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Video Game: Breakdown
Breakdown is a slightly obscure first-person brawler for the Xbox, released in 2004 by Namco. While it sold poorly and received mixed reviews, it's notable to genre fans and game historians for its high emphasis on using its perspective for storytelling potential. It's also unusual in that it's a first-person shooter made by a Japanese team for the original Xbox, which makes it a complete statistical anomaly.

Breakdown is a landmark game in creating what's now generally referred to as "immersion." You never leave your character's perspective, even when eating, drinking, fist-fighting, or throwing up. Later games such as FEAR make frequent use of narrative techniques that first appeared in Breakdown, with the Condemned games in particular feeling vaguely like an unofficial spiritual sequel.

At the start of the game, you take on the role of an amnesiac soldier named Derrick Cole, who's trapped in a lab room being experimented on by unseen scientists. An unseen force attacks the complex surrounding the room, and Derrick is broken free by a woman named Alex. She knows him; he doesn't remember her. Derrick must escape the facility, which is being attacked by a mixed force of human soldiers and an alien race called the T'lan.

Slowly, both Derrick and the player learn that the entire situation was set into motion by the discovery of a mysterious alien civilization under Japan, code-named Site Zero. Derrick is the lone survivor of an experiment with T'langen, a substance recovered from Site Zero, which gives him superhuman strength and speed. Now you're punching out aliens and fighting to prevent an alien takeover of humanity.

Then it gets weird.


Tropes present in Breakdown include:

  • Action Girl: Alex Hendrickson.
  • Alien Invasion: First humans went after the T'lan. Then the T'lan came after the humans.
  • Crowning Moment of Awesome: After waking up in the future, Derrick must make his way to Ogawa's lab to receive an injection that will allow him to kill Solus and destroy Nexus in the past. Just as he's about to inject Derrick, T'lan break in, causing Ogawa to drop the syringe into a nearby grate. Alex holds them off while you scramble to retrieve the syringe. When you finally get it and inject it into yourself, power surges through Derrick as heroic music begins to play, and he bursts up out of the grate like Superman and proceeds to absolutely curb-stomp the T'lan.
  • Determinator: Solus.
  • Defeating the Undefeatable: A major part of the story is to find a way to stop Solus. If one can take him to his word, nothing has ever managed to so much as push him back before.
    Solus: A first. Solus, knocked to ground.
  • Diegetic Interface: The game springs this on you halfway through, which is probably a nasty surprise to most players. The game thus far has been you reliving your memories through a machine, and the HUD elements are part of the system. After that, all HUD elements are gone.
  • Duel Boss: The true final encounter with Solus has the two of you being just about equal in power. The first final encounter seems to be this, but it's unwinnable.
  • Gameplay Roulette: Sometimes Breakdown is an action game with you as a superhuman fist-fighting badass. Sometimes it's a first-person platformer. Sometimes it's a horror game.
  • Guns Are Useless: Guns are actually reasonably effective against human opponents, although Derrick has some kind of religious objection to carrying spare clips. The real issue is that T'lan have a natural bioelectric field that repels bullets, which Derrick can breach with his bare hands thanks to the T'langen injections.
    • Grenades, building-demolishing C4 explosions, high-speed automobile crashes, and even nuclear weapons are all apparently completely and equally ineffective against T'lan shields. Apparently the only weapons of any effectiveness at all are the Anti-T'lan lasers Gianni deLucca's men carry. Even the laser does almost nothing against Solus.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Derrick is the lone survivor of the Alpha Project, which makes him half-Tílan. Sort of.
  • Hopeless Boss Fight: Solus, particularly notable in that he is the only example in the entire game. All other enemies, including helicopters can be taken down (or, in one case, can be taken down as soon as you get a certain power-up), but all meetings with Solus ends with you either running away, or being defeated. Even the apparent Final Battle is this, as Solus' victory is a Foregone Conclusion. Only after awakening in the future and going back to the past can you actually face him evenly.
  • Hive Mind: It is suggested the T'lan are a collective, with only one being the 'head', for Nexus to act through.
  • Hyperactive Metabolism: To restore health, grab and eat hamburgers and candy bars, and guzzle cans of soda.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Derrick has no idea who he is or what's going on at the start of the game.
  • Mind Screw: Derrick spends a lot of time in the early levels hallucinating wildly, including trips that seem to take him back in time, to completely different locations, or outside of his own body. Later in the game, we find out that the opening levels are actually an incomplete record of Derrick's memories of the present day, fifteen years into the future. He isn't hallucinating; he's just using unrelated memories to fill in the gaps.
  • Nintendo Hard: The infamous chase sequence stopped a lot of players dead in their tracks.
    • The white room right before Nexus. Five waves of strong enemies await.
  • Not Quite Dead: Solus pulls this both times Derrick properly fights him.
    Solus: Not finished yet.
  • Screw Destiny
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: The second half of the game.
  • Shout-Out: Like most things that came out of Japan around the turn of the century, many nods to Evangelion abound. The enemies are monsters with forcefields that came from an alien structure buried underground and the most humanlike one is a creepy white haired guy. Professor Stefania dresses exactly like Ritsuko Akagi and dies in a similar manner to her mother at first. Oddly her pet cat, Casval, is named after Char's real name from Mobile Suit Gundam.
  • Super Soldier: Derrick is one of the first entries in the "deliberately created super-soldier" school of protagonist design.
  • The Juggernaut: Solus.
  • Third-Person Person: Solus. Except for his Last Words.
  • Whole Costume Reference: Stefania.
  • Worthy Opponent: How Solus appears to see Derek by the time you're ready to fight him, if his statement when he knocks you down is any indication.
    Solus: Disappointing.
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