Into the Breach

Metal Geeeear?!

Game Name: Into the Breach (2018)
Developer: Subset Games (FTL – Faster Than Light)
Platform: PC, MAC, Linux, Nintendo Switch (reviewed on PC)
Categories: High Concept Puzzler, Turn-Based, Tactical Positioning, Tile Defense, Mechs and Tanks vs Bugs, Environmental Hazards, Squad Management/Design, Pilot Growth, Roster Quirks and Complementing Abilities, Rogue-Like Sessions, Multiple Difficulties, Pixel Art, Isometric, Time Travel, Parallel Universes, Addictive, Replayable

May Appeal To: brains, masterminds, mech jockeys, players on the go, Rogue-like session divers, time attackers, completionists, and “God damn time traveling robots”.
May Repulse: those expecting something akin to a Godzilla or Pacific Rim type brawl, or anyone with hopes for nuts-and-bolts mech customization with RPG-like progression.

Comparable To: Starship Troopers’ bug variety and collateral warfare, I suppose. You’ve got all sorts of conceptual influences across the various sci-fi strata though the only real video game ancestor I can name is Advanced Wars. Even then, only the grid-based tactics and overall unit design is similar, with Into the Breach retaining little resemblance to a classic TBS focused on a single battle. Record of Agarest War also has elements where team members’ relative positions provide a tactical advantage.

Is the rock monster pretending to not speak English again?

Learning Curve: Overall concepts can be gleaned in 30 minutes. The eight official teams each have disparate tactics and take maybe 10 minutes of experimentation.
Game Length: Sessions are about an hour. There is ~20-30 hours of playtime before unlocking the majority of the various vehicles and content.
Difficulty: User-controlled, both in the enemy total and island quantity to grind before the final showdown. There are pilots that can be discovered and carried over though the difficulty is transactional, meaning it ends on each playthrough. I was consistently able to handle the worst it had to offer and rarely felt overwhelmed, unlike FTL.
Mastery: A strong stable of achievements encourage experimentation with the eclectic teams and there are a perfect amount of challenges to keep it from dragging on too long – all of which unlocks even more “meks” to play with. The mastery of enemy positioning, their friendly-fire, and damage chaining leads to an immensely satisfying experience, superior to direct-fire targeting. You’ll soon discover the joys of launching a rock whose impact pushes a bug onto a fire tile, flipping its attack direction with a hovering science vessel, and causing it to charge forward, ramming a separate invader into an acid pool.

(You choose to defeat bugs with guns? How blasé.)

Story: Although razor-focused on being a quick, concise puzzler, the game never expands upon the intriguing concept of a time-traveling, dimension-hopping SWAT team with a specialty for eradicating massive insects and protecting the last vestiges of humanity. Suffice to say that not only is the planet succumbing to rising oceans, but that a subterranean bug swarm breeds unchecked, terrorizing the dwindling settlements with surprise raids in which destruction appears to be the only goal.

Four inhabited islands remain: a lush “old Earth museum”, a desert colony of terraformers, AI robots presently plagued by snowy climes, and a manufacturing island complete with acid pools and industrial conveyer belts. Each beseeches your defensive team to repel the chittering Vek that bust forth from the very ground to destroy skyscrapers and the crucial power grid. Through smart tactical awareness against waves of relentless forces, the time travelers bolster their defensive capability, gain strength, then finally strike at the heart of the festering Vek, deep within the caldera of an active volcano. Should your forces succeed or fail…. well, there’s always another timeline with differing parameters to overcome.

Admittedly, this is less of a story and more of a comprehensive excuse for squashing bugs with mech-themed forces over and over.

Ooh, this is our chance for Barney Stinson to make a psychic connection with the Brain Bug, giving us a distinct advantage in the war.

Presentation: Deft and efficient UI. Optimal intuitiveness and very little to keep you from the action – just a few mouse clicks and your chosen machines are matching wits with the brute strength of the dastardly Vek. Like games of old, there isn’t any dithering here, just boot and play. And this makes it perfect for getting acclimated to the mechanics or just sneaking in some cerebral heroics before bedtime. Information is never buried or obscured since all relevant data is front and center, give or take the “alt” key which is used when hovering over enemies to see turn order or passive abilities.

