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Breach 2 (PC) artwork

Breach 2 (PC) review


"Proto-XCOM."


Breach 2 (PC) image


Breach 2 is a turn-based squad combat game from 1990. It mostly took its inspiration from sources like Star Trek and Aliens, as evidenced by its curiously plagiarized shuttlecraft designs and the not-so-subtle naming of its characters, such as “Ripley” and “Apone”. There is a story here, though most of it is found in the printed manual rather than within the actual game. Summed up, it involves a war between a noble Federation and a much less noble one, with plenty of side plots about aliens and space monsters to fill the gaps in-between. There’s a brevity of lore, but it’s not particularly deep.

But this game was never going to win any awards for story anyway. Breach 2’s strength was solely in its gameplay, which was actually rather solid for its time. It features a myriad of enemies to fight, a wide variety of equipment with which to outfit your marines, and many different missions to complete. Objectives include rescuing prisoners, stealing data, hacking terminals, capturing strategic positions, and the good ol’ fashioned extermination of your enemies. Or a combination of all of these.

While Breach 2 is pretty straightforward most of the time, there is actually a lot going on under its hood. Each marine has a certain amount of action points available to spend, which can be used to move, attack, throw grenades, hack terminals or use items. That’s pretty typical, but there is also a stamina mechanic that causes exhausted marines to spend more points on each action. If they rest up for a single turn they may be able to catch their breath, but if they are wounded, their maximum stamina will decrease and they will have no choice but to limp along. This makes it all the more important to execute a mission with as few mistakes as possible, as a wounded marine can quickly become a burden on the team.

Breach 2 (PC) image


There are also environmental mechanics. Movement penalties exist for traversing difficult terrain, and firing from higher ground will provide an accuracy bonus to your troops. There isn’t exactly a cover mechanic, but your marines can dig foxholes and hide in them to gain a defensive bonus. Energy shields and camouflage suits will also make them to tougher to kill or harder to hit. Grenades, smoke bombs, rocket launchers, and land mines are also at your disposal to turn the tide of battle when used appropriately. All in all, Breach 2 is packed with plenty of good features for a sci-fi strategy game.

The AI is deviously smart, too. When the enemies are in groups they will mercilessly attack, but if you find a soldier out on his own, he might just try to run or hide. The enemies are also good at taking advantage of the terrain to ambush you, and a single lapse in judgment can spell doom your team. I lost count of the number of times I had to reload a previous save because a single cloaked soldier slipped through my fingers, hid in the jungle, and took out half my team with a well-placed grenade or rocket. Breach 2 certainly does not pull its punches in terms of difficulty.

There is also character progression, of sorts, with your squad leader, who will level up and become more powerful as he completes missions. The marines accompanying you are fixed from mission to mission, but also possess unique stats of their own. Some have higher accuracy, while others are better at hacking terminals or detecting enemies. Some are tougher physically, while others are lighter on their feet. Utilizing each of their strengths effectively will maximize your chances of victory.

Breach 2 (PC) image


Another interesting feature of Breach 2 is its inclusion in the “Interlocking Game System” which allows it to integrate with Omnitrend’s other concurrent title, Rules of Engagement. This allows you to play campaigns that utilize both games. Rules of Engagement is, for lack of a better description, a starship simulator, so you might start a campaign commanding a ship with an objective to capture an enemy starbase, and as soon as you send your marines off in their boarding shuttle, Rules will close, Breach 2 will load up, and you will play out the appropriate mission. Once that is done, Breach 2 will transmit the win/loss data to Rules and you will continue on from there. It was a very unusual feature for the DOS era, one that didn’t really seem to catch on, but nevertheless added plenty of depth to the campaigns if you happened to own both titles.

However, there is no way to “win” at Breach 2, as the missions are simply arranged as a list of scenarios you can complete in any order. Once they are done, there is nothing left to do but toy around with the campaign editor. In retrospect, this was the reason that I was so crazy about this game as a kid. It was like computerized Lego. Creating complex, multi-mission campaigns with unique backstories was certainly the reason Breach 2 had longevity to me, even if the editor is rather clunky by today’s standards.

My addiction to the campaign editor also probably went a long way in helping me overlook the fact that Breach 2 has a lot of problems. Most of your time with the game will spent wrestling with the clunky interface, and a lot of annoying micromanagement is required. The marines’ inventories are a particular pain, because sharing items means dropping an item onto a square, moving away, switching to another marine, and then moving them onto that square to pick it up. Only one item can be dropped on a tile at a time, and there are painfully strict restrictions on carry weight and encumbrance that complicate matters further.

Breach 2 (PC) image


The design of the pre-made missions also left something to be desired. Most of them involve moving your marines through tight jungle trails, only to be ambushed by enemy soldiers and tanks when you reach a clearing. This design formula was repeated over and over again, and for a game that had such a complex set of design tools at its disposal, the developers sure didn’t take full advantage of it. This is probably why I preferred building my own maps instead.

Aesthetically, Breach 2 has also not aged very well. Its graphics were not exactly top-rate for its time, and it only has very basic Adlib sound effects. It also has virtually no music, aside from a title song and victory song. Strategy game purists will probably appreciate Breach 2 even today, but I would recommend that everyone else steer clear. It is currently classified as abandonware and is readily available for download; however, you will probably need the manual if you want to know how everything works. Even with all of the time I spent with this game when I was younger, I needed a refresher when I installed it again for the purposes of writing this review.

3/5

Nightfire's avatar
Featured community review by Nightfire (March 02, 2017)

Nightfire is a reclusive dragon who lives in a cave with internet access. Steam ID here.

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