s because I simply don’t have the chops–blame it on the deteriorating eye-hand coordination of a dude in his mid-40s. But sometimes, it’s the game’s fault, period. Sometimes the game is so broken or confusing or imbalanced that finishing it is a near-impossibility (for me—that’s not to say that others aren’t able to finish it, but due to what I consider game design flaws, I was not capable of it). And considering the massive pile of crap I’ve managed to slog through (and enjoying every minute of it, mind you), a game REALLY has to be broken for me to uninstall it not having gotten to the end. “Breed” is bestowed with that rare honor. I came damn close—but two chapters from the end, I had to bail. Oh, well.

Breed’s history is just as rocky as my “interrupted encounter” with it. The game was Germany’s Halo-Killer, plain and simple. (EDIT: As noted in the comment by Spo below, Brat was actually a UK developer, not a German developer. The game was ultimately put on shelves by the German publisher CDV, but was completed by a team of Brits. [I’m using the term “completed” very loosely.] So perhaps it is safer to say that Breed was Europe’s Halo-Killer? Thanks Spo.) Brat’s plan was to release the PC-only title quickly to cash in on the Halo frenzy of the time. If they timed it just right, they’d have geeky consumers snapping up an obviously Halo-inspired title for PC, while the rest of the chumps could only play the actual Halo on their crappy Xboxs. More of the same is good, right?

Good plan, but they hadn’t learned the lesson we have all since acknowledged. Bill Gates owns you (and he can see into the future, actually). By the time Brat and publisher CDV got around to placing the (ahem) “game” on store shelves, Microsoft had ported “Halo” to the PC almost a year prior. Ah, the best laid plans…

Well, it wouldn’t have worked anyway, mostly because the game, as it was shipped, was apparently a massive wreck. It’s sort of a tiny bit of internet lore at this point in time, but the game, new on the shelf, was so buggy most people could not play it at all. After reports of game crashes in the hundreds, nay thousands, started to appear, Brat (the developer) said CDV had released an early, buggy, incorrect copy of the game. Publisher CDV said that they released what they were given by Brat—an incomplete product. Everybody called their lawyers, I would imagine. In the end, no one took responsibility, and this left loads of gamers with the same extremely bad taste in their mouth (and lots of expletives on various forums). A whole year later, some extra coders were brought in to “finish” the game, and it was released again, mostly in Europe (known as the “Xplosiv” edition). Xplosiv, indeed. Ouch.

I was completely unaware of this ancient history. So, years later (and possessing technology far outweighing the game’s recommended system requirements), I bought an original crud copy for a few pennies on Amazon. And, indeed, it would not run. It would not recognize the CD in the machine; then once I managed to overcome that problem, an “invalid CD key” message floated persistently on screen and locked me out of the game, something to do with the copy protection scheme not behaving properly. Sheesh. I hunted around for update patches, applied one, and still no go.

Like many folks (when they bought the game brand new in 2004), the only way I could manage to play the it was due to the efficiency and inventiveness of the internet gaming nerds themselves. I downloaded an “illegal” no-CD-crack (that allows you to play the game even if you never bought the CD and downloaded the game illegally). This “crack” bypassed the problem (even though I did have the CD), and voila! “Breed” came alive on my monitor. (Well, such as it is—in fact, even after overcoming this issue, when I failed a mission and had to restart a chapter more than three times, the game would invariably crash to desktop. Sigh. So I had to do the unthinkable and download all the gamesaves for each chapter, simply so I had access to the entire game—and, yes, I had to use them when a few of the single-player chapters went so haywire that I could not finish them.) Playing on a machine that is 6 years newer than the game itself and outpaces the recommended specs four-fold, you wouldn’t think I’d have all this trouble—but no planet-moving CPU can outrun poor programming.

So, was it worth all the trouble? It’s a tough question, but if you were to ask the extremely hardcore 20 or so online players who call themselves “the last of the breed” (look them up on Yahoo groups) and still host matches from time to time in the year 2010, “Breed” is first-class, old school gaming all the way. I can hear the drunken cries now: “They just don’t make them like this anymore!” Not being an online player myself, my take on the game is slightly different. But before that, story first.

And yes, there is an actual backstory. Like many of these epic European sci-fi shooters, there’s a bulky booklet accompanying the game that discusses—in detail—the backstory. It is also a given that this backstory rarely, if ever, actually materializes in the game itself. It’s like the 2 things—the printed story in the booklet and the videogame appearing on screen—are two separate entities connected only tangentially. Even worse, the story is not all that compelling: In the year 2600, we’ve colonized lots of planets; eventually we come into contact with a hostile race we call “The Breed”

(ohhhh—never saw it coming). We take a year to build and send two massive ships full of supplies and grunts to defend the outer colonies. We reach the area, have a big fight lasting years, and sorta win. Only one of our massive ships, the Darwin, survives to make the trip back home though. But OH NO! When we return to Earth-proper in the year 2625, we find that the battle was merely a diversion and that The Breed circumvented us and have taken over Earth, enslaving mankind. Boo! (But you know what’s really funny? At this point in time, again 2010, I’m playing another little-known game on the side called “Halo: Reach,” and the story [while perhaps more detailed] frankly isn’t all that different.) So, from there in the Darwin, which orbits Earth but is shielded from The Breed’s scanners, you and your pal grunts (genetically whipped up aboard the Darwin whenever needed, none of which are named, including your faceless self) embark on 18 distinct missions to try and take down the invaders.

