Into the Breach: The Story of One Perfect Mechanic

At long last, Into the Breach is here. Though it wasn’t promoted without undue fanfare, it’s definitely a release to mark when the game in question is the second outing from Subset Games, developers of the inimitable FTL. (Which came out in 2012, so it’s safe to say it’s been a while.) I’ll not hesitate: Subset Games has done it again. The game is great.

First I’ll address the big innovation: telegraphing enemy actions in a turn-based strategy game is a stroke of design genius. Trading the unpredictable randomness of a game like XCOM for clear-cut outcomes solves so many problems and creates so much room for fun gameplay. The strong emphasis on movement is built around the telegraphed attacks and shifting around the tiles characters sit on is such fun. I’m seriously getting the Tetris effect after long sessions. There’s also something to be said for the fact that this entirely new game mechanic being super-intuitive. The big red arrows and dotted lines couldn’t be more clear: this is what happens when you click End Turn.

It’s such fun to play! I’ve had a weird experience in that at first, Into the Breach didn’t totally click with me. After my first play-through I was uncertain–it was plain the telegraphed action was a good idea but I didn’t completely get it right away, so to speak. But playthrough two was a revelation in which everything slotted into place so hard that I didn’t get up for hours. I went on to beat the game two or three times in that one session. (The game is beatable! Thank heavens Subset took the “FTL is too fucking hard” feedback seriously!!)

The style of the game is marvelous, too. Of course the art style is great–perfectly-executed pixel graphics always do it for me. (I’m biased on that count so I’ll gush no more about the art.) On top of that, the worldbuilding and setting of the game is unique and interesting, too! Taking the concept of time travelers going back to save the world again–or undo mistakes–gives the abstract roguelike genre trope a bit more grounding in the narrative. Subset does some fun things with this, too, like the time pods that crash onto maps and worldbuilding using the (very brief) dialogue lines that pop in throughout the game. It’s a shining example of the “less is more” trope and I can’t get enough of it.

And now: after all that relentless praise I feel all right going on about my negativistic caveat. The one thing that’s leaving me a little high and dry with the game is the inconsistent content. When I said that it didn’t click right away, then it clicked hard earlier? That cycle played out twice. And it’s entirely because of the mech teams. There are 10 teams of mechs, each team centered around a mechanic or two. The default mechs are good; the movement-based Steel Judoka squad is superb and by far my favorite. But the ice-mechanic mech team? Bleh. I bounced hard from the game for a week after a run or two with that sorry lot. I’m also worried about a few other teams I haven’t mustered the interest to try. That said, I’ve played a few more teams that sound like my speed and enjoyed them, so it’s not a case of one hit and a lot of misses.

That’s it. That’s my only critique of the game after 15 hours across several dozen runs. It’s a great game grounded on a phenomenal idea. My only remaining hope for the game is that Subset comes around with some DLC mech teams or additional islands–while FTL wasn’t super-suited to DLC, Into the Breach would be. At $15, I simply cannot recommend this game enough.