Review: Into the Breach
In 2012, a two-person indie studio called Subset Games (@subsetgames) released FTL: Faster Than Light for PC/Mac. FTL was a a breakout success, garnering awards from IGN, PC Gamer, and other publications, and has since been ported to mobile platforms. Six years later in 2018, the studio released their sophomore effort, Into the Breach. In 2020, I have finally gotten around to playing this game, and here is my review.
Into the Breach is a strategy game with rouge-like elements. It is set in the future, where an underground-dwelling alien species, called the Vek, is attacking Earth's surface, threatening the survival of humanity. You play as a team of Rift Walkers, mech pilots sent from the future to ensure the continuation of the human race. Your job is to eliminate the Vek hive by using a variety of mechs, weapons, and special abilities.
Into the Breach plays as a turn-based strategy game. The primary game play loop is fairly simple: each turn, each of your three units are allowed to 1) move, and 2) take an action, usually an attack or making repairs. The enemy will respond in turn and the cycle continues. You begin a play-through by choosing one of four islands to start on, each with different terrain, enemies, and secondary objectives. Before being allowed to take on the Vek hive on the fifth and final island, you must first clear at least two of these islands.
On each island, there are a number of stages to challenge. For each stage, you begin by placing your units on the grid. Then, your main objectives are to ensure your units survive, and to prevent damage to the power grid by defending certain marked tiles. During your turn, you are able to see what each enemy unit is going to do on its next turn, and what order each of the enemy units will act in. This allows you to get pretty creative in working around their attacks. Many of your attacks and abilities can also manipulate the positions or orientations of enemy units, so with a little planning you can even get the Vek to damage themselves.
Additionally, there are optional secondary objectives on each stage that reward you with extra power grid capacity, extra currency (which you can spend to get more weapons, abilities, and pilots at the end of each island), and power cores (which you can use to upgrade your mechs). You may also have to work around environmental hazards such as lightning strikes or floods. For the final stage of each island, you face a Vek boss, which is usually a heavily upgraded version of the typical Vek found on that island. If you manage to complete a play-through (or reach a game over by losing too much of the power grid) without losing all of your units, you will be able to carry forward one of your surviving pilots (and all of their special abilities unlocked in the run) to bring to your next play-through.
Finally, to keep things interesting from run to run, you are able to unlock new mechs and pilots by completing some objectives. The different mechs have varying abilities, such as being able to manipulate environmental hazards or inflict status effects on Vek units.
Into the Breach presents a great combination of a simple to learn strategy game with rouge-like elements. Usually I stay away from strategy games since they take so long to learn how to play, even for the simple mechanics. Add in more nuanced strategies and advanced techniques and it feels more like picking up a part-time job than something I want to play for fun. Into the Breach however, takes about 15 minutes of your time to get a good grip on, and the tutorial guides you through the learning process perfectly. Additionally, the size of the board keeps the complexity to a manageable level, while still leaving enough options open to make you really consider each move carefully. And while the game does have random elements, I never felt like I was put in a position I couldn't get out of with the tools at my disposal. Game play wise, this game is flawless.
There are quite a few side goals to complete to give a sense of progression outside of a single play-through. These end up opening up new mechs and pilots to choose from when starting a run. Additionally, after completing a certain amount of islands in a row, you can unlock a fourth island with new objectives, terrain, and enemies to encounter. While this progression is nice, what I find lacking is any sort of narrative driving the progression. The only motivation to play is to complete a run and unlock more mechs. This certainly isn't the end of the world, especially if you are in love with the game play, but I wish there was a way to learn more about the Vek and humanity's greater state in the war against the alien invasion.
Graphically, Into the Breach is clean and easy to read. I was always able to see exactly what was going on when playing. The game is mostly gray and gloomy, but does have quite a bit of color splashed in, which keeps it from looking stale. I feel the graphics compliment the setting well, without coming off as too drab as is common in post-apocalyptic settings.
Lastly, the music stays in the background. It's not bad, in fact I think it adds to the atmosphere quite well. It mostly just feels like the developers were trying to make something that wasn't annoying to hear for hours on end, and in that respect the music does its job well.
Into the Breach is one of those games that, if you like the game play, will keep you playing for "just one more round." I'm not the biggest fan of either rouge-likes or strategy games, and even I was quite entertained with the time I spent playing. Unfortunately, there is next to no story to follow, which keeps me from sticking around too long. However, if that isn't a concern to you, I can see some people playing Into the Breach for a many hours. I highly recommend at least checking out this game. At worst, you'll still have a great time trying to complete a few runs.