Jerry Whorebach 10/20/2010 

Breakdown for Xbox (2004)
This game has more Coke than an Atlanta public school.
2004's Breakdown was an abysmal combination of Half-Life, Halo and Enter the Matrix that would have been rightfully eviscerated by the gaming press had it been made by, say, Monolith Productions. Fortunately for Breakdown, it was actually made by Namco, which somehow elevated it from "abject failure by incompetent developers" to "daringly unconventional (if not altogether successful) Japanese take on a quintessentially Western genre". Playing Breakdown, not only did I gain no new insight into the first-person shooter, I actually forgot how much I liked Ridge Racer.

Breakdown's controls are needlessly complex: you move and strafe with the left stick, look and turn with the right, and aim with a crummy automatic lock-on system activated with the A Button. Now, I have no problem with automatic targeting; in fact, my ideal game - Lone Wolf McQuade: El Videojuego, a bone-shattering story of off-road driving and karate - would almost certainly use a Rez-style lock-on system to simulate McQuade's shooting style of holding down the trigger and waving his gun around while stuntmen fall over left and right. My problem with this specific lock-on system is that it simulates nothing so much as being a goddamn literal mongoloid who can't wrap his tiny yellow head around the concept of dual analog controls. (If the Japanese have this much trouble playing Halo, can you imagine what would happen if you put one behind the wheel of a car? I picture the Tokyo highway system as just one long pile-up, where half the people are dead and the other half are snapping pictures of the carnage with cheap, high-quality digital cameras.)

I could complain about the controls all day (for example, can you guess how many presses of the "use" button it takes to pick up and drink a delicious health-restoring soda? THREE!), but then I'd never get to the story, which most reviewers considered one of the game's highlights. Here's what the story is about: I have no idea what the story is about. I played for five hours before the game locked up, either because I was running it in backwards compatibility mode on my 360 or because it was a glitchy piece of shit to begin with, and in all that time I learned NOTHING. Then, after I rebooted my machine, I discovered the autosave I'd been relying on never got written to disk. Not the most conclusive ending, but I'll take it.

The Bottom Lion: I failed one (terrible) vehicle section because I reacted to a bridge collapsing in front of me by slamming on the brakes, when the correct response would have been to just let my jeep plummet over the edge and trust the game to make sure I landed somewhere safe. If your natural response to seeing something happening onscreen is to take your hands off the controller and clap, this might be the game for you. I give it one "paw" out of "roar".

Jerry Whorebach