Into the Breach: Stiffen Up the Sinews, Summon Up the Blood, and Play This Game

Games Reviews Into the Breach
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<i>Into the Breach</i>: Stiffen Up the Sinews, Summon Up the Blood, and Play This Game

Into The Breach is Subset Games’s follow-up to their celebrated 2012 game FTL: Faster Than Light, and if you enjoyed that game you have a strong chance of enjoying Into The Breach. If you’re here to get that question answered for yourself, then that’s the answer. Have a good time with the game!

For those of you who are left, Breach is something akin to a cross between a puzzle game and a tactical combat game. The narrative hook is that humans have discovered time travel technology, but they’re also the victims of a violent invasion by a giant insectoid species called the Vek. We fight valiantly, but we lose. We use our time travel technology to hop into a parallel time stream that is back when the Vek invasion began. Hopefully, after we learn enough skills, we can take them out.

It’s a format that works well on film (hello, Live. Die. Repeat.), and it does great work in the game to justify the roguelike-like mechanics that Into The Breach relies on. What does that mean? It means that every time you play the game, things are different. You progress through the game by reclaiming regions on islands, and each time you enter a region you get a new procedurally generated quest. If you’ve played games like Spelunky or Rogue Legacy, then you probably know the score here.

Into The Breach is interested in you, as a player, gaining skills and developing new ways of thinking about the puzzle-like battles it puts in front of you. The island regions threatened by the Vek are small tactical boards, and you control a small cohort of giant, Pacific Rim-style robots who are there to smash and push their enemies around. Critically, these giant robots have mass, and Breach is very much committed to showing that big stuff smacking into other things has real effects. The idea is to prevent the Vek from attacking civilian buildings, prevent them from killing your mechs, and to kill them. Importantly, the game’s concerns are in that order.

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That’s the puzzle-y part of the game. Each map has a turn counter that’s slowly ticking down, and at the end of it the remaining Vek will disappear. Into The Breach’s most interesting qualities come from the fact that you do not have to kill your enemies to win the game. You don’t have to annihilate each and every Vek on a time limit, and you don’t ever have to put your mechs in too much danger. You just need to be able to use your punching, shooting, artillery-firing robots to keep scooching enemy Vek around until the game is over.

There are various unlockable mechs that allow you to do this to greater and lesser degrees. There are robots that flip enemies and position them so that they are attacking their allies; there are mechs that fart out massive clouds of dust to cancel enemy attacks. The game asks you, repeatedly, to consider tactics of avoidance and positioning instead of full-on assault. And that’s where the game really has legs. You can dig into the interlocking mechanics that Into The Breach gives you and become comfortable in them, and it really does allow for virtuoso performances to emerge.

I’m not that good at the game. I haven’t beaten it, and I can’t imagine that I’ll get close without an intensive amount of focus that I generally don’t have for this kind of game. But it’s impossible to ignore that this is the kind of game that returns everything you give it tenfold. If you commit and dig in, you’ll be rewarded with that rare feeling of accomplishment in a videogame. Not because you leveled up or because you managed to get one over on the game, but because the puzzle feeling of Into The Breach makes the game appear to be extremely fair. I never feel like I’ve been tricked when I lose, and I never feel like I’ve done something out of bounds when I win.

Into the Breach was developed and published by Subset Games. It is available for PC, Mac and Linux, through Steam.

Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com. His latest game, Epanalepsis, was released last year. It’s available on Steam.