The remnants of human civilization are threatened by the Vek, gigantic insect-like creatures breeding beneath the earth. The only chance of humanity lies into a squad of powerful Mechs that can be sent back in time from the future to hold off the monsters before they can take over the world: whenever they fail, they’re allowed to send their best pilot to another timeline and try again, until they succeed.
No, this isn’t a sci-fi Hollywood flick: we’re talking about Into The Breach, an excellent strategy turn-based game videogame developed by Subset Games: in case you’ve never heard of them, it’s worth noting that these are the guys that developed the critically-acclaimed Faster Than Light (better known as FTL) in 2012, one of the greatest rogue-like RTS of all times – which is still holding a perfect 10/10 score on Steam as of today.
Their new creature, Into The Breach, was released on Steam less than a month ago (27 feb 2018) and is already hitting the top-selling and top-scoring charts. The best way to describe the game is to think about Pacific Rim, mix it up with Edge of Tomorrow and put all together in a strategic turn-based pixel-art game.
Technically speaking, we’re talking about a turn-based strategy game featuring very strong tactical elements: the player must assemble his own squad of mechs – each one with its own set of skills, weapons and traits – and face a number of increasing challenges/scenarios of increasing difficulty. As always, just like most turn-based strategy games, move management, crowd control skills and a great knowledge of the game & combat mechanics will be the most important keys to succeed: however, the game has a couple of interesting and (cumulatively) innovative features that will bring the players out of their comfort zone.
The defining characteristic of Into The Breach is definitely its permanent death effect, which the game manages to ruthlessly achieve by mixing up three rather “merciless” rules:
- If one of your pilot gets killed on the field, he dies: you won’t be able to get him back. All his experience and personal unique traits will be permanently lost. That’s not a news in the TBS genre: a lot of games works this way, since the 1994’s masterpiece Ufo: Enemy Unknown by Microprose and up to its worthy successor XCOM from Firaxis in 2012. After all, the awkward feeling of permanently losing a pilot – even a whole squad of pilots – was part of the fun of these games: on top of that, the player was also given the chance to recover from such dramatic losses. However, Into The Breach manages to stretch this even further…
- If you lose a single map, it’s game over. Your team is the Earth’s very last chance, in a literal sense: whenever you die, the world’s defence – power, shields, army and whatever else, including people – will also crumble right after you. You’ll be only able to recover a single pilot and travel it “back to the future” to use it for your next timeline / next attempt, where you’ll basically have to start the game from scratch. There’s no coming back from a loss, only a (partial) disaster recovery in the form of a single survivor. This might seem brutal, isn’t it? It actually is! However, there’s nothing new: the sudden death is another common trope of the turn-based gaming genre. Luckily enough, these games usually also give the player a safety belt by granting them the chance to save their progresses… The greatest power that could be given to an human being according to the awesome Undertale RPG (if you don’t know what we’re talking about, do you a great favor and get it now as it’s one of the greatest RPGs of all time). Unfortunately, that’s not the case of Into The Breach, because…
- You don’t get to save. That’s basically it. Well, technically speaking, you can save your progress… but only when quitting the game: Save and Quit. In other words, you won’t be allowed to have a save/restore point that you can use to reload your precious crew and status before they were dead. No backup available. Nothing at all, except for the chance to retrieve a single pilot in your next timeline / next attempt, where you’ll have to start the game from scratch. This basically means that only a small set of mistakes – often a single mistake, at least on heated maps – will easily screw up your whole campaign and permanently erase your game progresses, apart from the surviving pilot and the chance to start with one of the three non-starting islands you were able to clear at least once – in a previous attempt.
Together, these three rules define a new standard in the turn-based strategy genre: the uncanny feeling that a single mistake might crush the whole game grants an incredibly tense and exciting gaming experience. If you think that it can be frustrating, fear not: each attempt to save the world (each timeline, if you prefer) is completely generated by a random generator engine that will create a completely new – and unique – set of maps, islands, gaming scenarios, monster combinations, treasury findings and so on. To keep it simple, you will always face a new gaming experience and new tactical challenges, which you’ll be eventually able to best with your increasing know-how.
The challenges posed to the players within the various maps are never trivial and often beautifully conceived: the players will quickly understand that the required micro-management of the units and their available actions – moving, spawn-blocking, body-blocking, shielding, firing weapons and so on – makes the game more similar to logical puzzles than to typical wargames. Despite the mechs vs aliens theme, the game will often force you into thinking about sliding blocks strategies – stacking, pushing, pulling, chaining and – eventually – defeating your opponents with your better positioning within the map. Conversely, those who are used to focus only on map control and chess-like strategies will be easily beaten within few rounds – until they’ll learn how to properly mix control and position accordingly to the enemy typical moving and attacking patterns.
In my personal opinion, Into The Breach is a worthy successor to the great FTL: I love how the game often forces you to sacrifice energy or goals to continue, constantly keeping the player on the edge. The game does not hide anything from you and you know exactly what will happen: it tells you how to attack the enemies, from where they will emerge and also the order of the enemy attacks. Let alone the random elements given by the maps and the enemy movements, the skill and the gaming experience are the only things that will do the difference.
Truth to be told, the graphics isn’t really my cup of tea: not the best pixel-art out there, that’s for sure. Also, the music theme by Ben Prunty (who also produced the FTL soundtrack), although being quite enjoyable, will be hardly remembered as one of his best works.
Let alone these trivial issues the game is virtually perfect, at least for those who are confortable with the TBS and/or logical puzzle genres. Board-game players and TBS fans will definitely have a lot of fun and will be able to experience a great challenge. I personally chose to go for the hard difficulty mode right from the start and it took me exactly eleven hours to finish the game (roughly 5 timelines/attemps) with the complete route: all four islands + the final challenge. Here’s a screenshot depicting my personal record:
If you want to share your records, paste it in the comments below!