Breach & Clear

Since I locked horns with the original X-Com as a wee lad, I've had a predilection bordering on the obscene for shunting little soldiers about. Changing stances, providing firing vectors, musing over firearms with the solemnity of a Texan oplophile; there remains little I don't like about the tactical squad strategy milieu. The spatial ownership provided by a good tactical military game always trumps the more intimate fantasy or pre-gunpowder affairs, bows and spears notwithstanding. These modern squad sojourns let me get microscopic with Mother Green and her Fighting Machine and revel in the precision and understanding of small arms combat. 

And now, one of my delights on iOS has busted down the door on Vita. A few niggles aside, Breach & Clear has transitioned wonderfully. Wait for the flashbang shock to wear off and read on. 

For the FNGs, Breach & Clear is a grid-ruled turn-based tactical affair, much in the same vein as the modern XCOM. Strict military hardware and real-world locales in place of aliens and gatling lasers, Breach & Clear has players roaming a variety of maps to bag tangos, defuse bombs and evacuate, scored by time and cleanliness. A four-strong squad can be leveled up and equipped at intermission junctures, with the stockpile of points and cash metered out by mission proficiency. 

Much like Frozen Synapse, Breach & Clear is the distilled result of extracting the original Rainbow Six planning phase and turning it into a fully-fledged experience. Teams can be split and stacked on entries before breaking out the croupier rake and prodding the squad about the map. Unit direction is straightforward; plotting nodes and discrete firing arcs, utilising class abilities and perks, rolling until the action point stipend for the turn has been spent. And again, like Mode 7 Games' fine cyberpunk tactical effort, it operates as a WEGO, rather than the back-and-forth of something like XCOM. Squads will encounter increasingly mobile opponents, their routes and reactions planned and triggered in parallel with the player. Firearm combat affords a certain snappiness that feels diminished when ladled out in the traditional IGOUGO way, and given Breach & Clear emphasises speed and efficiency in compact environments, WEGO is a mechanical godsend.

Each soldier can be uniquely outfitted, so while the early missions have an introductory smash-and-grab cavalier ambience where hardware loadouts don't matter, later operations demand a lot more attention to who packs what and where. Coupled with the class perks, certain outfits and items only aid in putting iron in the glove. Armour up the bloke who can draw fire, add a suppressor for the fellow with sprint. Increase bullet velocity at the expense of noise with gas compression in the rifles. The depth of customisation runs the gamut from small arms operation minutiae to superficial uniform tweaks. This sits atop each squad member accruing experience and gaining levels, where at each interval statistics such as reaction and evasion can be increased for a few points per milestone. The changes are glacial, but it feels good to develop and hone a squad from fresh-faced recruits to hardened dog-faces. 

In jumping from iOS/Android, the developers have done away with any sort of IAP. One payment, all content. You get a lot for your fifteen shekels, and while some might baulk at the perceived price hike, the base game and its DLC on mobile and tablet runs over twenty American dollars. I don't much care for discussion on price and value when it comes to games, so let me abate the cost negativity and suggest there's much meat on the bone. Players are getting the premium package, in line with the Steam version. 

One thing I do find somewhat irksome in an otherwise fine package is the user interface. While the game is a competent piece of work in-game, the menu screens could do with some serious work. Text is far too small in most instances, especially on the main menu. I've no issue with ports, but simple issues of scaling are underlined when mere text feels measured in microns. The screen doesn't feel properly utilised, with a lot of dead space and anaemic toggles. Thankfully this doesn't feed into the game-proper, but leaves much to be desired outside combat.

Despite the menu issues, Breach & Clear on Vita is exactly what I wanted. While I found Frozen Synapse Prime a little too embellished for its own good, Mighty Rabbit Studios' tactical blend offers just the mix of combat complexity and mode variety. Like Hotline Miami's Vita outing, physical controls go a surprisingly long way, offering a fresh and tactile spin on an established formula. The only reservation I'd have in offering a solid recommendation is simply whether a pundit has played Breach & Clear on any other platforms, because what you got there is ostensibly what is being touted here. The same good game, but by that token, the same game.

Seems I don't mind that one iota. Absolutely Oscar-mike.

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Breach & Clear is out on NA PSN May 12, 2015. Other territories TBA.