PC/Mac Reviews

Into the Breach Review: The Only Good Bug is a Dead Bug

Subset Games, developers of the hit FTL, just released Into the Breach, a game that is just as good, if not better than FTL. Comparisons to FTL are going to be common as from the outside the games look similar. They have similar art styles, although Into the Breach’s isometric view leads to better overall visuals and cooler models. They both have rogue-like elements: you start a run and make your way from mission to mission, gathering upgrades along the way. Win or lose your progress doesn’t carry over to your next run barring some permanent unlocks. There is even a map that gives you some control over what mission you take next.

Once you actually get into the missions, the meat of Into the Breach, you will find that Into the Breach is in fact a very different game from FTL. Into the Breach’s missions take place on a grid, not unlike a chess board, with your characters starting on one side and the enemy starting on the other. The enemy’s job is to destroy everything, whether it’s your units, the buildings in the area filled with people, friendly NPCs, etc. Your job is to stop that by any means necessary, which can mean straight combat, manipulating the positions of enemies or sometimes even sacrificing your own units. See, it’s actually like chess in a lot of ways.

The premise of Into the Breach focuses on a future where humanity is locked in battle with bug-like monsters called the Vek. In the distant future the world has been destroyed, so time travel is used to send giant mechs back in time to stop the Vek. Each playthrough you attempt is presented as a unique timeline that will either be saved or lost, depending on your success. Either way you can carry over one mech pilot into the next timeline that needs saving, allowing you to retain their experience and abilities for the next run.

The time travel element also plays a crucial role in gameplay. As the turn-based gameplay plays out the enemy always moves first but you get every detail of how the enemy is going to act: what they are going to attack and in what order. This makes Into the Breach feel just a much as a puzzle game as it is a strategy game. While on mission there is no RNG – this isn’t XCOM – you know exactly what is going to happen and how your actions will affect the playfield. At the beginning of your turn you don’t want to just callously act, you need to plan out your moves and utilize the special abilities of your units to come through each mission victorious.

One of the coolest things about Into the Breach is just what that victory actually means. Sometimes you will get yourself into a situation that can’t be cleanly solved and will be forced to mitigate collateral damage or make sacrifices. Unlike many properties with giant mechs fighting giant monsters (i.e. Pacific Rim) where a lot of the joy comes from massive destruction of buildings, with hundreds if not thousands of people killed from such carnage, Into the Breach puts the focus on saving people. You overall score is based off how many people you save in missions but also every time a building takes damage you lose a point on your power grid. If this happens too much you immediately lose.

The focus of saving buildings leads to Into the Breach instantly feeling different than most other games out there. You are not simply trying to kill every bug that shows up – although a dead bug surely can’t launch any attacks. Instead a lot of the mech abilities emphasize moving units around rather than pure damage and simply trying to stay alive until enemy retreats. Many actions will pull, push or otherwise manipulate units on the playfield. You can pull an enemy one space closer so their projectile falls harmlessly onto a nearby mountain, or maybe even onto another enemy. You can push an enemy into a hazard, like lava or a square where lightning will strike, instantly eliminating an otherwise difficult enemy to kill. Other things will just temporarily neutralize an enemy, like freezing it in ice or encompassing it in smoke.

The gameplay system is purely fantastic, and missions will make you feel like a complete genius when you manage to get yourself out of what looks like a no-win scenario unscathed. You’ll also have times where you move too fast, not paying attention to the way units would shift and end up letting a unit or building get destroyed. Then you feel like a complete idiot. Luckily the game does give you a mulligan, letting you reset the current turn to try a different scenario. You only get one reset per mission though, so the chess comparisons come back again, where you must visualize moves ahead of time because once an action has been taken you’re locked in.

The gameplay elements outside of missions is incredibly compelling as well. The game is made up of four islands, each with a variety of missions. Each island has a set theme (forest, desert, tundra, industrial) but other than that each mission is randomized as to the objective and enemies. The objectives give you research cores, reputation points or extra grid power. Before you select a mission, you can see what the objectives are and what rewards you will receive. The objectives are completely optional but completing them successfully means you team gets stronger.  Once you complete four missions on an island you open up the boss mission. After that you spend whatever points you’ve accumulated on various new abilities and upgrades and move onto another island. After completing two islands you can choose to tackle the final mission or visit other islands to power up more.

They are 10 different teams of mechs that you can choose to start a playthrough with, each with varying special abilities and traits. Some focus on dealing damage, some on environmental effects like fire, smoke and ice while others focus more on moving enemies around. This just matters for what they start out with because as your playthrough goes on you’ll be able to power them up or unlock new abilities. You also can choose one pilot either from a previous playthrough or from a set of previously unlocked pilots. They provide their own layer of bonuses and abilities and can be shifted between your mechs at will.

At the start only one team is unlocked and the way you unlock other squads is brilliant. The various achievements in the game each earn you one coin. You then spend these coins to unlock groups of mechs. It’s a cool system that rewards you for simply playing the game, as well as trying out different squads as there are specific achievements for each squad based on their special abilities. You can also make custom squads, mixing from the various mechs you’ve unlocked or even choose to start a run with a random mix of mechs.

My only minor complaint about Into the Breach is that after a couple of playthroughs the mission design starts to feel a little repetitive. It’s less noticeable during normal missions since there is a good variety of overall mission design but the final mission plays out the same way every time you play it. Sure, the map changes and the enemies that pop up are randomized but the objective is the same for every final mission you do. It’s a small gripe and one that is pretty easily mitigated by the sheer amount of combinations of mechs but is still worth pointing out.

From the outset Into the Breach looks like a fairly simple, grid-based strategy game. Once you actually dive into it, though, you find there is incredible depth and strategy to found, and nearly limitless replay value due to the run-based nature and the combinations of mechs and pilots you can employ. Moreover, the gameplay is just plainly addictive, offering Civilization levels of “just one more turn.” The first night I sat down to play it I lost hour after hour before I realized it was past 3AM. If that doesn’t say something about how much fun this game is I don’t know what will.

SCORE: 9.5 out of 10

A copy of Into the Breach was provided to Pixel Related for review.

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