Version tested iPhone
How one makes an entrance is important, so the saying goes, and presumably never more so than when you're employed as a member of the Special Forces. For these balaclava-shrouded soldiers, a poorly executed appearance in a villain's doorway could well be their last.
It's so important, in fact, that the simply act of entering a room has become a staple of military shooter games over the past few years. Take Modern Warfare for example, in which you press the X button to plant a brick of C4 on some bewildered door before, in dramatic slow motion, you tear through the debris to pick off enemies before their chairs hit the floor. Hugely expensive sections of the highest grossing video game series in the world essentially involve dramatically entering a room.
Now, in Beach & Clear, we have an entire video game dedicated to the art of making an entrance. You assume strategic control of four special operatives, trained in close quarters battle and experts in breaching a room and 'clearing' its inhabitants with a bullet to the head. At the start of each mission you're presented with a bird's eye view of the target building. Its floors are gridded, as in a strategy RPG or chess, and, having directed each of your soldiers to one of the building's entrances, you must select whereabouts you want each man to move to on your signal. By rotating a vision cone you may direct each unit's line of sight and attempt to cover all the angles in the room. Then, when the plan has been formulated, you issue your squad with the signal and sit back and watch in glee or horror as they execute your orders.
Your objective in each mission is to empty the building of hostile targets. Having made your entrance, you continue to move your squad through rooms, picking off enemies, taking cover behind desks or plant pots and, if necessary, dividing your squad into sub-teams in order to flank the enemy. While, at the game's lower difficulty settings, simply moving through a building methodically while covering the basic angles will yield success, as you increase the challenge you'll need to set the pace of individual units' movement (running or walking to their destination). More ambitious manoeuvres are also possible if you set multiple destination points for a single unit, moving them back and forth around a corridor during a single turn. As your plans gain in complexity, so the chances of messing up the timing of your tactics increases and you risk leaving team members vulnerable without cover.
Built using the Unity engine, Breach and Clear is a fully 3D game that allows you to tilt, rotate and zoom in and out of the action with pinch and swipe gestures. However, it's fiddly at times, requiring significant precision to select the sometimes difficult-to-reach grid squares. Even on iPad you'll soon pine for the accuracy of a mouse and keyboard. The designers also neglect to position the game's camera over the action points while executing a move, meaning you'll often miss the satisfaction of seeing a successful plan executed, especially if your team is divided into separate fire-teams on different areas of the map.
Away from the battlefield, Breach & Clear has significant strategic ambition, allowing you to customise not only your squadron's team members but also their load-out, choosing from a vast array of different weapons and pieces of body armour. Completing missions earns funds that can be spent on increasing your arsenal. Alternatively, time-poor (or cash-rich) players can simply buy the best kit through micro-transactions.
Each unit also earns experience points in battle. As individuals level up you spend points increasing their attributes and, later in the game, you gain access to different perks. Over time, the team begins to feel like one of your own making, and you enjoy a sense of care and custody over each man that's curiously rare in modern military-themed games.
This sense of stewardship is useful as, elsewhere, the game does little to provide storyline or context for the missions. You tour Afghanistan, Turkey and China, but there's no why to explain the where. This absence of narrative framing could be viewed as purity of purpose (after all, too many warfare games are used as vessels for their creators' over-reaching movie-making ambitions). But elsewhere the game has an unfinished feel, with many game options greyed out with a 'coming soon' label attached. The high production values on the battlefield are undermined by these omissions; entire modes and mission locations are currently unavailable while, at a finer level of detail, some buttons lack rollover states and there are other such small-time oversights. Likewise, the limited range of tactical scenarios is too narrow to sustain interest over the long haul; too often missions feel like little more than re-skins of previous outings.
There is the skeleton of a strong tactical video game running through Breach & Clear. It may lack the roundness and heft of Frozen Synapse or X-Com: Enemy Unknown (both heavyweight strategy games that launched on iOS this year) but it also has an appeal that's distinct from these titles: the thrill of arranging a trap and then watching from the sidelines as its various components trigger. However, at this partial stage of development, Breach & Clear relies too heavily on promise rather than fulfilment. It has burst onto the App Store arguably before it was fully ready - ironic for a game that, more than most, should understand that how one makes an entrance is of utmost importance.
6 / 10