I was into the idea of Breakneck City the very first time I saw it’s neon technicolor low poly characters. They looked like wonderfully dumpy throwbacks to a game that is, for no justifiable reason, an all-time great for me: Fighting Force 64. I couldn’t wait for a new take on old-school 3D brawling that would transport me back to the Fruitopia fueled gaming sessions of my youth.
I’m halfway through Breakneck City and… it doesn’t do that. It doesn’t do any of that at all.
Breakneck City Should be Great
At it’s core, Breakneck City is a game where you punch and kick a whole lot of folks. This is a very straightforward brawler with simple controls. You can punch, kick, jump, and do jumping punches and kicks. There is no block button in Breakneck City, because your job is to punch and kick every enemy that comes your way.
There is a dodge, which is weird. I mean, it’s weird in that it feels like it is antithetical to the punching and kicking, but it’s also weird because it’s not a button. In order to dodge you have to take your right thumb away from your jump, punch, and kick buttons and use the right analog stick. You can sort of use the dodge to dash across the stage by holding the stick in a direction to scoot along… but it feels really weird to be using a second analog stick in a game like this. It’s a weird concern, but I wish that you could just dodge by hitting the fourth face button, instead.
One of the selling points of this game is that it focuses on “environmental interactions”. It took me a while to figure out that these are mostly triggered by kicking a blocking enemy into the environment. Knocking a bruiser into a wall, over a railing, or dumping them into a dumpster is a super fun idea.
Then the Problems Start
The problem with the environmental interactions is that they are really hard to trigger. As far as I can tell, you can only get an enemy to budge by waiting for them to block, then kicking them, which means that incorporating the environment is something you have to focus on making happening, rather than something that feels like a natural flow in the game. A game that looks like Breakneck City looks should never be asking you to slow down the process of punching and kicking everything in sight in order to think tactically… that’s just wrong.
What’s worse, though, is the camera in Breakneck City. When you start the game the camera is basically focused on your character. Okay, great. You move to the right and the camera moves right with you. Unfortunately, the camera very quickly develops a mind of it’s own. Sometimes it decides it needs to keep an enemy in sight, and pans wildly around left and right as the enemy gets punched in order to keep them in frame.
The most infuriating part is when you come across what I suppose is supposed to be a big set piece, so the camera immediately snaps from following you around to being locked in one place. The problem here is that the threshold between “in this spot the camera follows me” and “in this spot the camera is locked in place” is non-existent. I repeatedly got into fights on top of that threshold which meant that every step sent the camera rocketing back and forth between two places in a truly nauseating way.
Guns are Hard
The biggest problem in the game came up for me near the end of the third of six levels. Up to that point I’d found opportunities to pick up baseball bats and pipes and wail on my enemies with them. Press punch to pick up the weapon, press punch again to use the weapon. At the end of level three I came up against and bested an enemy with a gun.
I was ecstatic when I picked up his pistol and got ready to start blasting everyone around me. Hitting the punch button didn't fire the gun… instead my character sort of limply wiggled the gun in front of them. I kept pressing buttons, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, and got my butt beat in the process. The pistol had disappeared when I respawned, so I beat the level 3 boss with nothing but my fists.
Then I started up level four, and was immediately faced with two gun-toting toadies.
I spent an embarrassingly long time in just that room trying to figure out how to use the gun, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that you simply can’t. Picking up a gun in Breakneck City doesn’t seem to let you use the gun. It just replaces your punch with the amazing ability to wiggle a gun at baddies.
Note: I’m sure there’s a way to use the gun. I’m absolutely sure of it. However, since the game made no effort to teach me, this is still a failing.
This game is clearly designed to be a throwback to a time of simpler graphics and jankier mechanics. I think it succeeds with flying colors on it’s aesthetic design, but everything else about Breakneck City disappointed me. The combat was a bit too basic, the implementation of the dodge was weird, the camera was wonky, and it just ended up not being very fun.
Also, it uses the F-word an excessive amount. Like, there is no reason for this game to be M rated except for unnecessary language.
There’s a type of joy that can be found in laughing about a janky game, and I think Breakneck City could work in that respect. If you’re looking for a cheap game to laugh as you struggle against with a friend in co-op or on a stream, there’s something of value here. If you’re looking for a way to relive the glory of your youth, you should probably just go find a way to play Fighting Force again.