Broken Lines Review25 Feb 2020 0
Broken Lines Review
Released 25 Feb 2020
Weird World War settings aren’t especially novel. Ever since the golden age of comics the Nazis have been raising the dead, building robots, or invading the moon. And while it can be argued that Broken Lines’ unknown country and nameless masked enemies are different to the usual WW2 fare, the similarities are there. One of the first missions involves breaking a compatriot out of an internment camp and right from the get go there seems to be hints at genocide. But none of that really matters as Broken Lines is less Company of Heroes and more Darkest Dungeon in its approach to the rigors of war.
After being downed over supposedly neutral territory and with no knowledge of your top secret mission, you’re put in control of a ragtag band of British soldiers as they attempt to make their way back to safety. Along the way you’ll have to manage your resources to stave off starvation and to keep morale up. You’ll also have to deal with random events and interactions that cause characters, for better or worse, to develop traits. And, purely as a matter of taste, Broken Lines’ heavy characterisation really helped sell that constant march into madness more than its Darkest Dungeon inspiration. The slower burn and the way traits actually relate to the events that spawned them just feels more believable than DD’s random selection of neuroses.
The choices that the game calls on you to make are, from what we’ve seen, the usual fare. Give medicine to an injured/sick civilian or keep it for the squad. Side with one character or another in an argument. But really, there’s a reason these choices keep coming up. They’re relatable and the results are easier to intuit which is important as your squad’s mental state and the choices you make do affect how you’ll fare. A heavily stressed squad that dislike each other will find themselves more likely to panic and less effective overall, while a squad of friends in a good mood will be more accurate and less likely to panic. Which is much more frustrating than say XCOM: Enemy Unknown as panicked soldiers rush out of cover, waving their arms and getting riddled with holes.
On the tactical map, Broken Lines uses a WeGo system similar to what you see in Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock, if you’ve played that. It’s not quite turn based or full time and lacks the flexibility of real-time with pause. There are eight second real time that play out, and then forcibly pauses to let you plan your next moves. During the planning, you tell your units where to go, how to go there, and what abilities to use while they handle the aiming, shooting, and reloading. In the high strategy combat sections, WeGo works well. Not paying attention to potential flankers can be deadly and blind corners are the absolute worst. And if Broken Lines was just small combat arenas that would be fine but it has the awful habit of making you travel constantly. Huge linear paths broken into eight second chunks with no group move button, so each soldier has to be assigned individually.
Perhaps one of the best aspects of Broken Lines is that it holds the enemies to the same standard as the playable characters. Getting the drop on an enemy patrol (which pauses the game to let you reorganise, a godsend for impatient rushers) gives you a great opportunity to panic them and pick them off.
For hardcore/anti-save-scumming fans, Broken Lines might offer up a bit of a challenge as it awkwardly straddles the roguelike genre with perma-death for injured units. And with the war of attrition going very much against you, each little loss adds up to an eventual wall. To counter this, it lets you replay the current mission to try undo any mistakes. That isn’t to say the game promotes constant retrying as each redo costs your squad ‘composure’ which can make it just as difficult to progress.
At this early stage, Broken Lines does still have a few bugs that, in a roguelike, can boil the blood. As positioning is so important, units need to be moved constantly. But that breaks down completely when a unit’s pathfinding breaks and they just run in place for a whole round. Whenever that happens, you’ve got eight seconds of helplessness and if they die, you may have to restart the whole mission again or just let them be dead for the rest of the game. Other bugs, like enemies panic floating away because their animation failed to trigger are annoying but pale in comparison to that pathfinding issue. And normally we’d let little animation fails slide but Broken Lines does such a good job at setting up its atmosphere that mistakes stand out that much more.
The painterly style of the world and feeling of perpetual dusk makes it feel like you really are sneaking around, only advancing when safe to do so. The non-stereotyped characters and expressive headshots in dialogue makes the cast believable. And the narration, which lays on this air of hopeless struggle, just brings it all together to make the journey, and the toll it takes, feel right.
For all its comparatively minor flaws and one major issue that will most likely get patched by the time it releases, Broken Lines is a great strategy game that takes the usual tactical thinking and bends it just enough to feel fresh. Without the safety net of unmoving opponents or the ability to react on the fly, you have to consider what the AI might do more carefully and really utilise your powers and squad composition to get through a fight unscathed. So even with the occasional gruelling travel section, Broken Lines is still a pretty enjoyable ride. Kind of like that one war movie you love but no-one else gets.