The mid-90s were a crazy time. This was the time when the Sega Saturn and the PlayStation were cutting their teeth, pioneering the concept of 3D gameplay for the first time. Of all the retro eras, this is the one that tends to get overlooked when it comes to the Indie Retro-Revival scene. Sure, we have seen a few come out recently, you have the likes of Anodyne 2 , Back in 1995 and Vaccine . However, the era does not have nearly as many titles aping the low-poly days of fledgling 3D as the 8 and 16-bit generations do.
That is a shame, as while the low-poly era may not have aged as well as the 2D age, there is an undeniable charm to the blocky aesthetics, experimental control systems and glorious early CD soundtracking. I have fond memories of playing through titles like Die Hard Trilogy Arcade, Silent Bomber, Omega Boost, and many others. So, to my mind, this makes the era ripe for the picking, particularly when you have games like Burning Rangers and Panzer Dragoon, both titles that were indicative of a time where new IP were experiments and not nearly as risky as they are now.
But I digress, the reason we are talking about this is because we have a game here called Breakneck City, a game that is attempting to revive those bygone, blocky days. This was created by Renegade Sector Games, a studio that appears to be on a mission to bring back the 32-Bit aesthetic as most of their prior titles appear to use the same design language. Originally released on PC back in May 2020, Breakneck City has finally come to both the PS5 and PS4 by way of Eastasiasoft, for better or worse.
You take control of one of two characters in single or co-op play, Sidney Flintlock or Justine Jacobs. After their favourite video store (remember those?) gets destroyed by a local gang, it is their job to take revenge in typical 90’s arcade fighting fashion. Of course, like most scrolling beat-em-ups from the era, it is never just a gang and instead you find yourself uncovering an evil syndicate, robot ninja’s and other such absurdity along the way. It’s about as much story as you need for a game like this really. Compared to some games of the past, the motivations of Sidney and Justine to punch everyone is better than a few. However, if you were hoping for a game that has the aesthetic and uses modern writing to bolster it, then you would be looking in the wrong place.
In fact, the only thing that feels particularly modern about this title is the fact that the loading times for the game have been reduced to nothing, thanks to the brute force of the PS5 SSD. Everything else just feels dated, which may seem like an odd thing to say considering this game is designed around an old school design mentality, but there are times where nostalgia just doesn’t do enough to allow issues to be overlooked.
For example, Breakneck City is about what you would expect from a retro styled scrolling beat-em-up. You meet various bad guys that have archetype abilities along a linear pathway and do your damned-best to cave their skulls in with fists and weapons pilfered from the ground. You clear an area, you move on. Chances are, you have played this kind of thing before. However, while this certainly looks and feels the part initially, it’s not long until the stiff control system and ropey collision detection become an issue. Breakneck City also lacks depth as actions are performed using only two attack buttons, a dodge and a jump function. A far cry from games like Streets of Rage 4 or Dynamite Deka.
That’s not to say that the game doesn’t have its moments. Dotted around each stage are a bunch of interactable elements that can be used to gain an advantage; whether that be hitting chandeliers in one stage to take out some enemies on the ground, or chairs that can be used to keep enemies knocked out but elevated for a quick combo. These made for some fun encounters, even if they made them stupidly easy, such as a moment where my character spun forever around on a pole, with the crowd of enemies unable to do anything about it as they tried their hardest to approach.
The best moment came during one of the boss fights towards the end of the game. The character was impervious to traditional damage methods, so my character had to backtrack through the stage to find an environmental hazard that would exploit a weakness in the boss. It’s just a shame that this is one moment in a game that lasts less than 2 hours. A few more of these and you would be looking at a higher score below this text for sure.
Even this fine moment had a caveat though. The AI in this game is brain-dead and can raise a few problems. On more than one occasion, I found myself in a position where my arena and therefore progress was blocked behind the typical arbitrary enemy clearance. This would not have been an issue if the enemies could find a pathway to my character. However, as I had knocked them over a banister and away from the invisible walls, they could not find a way back, creating a soft lock scenario where I had to restart and replay the section.
Luckily, each section is short and not particularly challenging. You also do not have the issue of having credits to rely on, so there is little to no consequence of failing a section and most, if not all players will be able to see the credits roll within an incredibly short time frame. While this may be par for course for this type of game, it would have been nice to see a traditional arcade mode, difficulty tiers or even one of those rudimentary VS modes to give players a reason to come back. Unfortunately, though, once the main game is over, you have no reason. There isn’t even a high score chart to look at and try to better your playthrough. That’s about as barebones as it gets.
Unfortunately, while Breakneck City does its best to try and bring back those ropey yet lovable low-poly games of yore, it fails at almost every hurdle in one form or other. At first it looks the part, that is until you look at a game from the mid-90s and see how much better things looked, even then. The gameplay is too simplistic, soundtrack is confused and the overall offering leaves far too much to be desired. Such a shame, as I am an easy mark for this stuff, but this just doesn’t meet the grade.
+ Has some good or even clever moments
+ It tries
- No stakes, with no arcade mode or difficulty settings
- Not nearly as authentic to the 32Bit Low-poly era as it claims to be
- Stiff, unresponsive controls