Every so often, a game comes along that rewrites gaming history; entered into the annals of great games. Just so we are clear, Breakneck City is not one of those games.
An “old school 3D beat-em-up action” game coming from developers Renegade Sector Games, I guess the question is this: on a platform that already has Streets of Rage 4, do we need another side scrolling beat-em-up? Well, let’s prowl the mean streets of the city and find out, shall we?
The story of this game, such as it is, is complete nonsense. A gang of vicious thugs, known as the Ultra Gang, have tried to burn our favourite video store, and so the only course of action for any right thinking person is to take to the streets, find all the members of said gang, and proceed to kick seven shades out of them. We have a choice of two female protagonists – Sidney Flintlock and Justine Jacobs – to pick from, and while they are on a trip to bring fist based justice to the streets, you can play through things either in single player or local co-op.
Now, let’s deal with the elephant in the room – the state of the graphics. I remember games from the 90’s very well indeed, and while the visuals back then weren’t brilliant, I don’t remember them looking this bad. Final Fight and others of the era didn’t have characters that look like Minecraft characters that have melted, but that’s the best that can be said of our heroes. The enemies are equally poorly imagined, and the animation of the sprites is especially ropy. The punch animations appear to be all thrown from the shoulder, the kicks make my young nephew look co-ordinated, and the game as a whole looks poor.
There is a fine line between retro as a love letter, and retro as an excuse for lazy programming, yet Breakneck City not only crosses the line, it then falls off the edge of the table and is lost down the back of the settee. The sound is marginally better, with pleasant tunes in a retro style, of course, but this is too little to save the presentation.
So, the game has a stupid story and looks awful, both moving and when still. Are there any positives in the fighting system? Well, yes and no. It’s true that to beat the game, all you need to do is spam the punch button, and occasionally flick the right stick to dodge (but only in boss fights). If you want to mix it up, you can kick your enemies, and these girls must have been hitting leg day every day, as if a kick connects, the person being hit will fly across the screen like they have been hit by a truck.
There are also weapons to pick up but these have an exceedingly short life span. If I was to hit someone with a length of metal pipe, I would expect to be able to get more than about 4 swings out of it before it broke, but not here. The same goes for hammers, daggers, the whole 9 yards. The worst weapon in the game is actually a firearm, as to use it, you have to hold the A button down, and then press X to shoot, all while dodging attacks from other enemies, some of whom also have guns. Honestly, it’s easier not to bother with the guns and resort to slapping anyone who gets in your way.
So, the basic fighting is not very much fun, but there are some glimpses of fun; some glimpses of what this game could have been. There are various things in the levels that you can interact with that show a spark of originality, such as the lamp posts in the first level that our heroes can swing around to take out crowds of enemies. There are hooks you can knock enemies into, windows they can be kicked out of, and even bins to knock them into. However, these bits are too few and far between to make too much of a difference to the overall experience.
So, what is actually wrong with Breakneck City, I hear you ask? Well, there’s a list of issues. First is the way it looks and second is the way that the combat is handled, as I’ve mentioned. Boss fights are supposed to be a highlight in these games, and yet “two punches, dodge, two punches, dodge” is all you need to do to beat all of them. It’s not helped that the achievement list is all out of ideas by the end of the third level, and when the achievements are gone, so is the desire to keep playing.
Granted, the co-op mode offers a bit of fun, although the language in the game is somewhat fruity to say the least, so you’ll need to pick and choose who you run through this with. All in all though, Breakneck City is a poor game that, frankly, performs badly.
Oh, and the final nail in the coffin? Why does a game that could run with no difficulty on an Amiga come to market with an Xbox Series X|S optimised label attached and need to be installed to the internal SSD? You tell me!
Breakneck City is available over at the Xbox Store