Into the Breach has a clean minimalist style, accentuated by charming insect and mek sprites dancing in place as if everyone was too polite to take a quick bathroom break. They’re quaint, colorful, and get the job done in an appealing way. The effort culminates less in immersion and more in communicating information at a glance, a sort of tactical representation with abstract -though evident- symbols receiving most of the focus. You don’t read a bug’s posture but rather spot any tiles in which imminent attacks bathe the area in red stripes. Orangey-red pixels represent fire, bolts represent electric capacity, green squares for movement possibilities. Pyramid mountains, rectangle buildings. It’s not particularly inspired but definitely unified in simplicity that ought to appeal to both the iPhone crowd or anyone who doesn’t cringe at a WordPress web page by sight alone.

Although the [gorgeous] battle track and menu music are overplayed, sound effects for shots, slams, screeches, and splatter are impeccably timed and balanced if nothing else. My main criticism is the subtlety of the effects and scarcity of tracks to break up some of the auditory tedium. What’s there is solid and nothing actually offends me on an audio level. After 45 hours of interspersed play, however, a familiar internal scream emanating deep from within started to gain volume and contend with the ever-looping music. That’s just as much a developer problem as it is a reason to get out more.

Unique Features: An excellent variety of dynamic puzzles. These are created organically by needing to deploy precise and unconventional push, pull, and shooting maneuvers against an enemy looking to attack objectives that you’re tasked with defending. The shifting landscape, enemy abilities, pilot growth, and team composition are unique in their own right and mesh quite well with the overall mecha/bug theme.

Weirdly, the technology to hop across temporal dimensions is used by this cadre of freaks that decided bugs were best defeated with shoving and harsh language.

Gameplay: The game boots, you select a pilot (if available), pick a premade team, and hit the button to trigger the claxons and deploy in hot-drop fashion to a timeline which needs your assistance! A watery map stares back at you, revealing four islands with varying biomes. A zoom/enhance later and an island’s representative greets “the time travelers”, requesting immediate assistance with one of several areas colored red. You review the available mission specs, eager to drive deeper inland. Often, 3 of the following objectives will even stack in a single battle, increasing the complexity but rewarding tacticians with electric grid points (the buildings Vek can destroy before ‘Game Over’) and energy to enable further unit abilities:

Protect a mobile train as it scoots across the battlefield.
Block 3 Vek from surfacing (by having a vehicle/Vek stand on specific squares).
Don’t kill the explode-y Vek (redirect its attacks in a non-lethal manner).
Terraform all grass squares (a special weapon destroys plants and Vek alike).
Destroy 3 mountains.
Break 3 frozen buildings free from the ice.
Take less than 4 total damage.
Defend the satellite launches (when blasting off, they incinerate surrounding areas).
Defend the tanks (which will often fall under your control as extra units).

…. and many more.

Randomly, you’ll witness an aerial time pod of goodies streak into a tile, becoming a high value target to acquire at any cost. At mission’s end, you collect your objective rewards and/or crack pods open to reveal new pilots, abilities, or energy to activate existing skills – a dynamic system that allows for further tweaks later on.

Ultimately, the core gameplay is in exploiting the synergy of your given force and determining the best way to thwart the surfacing Vek – which arrive in burrowing waves across 5 turns or so. Do you position a brawler mek to take damage, in which he redirects it at the attacker? Do you focus on preventing Vek from surfacing by standing on their eruption zones? Where do you fire the artillery unit that pushes units in four cardinal directions? Do you focus on stringing enemies into links in which a lightning chain zips across them; do you weaken with the “acid” status debuff before striking a deathblow (via leap, punch, or laser) or do you simply push terrestrial bugs into nearby lakes? Various Vek exist: flyers, chargers, spitters, AOE, exploding, passive buffers, jumping harassers, spawners, diggers, and that’s not even including the super-charged bosses. The environment wants to get in on the action as well: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcano debris, air strikes, rocket blasts, patrolling drones, and others will frequently mark a tile for destruction, either a boon or a curse dependent on your own versatility.

