Breach & Clear is a tight, focused laser beam of a game — at least part of it, anyway. Presumably, the special forces foursomes under your command had all manner of adventures in the run-up to the moment where they kick down the doors of the enemy compound and start shooting — but that’s none of your concern. In Breach & Clear, you are a specialist who operates in the moments between the doors being busting open and the last target slumping to the floor.
Around that central proposition, publishers Gun Media and developers Mighty Rabbit (the makers of Saturday Morning RPG) have wrapped layers and layers of the progressive content unlocking that conventional wisdom has told us modern gamers expect: RPG leveling for your troops, weapon customization, cosmetic doo-dads. It’s a slickly-produced, highly appealing package — and my biggest complaint is that the game actually doesn’t need a lot of it.
On the surface, B&C looks like the gun-porn-iest thing yet on mobile: the game’s armory lays out an NRA convention’s worth of rifles and carbines, along with a tinkerer’s bounty of attachments like laser aiming modules, foregrips, and suppressors — and helmets and camo for your operators on top of all that. Gear can be unlocked with the currency you earn in-game (here Breach & Clear betrays some vestiges of its freemium origins by offering to sell you all the scratch you need for real dollars) and the stars you earn from completing missions without taking casualties.
B&C’s customization smorgasbord provides quite a lot of the joy of collecting, but it’s very difficult to see the results of your loadout tinkering in the actual game. Swap out your stock M4 for a 7.62 SCAR, slap a bunch of attachments on it and spin that bad boy around in the 3D gun viewer. It will look vicious — but I’d be hard-pressed to explain how it behaves all that differently from its predecessor once you get to the actual door-kicking and trigger-pulling.
But once that door-kicking does start it’s hard to fault Breach & Clear for much else. The action plays out over simultaneous we-go turns: you plan the movements of your four special forces operators and then watch as the turn plays out according (or not according, depending on what the enemy does) to your careful instructions. In some ways it’s a streamlined cousin to this year’s extraordinary iOS port of Frozen Synapse.
The orders you can give to your men offer a lot of tactical flexibility — flexibility that you’ll need to successfully conquer the game’s ten missions at the higher difficulties. Operators can be ordered to move at half-speed (increasing shooting accuracy and decreasing noise, but reducing the amount of ground you can cover in a turn), use special abilities like drawing fire or healing comrades, and deploying equipment like flashbangs and breaching charges. You can set waypoints that order your men to face different directions while moving, and the game’s UI never leaves you in doubt as to which parts of the map your guys have line-of-sight to. The enemy AI uses cover intelligently and suffers as much as you do from the fog of war.
As a turn-based tactical game, Breach & Clear has few peers on iOS. I only wish that there was more of the stuff that the game does well. At launch, there’s two locations (Turkey and Afghanistan) that offer five missions apiece. There’s no persistent campaign as in XCOM — the missions are all self-contained affairs. The creators are promising frequent updates to Breach & Clear: there’s prominent “coming soon” placeholders for new mission types and locations.
I would happily have traded a dozen of the available guns and every single one of the hyper-detailed 3D helmet models for another map or two — or perhaps the customization could have been implemented in a way that felt less floaty and disconnected from the game and more consequential. But Breach & Clear has kicked its way into a permanent spot on my iPad.
Correction: Oops — there’s fifteen missions in the launch edition of Breach & Clear, not ten as the review says. My bad, guys.
The game was played on the 4th-gen iPad for this review.