Saturday, June 25, 2011

Breaking The Rules Review

Breaking The Rules, developed and published by BTR Studios.
The Good: Frantic authentic combat, large chaotic battles with up to eight fighters at one time, online play, competitive fair AI
The Not So Good: Difficult to block or counter attacks, some game options must be unlocked
What say you? This 3-D fighting game offers a brutal take on realistic combat with numerous concurrent combatants: 6/8

One detriment of the PC gaming platform is the lack of a multitude of fighting games (another being that we don’t have the honor of paying a monthly fee for multiplayer). Sure, we get the occasional fighting game that isn’t heavily pirated, but we simply don’t get the large swath of titles that those evil consoles do. Sounds like it’s time to rely on indie developers to fill the void. Enter Breaking The Rules, a physics-based fighting game where multiple opponents engage simultaneously, which may or may not be breaking the rules. See what I did there?

Breaking The Rules is a visual mixed bag. The character models are done well and exhibit good detail, but everyone’s butt looks weird (either too big or too small): a strange complaint, but in a third-person game, that’s what you stare at the most. The fighting moves are well animated and convincing, but running looks silly, like everyone has a stick up their butt (again with the butt thing). The fights produce some humorous and painful ragdoll results: it’s slightly unrealistic, but still rooted in reality enough where hit by a chair looks like it really hurts. Each of the game’s eight environments are detailed, plausible locations (though the pit arena is drab), but ground textures could be better as some are noticeably blurry. Still, for a 3-D indie game, Breaking The Rules comes out on the positive side of things in terms of graphics. The sound design is quite basic: you get your fighting grunts, punches, and kicks, which work well but are a bit repetitive. The generic music is unmemorable, but overall I found the graphics and sound of Breaking The Rules to be decent enough.

Breaking The Rules is a 3-D fighting game, but unlike a majority of its competition, it can involve up to eight players offline or twelve online. At one time. Breaking The Rules features three tournaments that are unlocked in order upon successful completion (I just turned down the difficulty to “newbie” to get access to more options): the roman tournament features eight players fighting for points (earned for knockouts and strikes) across the game’s eight maps, the classic tournament has a series of one-on-one battles (like a traditional fighting game), and the custom tournament allows you to change the number of rounds per map and customize the number of human and computer opponents. While you can’t save your game in the middle of the battle, progress is automatically saved between rounds. You can also enjoy quick matches, with up to four players, or team battles with balanced matches (2v2 to 4v4) for a more friendly approach (too bad you have to unlock the latter option by beating the classic tournament). Breaking The Rules also features online battles (using Gamespy…remember that thing?) so you can embarrass yourself against real competition. The eight arenas don’t offer many tactical differences, although some have pits, weapons, and stairs in addition to the visual distinctions of various locations around Rome. While most of the options are standard fare for the fighting genre, the large battles make Breaking The Rules stand out.

Controls are typical for the genre. Breaking The Rules is best played with the Xbox controller where the four standard buttons are used to punches and kicks from the left or right. The directional keys are not used to determine attack types, just for positioning during battle. In addition, you can block low or high attacks, move freely around the map to engage other foes, or grab opponent or objects (chairs, bats, and tables can be used). Each of the game’s eight characters has subtle differences in their attacks, and there are certain button presses that will produce a series of more advanced attacks. For example, playing as T-Dog (he’s Canadian, obviously) and pressing X, X, B, X, and then A in succession will do a left punch, right forward punch, right low kick, spinning punch, and double kick. The ragdoll results are powerful and startling: I smiled more than once at the results of a successful combo attack. As you can see, the fighting in Breaking The Rules is much more realistic than in many fighting games, and that realism makes it a much more visceral brawler.

Continuing with the realism theme, Breaking The Rules doesn’t have a HUD or health display, although you can gauge your fighter’s stamina based on how fast they move and how hard they are breathing. I actually have no problem with this method and I think the minimal approach works well. Changing the focus of your attacks (which will need to be done often with so many opponents) is done by holding the left trigger and then turning which way you are facing, and the current opponent is indicated with bright green triangle. It takes some practice to get this method down, but it becomes intuitive after a while. In addition, you don’t need to be locked on to someone in order to attack them: a wayward kick has often taken out multiple opponents (or unintended ones) during the heat of battle. The game features very slow movement when you are locked on so that you can fine-tune your attacks: being at the appropriate range for punches and kicks is very important. Running away (by holding the left trigger) and moving back for a better position is a good tactic, especially because blocking is ineffective: while it does remove the damage caused by an attack, it still pushes you back and stuns you, making you unable to attack until the enemy hits air. This is done to prevent simply holding down the block buttons, but the lack of counter-moves makes Breaking The Rules very offensively-focused. The game’s battles are generally lengthy, although you can adjust the health parameters in the game options to satisfy your preferred battle duration (I like them short and brutal). The AI is very capable without cheating or feeling cheap: they will successfully chain together effective attack combs, especially on the higher difficulty levels. The computer usually doesn’t start attacking unless you are in-range (good), and although they seem to preferentially choose the human player as their personal punching bag, they will gang up on each other when there are more than three people left. It takes some skill to learn the ranges of your attacks so that you can assault the AI before they assault you.

Breaking The Rules is a good fighting game. The controls are straightforward, and mashing the four attack buttons results in some neat special attacks. Blocking is generally useless (it still stuns you, but removes the damage), which helps to speed up the action and produce some action-packed fights with relatively quick resolutions. The game is a matter of timing and range: choosing the right attack at the right time and engaging the enemy at the appropriate distance for the attack. Changing your focus between enemies takes some practice and precise facing, but with the subtle indicator used by the game, it’s not too bad. The lack of a HUD means health is a mystery (I have no problem with this, as it adds to the realism of the combat), though you can gauge it through breathing and movement speed. I feel the characters have a bit too much health by default, leading to some drawn-out fights; luckily you can adjust the stock values. The AI is a competent opponent, stringing effective attacks together. The large chaotic battles involving up to eight people at one time are a signature of the game and make some distinctive action. The online options are nice, providing some long-term enjoyment beyond the quick matches and tournaments. Those looking for a realistic fighting game featuring multiple simultaneous opponents will be pleased by Breaking The Rules.