Ever seen The Fifth Element? That film with Bruce Willis mincing about as an anti-gravity taxi driver? The developers of Beam Breakers clearly have, and they liked it so much that they based a game around it. Well, the antigravity vehicle bit anyway. It's not exactly the same, and their lawyers would probably prefer to say that the game was inspired by the film as opposed to blatantly ripping it off, something that has actually already been done in the mildly entertaining New York Race. Throw in the officially licensed Fifth Element game, and that's three titles inspired by one fairly obscure film. Hasn't anyone got any ideas of their own?
Talking of which. Beam Breakers is a (yawn) futuristic racing game. Set in the year 2174, the action takes place on the mean streets of so-called Neo York. (Can you see what they’ve done there?) Except that they aren’t actually streets so much as rows of traffic suspended in mid-air, due to the old gravity-defying trick. Vehicles are prevented from careering into each other by adhering to set routes determined by the beams of the title, which, wait for it, you are able to break in your role as member of an illicit street-racing gang. Basically it's boy racers in the 22nd century, with Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics replaced by generic floating cars.
Not Just Races
The races involve negotiating a number of laps of courses defined by checkpoints and littered with the obligatory flurry of power-ups. Think WipEout but without a road surface and you’re halfway there. Along with the hindrance of the ambient traffic, the complexity of the city also makes for a number of hazards, and there are plenty of annoyingly positioned structures for you to crash into, sapping your momentum and your patience.
It's not all about racing though, and the game offers a few different modes, such as the mission-based section where you are required to carry out tasks in order to progress. Beginning as a pizza delivery boy - the implication being that it's a front for some kind of criminal activity - you can work your way up the gangland ladder and perform a variety of illicit activities, with the developers very much hoping you'll think it’s a bit like Driver or GTA III. There’s also a Survivor mode, where you simply have to outwit the police, and a more sedate observation mode, enabling you to tour around the city and get your bearings.
One Hundred And Eighty!
However they dress it up though, the crux of the game largely involves getting from A to B in the quickest possible time, and it’s here that the game breaks down. Call us old-fashioned, but we'd imagine a vehicle that drives through the sky would move at a fair old lick, what with the lack of friction and all that. But while it may say 180mph on the clock, it feels more like a Sunday drive in an Austin Allegro (albeit suspended thousands of feet in the air in a futuristic city). For all its high velocity posturing, the action is sluggish, and a world away from the super speedy experience we had imagined. Yes, you can eventually upgrade your car for a faster model, but by then you may well have lost the will to live.
Assuming you find it in your deepest reserves of patience to persevere, you will eventually see various districts of Neo York, namely Little Italy, East Village. Chinatown, Harlem, and Downtown, replete with allegedly recognisable landmarks such as the huge rollercoasters in Central Park. It’s reasonably well done, and does vaguely give the illusion of a bustling futuristic city. You can even zoom in on pedestnans. who will leap out of the way in the time-honoured Midtown Madness fashion.
Unlike that game though. Beam Breakers doesn't have the satisfaction of feeling rubber on tar. There's simply no purchase to be had in floating through the air, and this isn't really a driving game at all. The vehicles might look like cars, but to all intents and purposes, they are little more than incorrectly shaped aircraft. And without the complexity demanded by flight sim fans, it’s hard to see who this will appeal to. other than enthusiasts of mediocre games.
Possibly more suited to consoles. Beam Breakers is a largely shallow experience, with the arcade feel augmented by the obligatory repertoire of badly acted regional stereotypes. Having seen it moving at E3 (for about 14 seconds) we had reasonably high hopes for it. but unfortunately they have proven largely unfounded, the game suffering from a lack of pace and a surfeit of gaming cliches. It's a shame, because Beam Breakers could have been a truly great game. As it is. it’s little more than a slighty above average one with a theme that's rapidly becoming tired and over-used.