Your single pilot selection is the sole thing inherited between excursions, but you’ll unlock abilities via XP (enemy kills) and start customizing meks during each session. Most machines will have a set amount of unpowered abilities that can do anything from increase the range they push a unit, the amount of shields they can throw down, the removal of friendly-fire, boosted repair, boosted damage, and standard stuff like health and mobility increases. On top of that, besting an island boss nets you a “store” of sorts where reputation is spent. This leads to liquidated assets in the form of energy, replacement pilots, and new untethered abilities to drag onto existing machines.

In short, tackle objectives during missions, gain rep and experience, grow stronger, defeat an island boss, acquire further rewards, tackle a new island with differing environmental hazards, and when finally confident in your team’s setup you’ll have the option to engage the enemy stronghold within a volcano -ideally, planting a bomb to wipe out that timeline’s Vek HQ! Failure along the path to glory is allowed, though even the smallest inconvenience can compound a bad situation given the right parameters – a defeated mek results in a skill-less robot replacing a character pilot. Uncompleted objectives will deny their juicy rewards. But with excursions taking less than an hour to resolve (one way or the other) the player brushes themselves off and just finds another fight to pick, searching for the ideal mek combination or exhausting the various challenges present at the opening game’s force selection screen.

Behold! The sacred, flaming land we work so diligently to preserve.

Additional CommentsSeveral times, I’d unlock a new team and deem the lack of direct fire weapons disturbingly difficult, only to discover latent abilities that were more fun than merely shooting my way across endless swathes of insect carapaces. These innovative squads have themes including toxicity, inferno, mobility, tanking, defense and have well-balanced tactics intended to accompany them. Discovering how to implement a particular force was the primary source of joy for me.

What I Liked: The pre-made squads, creating my own dream team, tackling the challenges, clearing hordes of ravenous bugs, feeling clever after many tricky examples of positioning and eradication tactics, boosting my forces to God-like levels, the ease at which play can be initiated and saved for later, the theme, and overall design.

What I Disliked: Though it’s not beneath me to just demand more of any specific element, there’s truly not much to complain about since everything present is on the scale of moderate to outstanding, especially for the price point. That being said: I want moar music variety, moar story elements, and moar meks to stomp Vek with!
Personal stats are recorded but maybe some form of online functionality could have time attack challenges and get the community involved in each others’ game somehow?

Got any straws available? I will grasp at them.

Glitches Experienced: None, thanks Into the Breach!

Hours I Played: ~45 hours. All achievements and 3,000 enemies dead.

My Personal Reaction: This is the type of experience I can see floating in a player’s reserve pile permanently, busted out on a rainy day or when showcasing some of the more inventive titles in their collection. Its approachability and ease of access lend Into the Breach a pick-up-and-play quality that is quintessential, an example of indie titles done right. Sometimes, the creativity and unfettered nature of a game shines so bright.

Noob Tips: You only get one “turn redo” per mission so spend it wisely. I’d advise surveying the field after the Vek declare their actions and prioritizing those that attack structures. If you can’t kill ’em, move ’em. Can a mek or even a separate Vek unit be used to block their projectile?

Mobility is key, so skirting indirect fire launchers along a perimeter junction of 2 axis and positioning closer combatants towards the middle of the map is often a smart play. Don’t customize your squad until you unlock and get a feel for at least four teams – they’re each better than first impressions would suggest.

Depth and Replayability: Mid-depth, Highest-replayability
The game design is banking on quick, casual, repeated sessions.

Suggested Value: $20

Where to Buy: Steam, Humble Bundle, GOG, Nintendo.com

Subjective Categorical Ranking:
(Platform capabilities are considered for Graphics and Sound)
                                                                                                        
                                | poor  ||  bad   || average || good || great |
            Fun Factor |██████████████████████████
Unique Gameplay |██████████████████████████
       Controls & UI |█████████████████████
         Story & Lore |█████████
  Graphics & Style |█████████████████████
    Sound & Music |████████████████
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This cantankerous bitch’s life never gets any easier to save.

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