Review: Into the Breach05 Mar 2018 0
Review: Into the Breach
Released 27 Feb 2018
With FTL being such a huge indie hit, you might have expected the team behind it to deliver a follow-up in a similar vein. The game they've come up with, Into the Breach, only shares procedural generation and the "strategy" tag with its predecessor. And then even the latter is a bit of a stretch.
What we've got here is a peculiar and addictive blend of strategy and puzzles. Games consist of a series of five-turn tactical encounters on cramped eight by eight maps. You control a team of three mechs, battling against the insectoid Vek.
Battling, however, is only half the story. You can lose mechs during the encounter, but you'll get them back later. Instead, the critical, game-losing resource is power which drops if buildings on the map get damaged. Often you won't have the firepower to take out the vile Vek threatening the structures. Rather, you need to use your weapon's secondary effect which is to push enemies around.
You can see where attacks will land and what the effect will be. The only real randomness in the game is where and what foes the map will spawn each turn. Minimising damage is the aim, and to do that you must meticulously plan movement and attacks, coordinating your team for maximum impact.
At first, it feels a little one-dimensional, a bit like those tiresome sequential movement puzzles. As you play, though, you learn to see more and more opportunities to up your game. It's good to push a Vek out of the way, so its attack doesn't hit its target. Better, though, if you can make it hit another Vek instead. Even better still if you can push it onto a spawning tile, damaging the target and preventing a new Vek from emerging.
Watching the tactical possibilities unfurl like a flower makes your initial games very addictive. The tiny maps and play time feel odd at first but are a stroke of genius. They let you try out ideas, see how they work, learn from them and try again lightning fast. Brains love that, thrive on it, want to do it over. The result is digitised crack cocaine in a videogame.
Each level also has some rewards to claim for meeting certain objectives. Often these are to protect critical buildings or friendly units. Other times it's about killing boss Vek or even destroying scenery. Win a level and you'll get to pick another from an island map, allowing you to choose the maps with the rewards you want most. Win enough on the island and you'll get to spend those rewards on upgrades for your mechs. All these factors combine with the procedurally generated maps to keep the puzzle fresh and unpredictable.
Enemies get tougher as you progress through the four islands in the game. Yet, in an odd twist, you're allowed to run the final level after beating only two islands. This means that once you've got a good grasp on the tactics required, you can beat the entire game in about an hour. On the one hand, this does fit with the addictive bite-sized strategy template which underpins the game. On the other, it has the potential to be unsatisfyingly fast. What gives?
Well, achievements play a critical role in Into the Breach. So much so that you can track them from within the game itself rather than only via Steam. Each one earns you a medal, and you can spend medals on unlocking new squads of mechs for future playthroughs.
Each squad offers a whole new play style to try. Zenith Guard, for example, is a combination of offence and defence with a powerful weapon and a shield effect. Steel Judoka is all about positional play, using martial arts to move enemies around. Flame Behemoths, as the name suggests, set fire to things and then use a teleport effect to drop unwitting Vek into the inferno. There are eight in total, each demanding a re-think of how you approach the puzzle.
And that, right there, is where Into the Breach stands or falls. It took me about three hours of practice to win the game for the first time. I went back for more, not only because I had a review to write, but because I found re-learning my way around the puzzle with fresh tools a fascinating challenge. The fact I enjoy ticking off achievements helped a lot. Between them, those two things motivated me to play a whole lot more. While this will probably satisfy the majority, this essentially repetitive game-loop won’t be for everyone.
This is a worthy follow up to FTL, but it might not appeal to all of that game's legion of fans. Be mindful of what you’re getting yourself into: a drug-like buzz of re-running endless variations of a tactical puzzle in tiny chunks, getting better and faster with each defeat. That feeling will fade away faster for some than for others.