Download Beam Breakers
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Those Of You familiar with pretentious Luc Besson sci-fi flick The Fifth Element will be instantly at home with the world of Beam Breakers. Set in the far off future (2374 to be precise), you find yourself in the role of a taxi-cab driver (like Bruce Willis only poorer, more out of shape and considerably less attractive to women) flying round skyscrapers of New York in your gravity defying vehicle. I know, you think you've seen this all before, right? Well before you turn over the page in disgust, spitting hatred at Beam Breaker's apparent lack of originality, suck back the venom and take a deep breath, because there's much more on offer here than you might think. Calmer now? Good.
Floating In The Hood
Initial impressions inevitably bring you to the conclusion that this is little more than a simple hover-car racer, set in a congested and hideously oversized futuristic city. Squint violently and move closer to the screen, though, and you'll soon find that this is merely one branch of Beam Breakers' gameplay tree. Initially charged with driving around the sprawling metropolis of New York in your sewing machine powered vehicle, you'll find yourself happily chugging round, picking up passengers and earning a meagre wage barely adequate enough to power your car and house your shuffling body. Until that is, a gang leader from Little Italy (where else) flops into your cab, and squeals in an unconvincing Mafioso accent that he can lead you away from this endless drone of mundanity and poverty into a world of excitement, and more importantly, hard cash. Being a weak willed and of course poverty stricken less-than-model-citizen, you instantly agree to all his terms, and generous bloke that he is, he instantly charges you with the task of stealing a car and bringing it back to him while avoiding a kicking from the local constabulary. Easy.
Of course it's not, but that's the point. Before long you'll find yourself embroiled in a gang-warfare type scenario, where five factions battle it out among each other for territory and respect. These are gained in several ways, one method being through a set of daring, law-breaking races, whereby the winner takes both the cars and the territory from his defeated opponents. But of course you're never going to get anywhere chugging round in a steam powered heap of junk, meaning you'll have to find an alternative source of income in order to buy an upgrade, and running errands for your new found Italian-American friends turns out to be by far the most profitable of your options. Cue daring car napping raids, destruction missions and decoy runs to distract the infuriatingly persistent police, who try to force you into tight corners in an attempt to dash your vehicle and send you plummeting a thousand stories to the concrete below. The bastards. If this all sounds a little dangerous, you'll apparently also be given the chance to wuss out and deliver pizzas like a complete jessie instead, and become the laughing stock of self-respecting gangsters the world-over. It'll be your choice.
However, you're probably impatiently drumming your fingers on the toilet rim by now waiting for me to tell you about the races. So I will. Once you're used to the controls (accelerate, break, pitch left/right, up and down) you're thrown into your debut race. Sadly, though, the first thing that strgck me was how slow the action is initially, despite the fact that precision is key as you zigzag up, down and through oncoming traffic (more than 1,000 cars onscreen at a time are promised on higher-spec machines) trying to gain an advantage. Exotically named (but actually very basic) power ups do help the situation though. These include Photon Accelerators (speeds you up a bit) and centrifugal Force Modulators (makes steering easier). Although the preview version didn't allow access to some of the more advanced vehicles, the finished version promises to feature 30 vehicle types, and hopefully the more advanced ones will speed up the action considerably.
Break It Up
Expect your cheating-git opponents to spend each race cutting corners, ducking down alleys and generally trying to push you into walls, as you battle the initially cross-eye inducing 3D scenery in a desperate attempt to keep up. But with 57 missions promised, you're bound to have the hang of it by the time you reach the final race, which the developer Similis is promising will provide a grand finale.
Beam Breakers is threatening to be highly entertaining, melding both racing mayhem (if the later levels are faster than the early ones we've played that is) with manic delinquent thievery. A kind of floating Crazy Taxi if you will. Or even if you don't will. Still, we'll bring you the definitive review next issue, but in the meantime, have a squiz on this month's coverdisk(s) and get acquainted with the demo. Go on then, what are you waiting for?