In the hierarchy of clichéd narratives, this one is WAY down there—even I, a complete sci-fi sap, have difficulty getting stoked about this setup. But there you have it.

Graphics running on the Mercury Engine (apparently developed by Brat Designs specifically for the game about 3 years before the game was “finished” [I’m being facetious]), the maps are massively massive, and most of the game takes place outdoors. (The developers, at some point when hopes were still running high, planned on releasing modding tools, but it is hard to really know whether or not this came about in any official way; some modders wrote scripts to change aspects of the game, but these are not entirely user-friendly for the non-technical game-lovers among us.) Nevertheless, the draw distance of the Mercury Engine stretches for miles, easily outdistancing the original Halo, and perhaps even Far Cry; it feels like you can see into infinity. You can climb mile-high structures and look far below at ant-sized opponents. You can scan far into the horizon where flying warships float in the sky and disappear into the distance. The only problem is that this gigantic universe of space is pretty much empty; par for the course and for the time, the maps lack a decent amount of detail, and repeated patterns can often be seen in flat surfaces at a distance. What you get here are huge spaces, yeah, but they’re generally devoid of…anything. A few trees, a few hills, a few structures, and a massive empty blob of repeating blue lines indicating an ocean, or a gigantic empty square of brown indicating land. It’s basic. So sightseeing is not really on the agenda, generally speaking, but no one can complain of the game feeling claustrophobic (after all, there are plenty of other issues to complain about).

So, let’s complain a bit: Some of the missions are timed, which seems ludicrous. The developers provide a massive world to explore, but then take away the exploration possibilities by timing the missions. Wow, was this ever frustrating to me—a natural sightseer in games. This is purely nonsensical.  Don’t meet your objective in 5 minutes? Game over. Yes, a timer achieves the goal of adding tension to the gameplay, but to me the cost—becoming less immersed in the playspace by refusing players the opportunity for lone exploration of this giant world–is too great. Bad move, Brat Designs. Ugh.

In some ways, it seems the game attempted to accomplish too much. What I mean is this: Sections of the game where you are walking with your squad across the massive terrain, taking out enemies, sniping alien encampments at a distance—those segments (while not necessarily inspired) worked fairly well in Halo-style, and there was some good gaming to be had in small doses. There were “on-foot” moments where I was completely enamored with the game—fun stuff. But this game had bigger notions than immersive on-foot missions. So, we move onto the flying sequences–which were some of the most broken gaming moments I’ve had the misfortune to encounter. The various ships are difficult to fly and seem to inexplicably stall (inevitably leading to a crash), and aiming at opponents in a dogfight is next to impossible, even with guided missiles. I’m no regular flight sim kinda guy, but I don’t think this is how any flying vehicle—simulated or not—is supposed to handle. To make things worse, a serious design flaw can completely hinder any possibility of finishing a mission without a serious restart: Namely, these flying doohickeys have limited ammo. Don’t meet your objectives within the allotted ammo? You are out of luck and back at the beginning of the mission, grumbling loudly. Now, maybe I’m a wuss, and maybe I’m spoiled, but piling limited ammo on top of a handicapped flying vehicle that behaves inexplicably a times? Insult added to injury. (These flying sequences were actually why I couldn’t finish the last 2 chapters—when seeing that each of them began with flying, and after dozens of earnest deaths later attempting them, the game went bye-bye off my hard drive. Instead, I watched the actual [lame cliffhanger] ending of the game on some dude’s YouTube channel who, apparently, is a much more patient and persistent gamer than I.)

But flying wasn’t the only big problem here. Let’s not forget the driving sequences—equally awful and irritating—slow tanks that refuse to steer (which, by the way, you are allowed to exit for about 15 seconds, but if you don’t climb aboard immediately, a nonsensical “mission failure” will appear). Not done yet: Then there’s the on-rail shooting sequences which are mind numbingly irritating as well—watching helplessly as enemies (who you cannot target due to the limited range of a turret gun) pound you into the ground—oh, and the turret guns run out of ammo too (mission start, here we come again). Ugh.

All of this comes down to a simple case of reaching too far. Seriously, for me anyway, if the devs had left it simple (a variety of on-foot missions in various locales with varying objectives, and a few other types of sequences sparsely thrown in here and there), we would at least have had a playable game—middling, but playable. But any immersive fun offered by the on-foot missions (and, trust me, there’s a lot of good stuff here) quickly dissipates when a cut scene takes you back into the cockpit or a ground vehicle for some repeated crashing and dying. Groan.

I really wanted to like this game, and I had a brief love affair with it…but ultimately, it’s an ornery, broken game that beat me into the ground. The cliffhanger ending suggests, with no hesitation whatsoever, that there WILL be a “Breed 2” and that you WILL, indeed, play it. Time (and sales figures, no doubt) had completely different plans on that front. In other words: Not gonna happen.

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