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.
- Awesome, but Impractical: The high kick, a melee move available right from the beginning, is quite potent in terms of stopping power, but it takes a small wind-up animation to execute it, so it makes sense to use it only if you have a safe enough opening when fighting foes, especially on Hard/Expert difficulties where the slightest mistake can be punished for a massive chunk of your health being depleted.
- There's also the Jump Kick that is acquired after acquiring the first unpurified dose of the T'langen Accelerator injection given by Glen. It can be charged for more power but, much like the high kick, it leaves Derrick wide open for an enemy to attack him while it's being charged. It can be charged to be even more powerful after acquiring the completely purified T'langen Accelerator injection in the future when Derrick wakes up, making it possible to nearly One-Hit Kill even the Juggernaut-type T'lan troops, which is immensely helpful during the last phase of enduring the miniature hell that is the white room. It consumes T'langen for charging though, so careful use must be taken into consideration. Both can be blocked though, so again, waiting for openings is key.
- Deadly Gas: After attempting to destroy Solus with a enough explosives to set the entire 15th floor of the research complex on fire, which utterly fails, the area that contains the means to drain the oxygen feeding the flames is filled with deadly halon gas, thus forcing Derrick to retrieve a gas mask in order to be properly protected from the gas. There's even a poor woman that acts as a clear warning of said gas as she's lied down on the ground in a position that also includes covering her mouth with one of her hands, indicating she died from the gas, poor thing...
- 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.
- Easter Egg: A few are slightly hidden though easy to spot, but there's quite the hilarious one for the pervert in all of us that is slightly obscure, but can be done to Alex after the elevator they ride to Site Zero shuts down whilst in it and that is to poke at Alex's breasts, much to her chagrin.
- 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 magazines. 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 papier-mâché. 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. You can also absorb red/blue-colored energy orbs left by defeated T'lan enemies of either small or large size. The red-colored orbs restore health and the blue-colored orbs restore internal T'langen power.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: Derrick has no idea who he is or what's going on at the start of the game.
- Mind Rape: Nexus itself does this as a last resort measure in an attempt to prevent Derrick from destroying it. Throughout the sequence it mentally torments Derrick with pretty much all the failures he saw through the initial timeline before preventing the very same tragedies from occuring again. It even forces you to shoot false copies of various close friends Stephania, Giani, Alex and Glen, with the last one leaving you with the means to finally break free of Nexus' mental realm of torture.Glen: (distorted) I cannot... die just yet.
- 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.
- Happens once again when Solus appears right behind Derrick when opening a handle-based door in the underground areas. There's a slightly-muffled yet very familiar bgm-based cue that occurs when nearing said door.
- Sdrawkcab Speech: Unbeknownst to many, the first scene involving Alex is actually played completely backwards. Those who are savvy enough to realize this can record said scene, edit it so that it plays backwards normally and Alex's normally-unintelligible dialog becames crystal clear to the viewer.Alex: This place... Where are we...? Derrick? Derrick!
- Stealthy Mook: The Stealth T'lans is this, complete with invisibility traits, though thankfully they have a slight outline of where the light bends around certain angles of them, not to mention they make a distinct "chink"-like noise whenever they make any footsteps. It's also a Fragile Speedster in the case that, like the Assault T'lans, they are far less durable than their normal melee-based T'lan counterparts.
- 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.
- Stupid Evil: Whatever organization is sending armed soldiers, and all forms of heavy ordinance to try and destroy you, the best hope of stopping the T'lan threat, and placing the warrant for your death above the very T'lan that are a threat to all humanity, save perhaps Solus, has to be populated entirely by absolute winners of the Darwin Award because the T'lan clearly either don't know or care about their efforts and intend on eradicating mankind without exception. To highlight just how stupid this is, they also kill innocent researchers and anyone aligned with you at all, while acting like complete assholes about it and rubbing it in your face when they get one up on you. Then they get slaughtered by you and/or the T'lan.
- 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.
- Tired of Running: After three encounters of evading the deadly attack chopper nicknamed "Devil-80" (due to having no effective means of counter-attacking it) Derrick finally gets the chance to bring down the annoying flying asshat as he has gained a rocket launcher at this point, with homing rockets to boot, thus making an originally one-sided affair of evading said chopper, to finally hearing the pilots' panic once they realize he's no longer helpless against them. These two lines sum it up oh-so-very nicely.Devil-80: (after having the first rocket hit it) Jesus! He's got anti-air! We need reinforcements!Devil-80: I'm hit! I'm losing control! Devil-80 mayday! We're goin' down!
- 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.