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Into the Breach

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC
Genre: Strategy
Developer: Subset Games
Release Date: Feb. 27, 2018

About Phillip Moyer

I majored in journalism because I wanted to use it as an excuse to play video games, but I accidentally got a real job along the way. Now I write reviews in my free time for WorthPlaying.


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PC Review - 'Into the Breach'

by Phillip Moyer on March 29, 2018 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Into the Breach is a turn-based strategy game where you control powerful mechs from the future to defeat an alien threat, and each attempt to save the world presents a new randomly generated challenge.

Buy Into the Breach

When Subset Games released FTL in 2012, the only other rogue-lites in existence were Spelunky, which was a platformer, and The Binding of Isaac, which was a top-down action game. Platformers and action titles have gone on to become mainstays of the genre, and publishers have experimented with making rogue-lite card games, JRPGs, and even downhill biking.

Despite FTL's popularity at the time, strategy rogue-lites have never taken off as much as other genres. Smaller publishers have made a number of tactical rogue-lites, but none have gained much attention from the gaming community.

Subset Games' newest offering, Into the Breach, looks to change that. There's a straightforward premise: You are giant mechs fighting giant bugs. There's also some time-traveling thrown into the mix, but that only exists so you can fight the giant bugs again after you fail to beat them the first time around.

If you're going to play a rogue-lite, you're going to die — in the game. This can be therapeutic, as it teaches you to accept failure and not let it prevent you from trying again.

Into the Breach offers a more harrowing lesson because almost every failure feels like it's your own dumb fault. The game tells you exactly where the enemies will strike next, so each turn is something of a puzzle where you try to minimize the damage that your foes do to your mechs and the surrounding city.

The title lets you do in a clever twist on the tactical strategy genre. Almost every attack can either move an enemy onto a different tile or disrupt the enemy's attack directly, so the best strategies often involve moving enemies away from their targets and into the paths of other enemies' attacks. Add  the myriad of environmental dangers, and the result is a game that forces you to constantly rethink your strategy.

In true rogue-lite fashion, you're as much of a danger to yourself as you are to your enemy, and a careless shot can send one of your mechs careening into a nearby building. You need to keep the building infrastructure intact, or else it's game over. These dangers mean it's often a game of deliberately making sacrifices and choosing to let one building or mech take damage so another can remain intact. Sometimes, if things get really bad, it becomes a game of hoping against hope that a building manages to resist damage despite your failure to protect it.

This sounds complicated, but don't worry. The UI is brilliantly designed, making it simple to tell what's happening on the battlefield.

When you're winning, you'll feel extremely clever, and let's be honest, feeling clever is one of the main draws of tactics games. Nothing feels more satisfying than wiping out your enemies by forcing all of them into the path of a burst dam or causing them to wipe themselves out by shooting each other when they were really aiming for the power plant.

The flipside, however, is that when you lose (and lose you will, unless you play on the easy difficulty), you'll see your failure as the result of a long series of bad decisions that you could have avoided. While there are plenty of random elements, including which weapons you can buy and how each map is laid out, there is little about the experience that feels unfair. The weapons and upgrades are doled out on a consistent basis, and enemy action is telegraphed ahead of each turn, so the result is the persistent feeling that you should have had enough foresight to prevent things from snowballing out of control.

Thanks to the outstanding UI, you can tell how bad of a situation you've gotten yourself into as you watch everything fall apart.

The clarity of the interface comes at a cost, though. While the graphics are fine for those who enjoy pixel art, they aren't anything special. Games like Owlboy and Hyper Light Drifter have shown that pixel art can be gorgeous, whereas Into the Breach's art is content to remain functional. The graphics are a huge improvement over FTL, which at times looked like little more than a souped-up spreadsheet, but Into the Breach doesn't attempt to do anything flashy. That's not necessarily a mark against it, since the clean designs give the player a crystal-clear view of the battlefield that can be digested in an instant.

Unfortunately, this clarity comes at the sacrifice of variety. Each of the five islands has exactly one mountain sprite, one ground sprite, and one water sprite. If you see a building that looks different from the island's one building sprite, that's because it's your special objective. It certainly clears up any confusion about what's what, but it's hard to believe that an average player couldn't figure out that a mountain is still a mountain, even if it doesn't look exactly like the mountain on the adjacent tile.

The sound design follows a similar utilitarian philosophy. The soundtrack succeeds at setting the apocalyptic mood without drawing much attention to itself, and the sound effects work well with the action on-screen and work seamlessly with the gameplay.

Into the Breach is short, which is typical for rogue-lites; you'll be hard-pressed to find one that lasts longer than a couple of hours on a successful run. The replayability usually comes from how difficult it is to actually finish the game, and the fact that every playthrough will be different. Into the Breach has all of these qualities and cleverly teases you by offering more upgrades than you can afford in to buy in a single run. That prompts you to come back and play again to see how the different weapons and abilities change the way you play. The ability to unlock new mech squadrons that play completely differently than the starting squad may tempt you even further.

Yet somehow, the game feels a bit emptier than other entries into the genre. Perhaps it's the loss of the sense of exploration, with all the islands being visible to you from the very beginning — even if you can't access them until they're unlocked. Perhaps it's because the easy mode makes completing it an absolute breeze. Perhaps it's simply the fact that, by being so fair to the player, it's not hard to feel like you've seen everything the game has to offer, even when you haven't yet mastered the strategy and most of the mech squadrons still remain locked.

Into the Breach presses all the right buttons to keep tactical strategy fans hooked, and many will come back over and over again despite any shortcomings they may perceive. I, for one, plan to waste away many more afternoons saving the world from an infestation of bugs. Then, once I finish spraying my house and yard, I plan to play some more Into the Breach.

Score: 8.2/10

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