In the shadow of Black Ops

What hope for Breach and the downloadable shooter?

Next week a gaming behemoth lands in our waters. Call of Duty: Black Ops – a game with pre-order numbers big enough to cause retail waves that'll surge higher and further than even those generated by Modern Warfare 2.

So with the masses secure in the cosy embrace of Call of Duty's unlocks and ranking systems, and the resurgence of Medal of Honor alongside it, is there room at the inn for military shooters without a franchise to back them up?

A moment's silence, if you will, for downloadable first-person shooters. There they sit on virtual shelves, waiting to be sucked through pipes into the warmth of your living room.

Yet increasingly it seems no one wants them. No one gives a second thought to these poor, weeping camouflaged games sitting unloved in the PSN and XBLA HQs. Blacklight: Tango Down? An unreturned call. MAG: a few evenings out and a liaison in a dimly lit car-park, maybe. Battlefield 1943? Great, but over the long haul something of a one night stand for gamer and EA alike.

"Breach is a military shooter, so my assumption is that anyone who comes to it has already played Call of Duty," explains Peter Tamte. As the president of Atomic Games, he's a man soon to paddle in the treacherous dark waters of multiplayer black ops soldiery - where the letters C,O and D lurk ever-discernibly beneath the surface.

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Only said to blow the bloody doors off. And, indeed, ceiling.

"That's part of our challenge, across the board – it doesn't matter about the price, we've got to give people who've already played the mainstream games a reason to play ours. There's no point in making a game, unless you've got a fresh experience."

Breach is a game born out of troubled circumstances. Its tech came out of the development of Six Days in Fallujah, a game that prompted a storm of controversy when the Eye of Sauron that is the mainstream media noticed its rather headline-friendly moniker.

Publisher Konami quickly exited stage left, and the project went down - yet apparently not out, since Tamte assures that the game very much remains a going concern in search of publishers and investors.

How, then, is Breach going to persuade habitual Call of Duty players to part with 1200 MS come next January? After the somewhat unimpressive splashdown of Blacklight: Tango Down, lumbered with some terrible matchmaking and the concrete boots of Games for Windows Live attached to its PC iteration, XBLA shooters are seemingly even harder to care about than before.

"Their pitch was all-value, and there are people who will respond to that – 12 maps for very little." So says Tamte when prompted to comment on the opposition, amidst a little eye-rolling at its blue-screen-of-death flashbangs from this correspondent.

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Rocket launchers can be picked up throughout each level in Breach, with hilarious consequences.

"Our point is that that's fine, but we want to create a game people haven't played before."

Breach's schtick, then, is destruction – a ball taken from the feet of Battlefield: Bad Company and run with. Aim a rocket launcher at a wall in Breach and you'll create a hole in the level that'll stay there till the end of the round. Unlike in Bad Company it won't be the same cookie-cutter demolition each and every time – and lumps can be knocked out of interior walls as well as exterior ones.

Breach will even allow you to shoot individual bricks out of walls to create your own sniping positions. Several pages are also taken from Red Faction's destruction handbook in the way that parts of buildings can be collapsed on your rivals by knocking out support struts and blowing holes in floors and ceilings.

Sure, this effect is localised and i'ts primarily man-made structures on each level that can be pummelled. But it's a neat trick, and one that easily feeds into the second string to Breach's bow – the active cover that lets you dive behind broken scenery and poke your gun round the edges in a far more organic and sneaky fashion than in other multiplayer shooters.

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