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
- Alien Invasion: First humans went after the T'lan. Then the T'lan came after the humans.
- 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.
- Everything Trying to Kill You: T'lan aren't the only thing you have to worry about; even human soldiers, who should know better, do everything in their power to harrass you, even as you're fighting T'lan right in front of them. They leave you no choice but to kill them.
- Fake Difficulty: Aside from the waves of tough enemies, the jumping puzzles, especially near the end, get progressively more difficult, not just from the environment, but because of Camera Screw, and Sluggish and complicated controls.
- 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 until after Nexus is destroyed and you can just drive through them like they're made of paper mache. 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-Tlan. Sort of.
- Hive Mind: It is suggested that the T'lan are a collective, with only one being the 'head', for Nexus to act through.
- 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 end 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, acquiring the completely purified T'langen Accelerator injection and going back to the past can you actually face him evenly.
- 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.
- Non Standard Game Over: A couple cases. Failing to save a certain scientist who died in the initial timeline, this being your second attempt, results in the game resetting prior to the event for you to try again, and keeping yourself from going back to the future with Alex in the ending results in her going alone and a solemn warning that Alex's future is doomed in a surprise Downer Ending.
- Not Quite Dead: Solus pulls this both times Derrick properly fights him.Solus: Not finished yet.
- Run or Die: The first time you encounter T'lan, Alex tells you to run for your life since you aren't able to hurt them yet.
- Shout-Out: Like most things that came out of Japan around the turn of the century, many nods to Neon Genesis 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.
- Skyward Scream: Solus does this just before he goes down for the last time.
- Super Soldier: Derrick is one of the first entries in the "deliberately created super-soldier" school of protagonist design.
- Time Travel: Not only is Alex from the future, but so is Derrick - the entire first half if not three-fourths of the game is Derrick reliving memories of fifteen years prior in a rather inconsistent mess within his comatose state. The entire story boils down to creating something that can finally beat the T'lan, and then sending Derrick back in time to Screw Destiny and defeat them before they end the world. The game then ends with Alex being drawn back to the future where presumably the T'lan still persist, and Derrick following her to finish the job now that he's fixed his timeline.
- Unbroken First-Person Perspective: A rare example of a first-person brawler which uses this trope.
- Ungrateful Bastard: Combined with Too Dumb to Live. The uniformed human soldiers, in their entirety. Not only do they break into the lab to kill you, despite the fact that you signed up for and endured an extremely dangerous experiment to give mankind a fighting chance against the T'lan, but even if you kill the T'lan that are going after them, they still turn their guns on you, forcing you to kill them in self-defense. What's more, in the first half of the game, they lose the fight against the T'lan because they throw the foremost expert on fighting them off a cliff to her death. Civilians who get their hands on military tech are a different story.
- Wham Line: Should you manage to defeat Solus (which isn't easy even in the second half of the game), you get this little gem.
- Solus: Remember... I... am just... Nexus'... Avatar.
- 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.
- You No Take Candle: During the rare scenes where Solus speaks, it is always in broken English. This is justified by the fact that Solus is the "avatar" of a completely alien existence, and it's a wonder that he can speak at all.