Namco’s latest release, “Breakdown,” most
resembles not “Halo,” not “Half-Life” and
not even “Goldeneye 007,” but rather “Wolfenstein
3D,” the computer game that some would consider the original
first-person shooter — an indisputably revolutionary game
despite its numerous flaws.

Many of the aesthetic aspects of “Breakdown” are
eerily similar to the 10-year-old “Wolfenstein 3D.” It
shares the same method of eating pieces of food to restore health,
the same deep sense of claustrophobia, the same blocky, pixelated
graphics, the same number of weapons (four — inexcusable in a
modern shooter) and, unfortunately, the same bland, identical
corridors. Fortunately, the sense of elation and surprise that
“Wolfenstein 3D” so famously presented is here as
well.

The highly touted feature of “Breakdown” is its
mandatory use of unarmed combat. While it is refreshing to see a
sorely underdeveloped feature of gaming finally stepping to the
forefront, the presentation of the entire game in what Namco calls
“Total Immersion,” is the truly revolutionary feature
of “Breakdown.” The idea of seeing the main character
rummage through a guard’s dead body to find ammo, vomit into
a toilet and pay money for a soda to replenish health is
intriguing. The fact that the game never breaks away from the
first-person perspective for cut scenes — which makes the
jarring revelations in the story all the more personal — is
entirely unique.

Unfortunately, revolutions are not always perfect, and the
“Total Immersion” system shows that the realism so
frequently sought after by game companies is frequently mundane and
flawed. The time taken to buy the can of soda is frustrating when
it is repeated throughout the entire game. The fact that a game so
bent on realism doesn’t have a dual pistols feature is just
silly, and the sci–fi story that Namco was so secretive about
— the discovery of a secret alien weapon underground —
is pedestrian enough not to evoke wonder. Financially successful
video games like “Halo” are not popular because of
realism; this goal of total immersion is like the answer to a
question that nobody asked.

At brief and sporadic intervals in “Breakdown,”
gamers can sense the same type of creative breakthrough that made
“Wolfenstein 3D” so exciting. That is, if you can
ignore the vomiting of the pedestrian.

Videogame Review: 2 out of 5 stars

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