Before we start let me ask do any of you remembers Faster Than Light, commonly known as FTL? When it appeared in 2012 it instantly became a huge hit and showed the world how a successful independent game (it was funded by Kickstarter) should look like. Many people address this game as the milestone in the indie game industry, and rightfully so. Many people fondly remember the hours they spent in the depths of space, managing the gradually less stable ship and the crew. FTL was clearly one of the games Into the Breach looked up to.
The other quite obvious inspiration for Into the Breach was the Pacific Rim movie franchise. Fighting giant monsters with giant robots and causing huge property damage and human casualties is the way this game works. The only difference is that in Pacific Rim characters get away without repercussions for their reckless behavior, which is not the case in Into the Breach. Not at all. But more on that later.
Into the Breach is a turn-based tactics game in which your squad of three mechs is pitted against a swarm of ground-dwelling bugs, the Vek. Each level is played out across just five turns on an 8×8 grid, and your ultimate goal is to survive, to build up the strength of your mechs, and to make it to the final denouement, in which you finish off the Vek for good. The good thing about this game, which also makes for its party trick, is that you get to see which moves the Vek make during their turns. That means you know what will be the Vek’s targets, how much damage they will do and in what order. Which evens the odds, since, in most missions, you’ll be heavily outnumbered. Tactics based games are, at their core, puzzle games and they involve a lot of guesswork and luck. Into the Breach avoids this, because you’ll know the exact result of every move your enemy makes, which makes the tactical aspect really tight and controlled.
While killing the Veks is a priority, it’s not always the optimal solution. Some of your weapons are not only damage dealing, but also have alternative effects like bouncing enemies back. This opens a whole spectrum of possible tactical movements. You can push the enemy, relocating their attacks or, if you’re clever enough, you can even make them attack each other. If nothing else, you can plunge the Vek into the bug-killing water. The options are vast, and you’re never sure if you made the best one. That’s why every battle, despite taking place on 8X8 squares and lasting only 5 turns, is a giant challenge you’ll spend hours figuring out.
While the tactics are very straightforward, albeit complex, the strategy component of this game has a lot of choice and variety. Campaigns take place across four islands, and each island contains a set of levels from which you choose four to battle on before you get to the final battle in order to protect your own headquarters from the ultimate attack. The missions you’re given are various, and range from protection of important objects, like trains or resources, to the destruction of enemies or structures. Upon succeeding, you’ll be given rewards. There are three types of rewards, and those are Power Grid points, Reactor Cores, which power-up weapons and abilities of your mechs, and Reputation points, which you spend on weapons and gear to equip your mechs. The game is not over when you lose your mission, but only if you deplete your entire Power Grid, so you’ll be in a constant dilemma which action to take and to measure whether the benefits of the mission outweigh the consequences it will bring about. So when the going gets tough, will you defend the plant in order to raise your Reputation at cost of your Mech’s well being, or will you prioritize your Mech over the defense? The Power grid is a crucial resource, so it’s the most important to have it in optimal shape, but your Mech’s health follows closely. When your Mech is destroyed, the pilot shares the same fate and it’s replaced in the next battle by an AI. The problem is, an AI can’t earn XP, so it can’t unlock extra hit points, movements and other abilities, which are necessary for later levels. Long story short, this is a game of heavy choices.
You may go to the final battle as soon as you complete your second island, but fighting through the remaining two islands is a good opportunity to stack up on gear and pile up you score. Into the Breach is relatively easier and shorter than the aforementioned FTL, but it’s conceived as a score attack game. You get medals depending on how many islands you liberated before winning, and your final score is defined by how many lives you saved. You’ll also have to think about unlocking new squads of mechs by getting special achievements. Every squad has a different forte and different perks. Some of them deploy heavy smoke that cancels attacks, some of them deal huge damage, but get damaged back, and so on. Each of these squads is a joy to learn and the challenge is constantly changing.
Those of you who remember FTL will recollect the unique feeling of panic whenever you face a no-win situation in this game too. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering games both were made by Subset Games. These games are comprised of the same elements: roguelike progression, detailed interaction of abilities and deliberate, slow tension that will make you bite your nails. If you loved FTL’s intricate and clever design, you’ll find it here as well, but Into the Breach is a much more compact and focused game. True, there are plenty of weapons to try, pilots with different abilities to unlock and a variety of game mechanics to get your mind going. However, after the first run, you’ll learn the ropes of the game and you’ll get to experiment on the already familiar playfield. Into the Breach might be missing the feeling of mystery from FTL, but all things aside it’s an addictive, rewarding and consistently challenging tactical game worthy of your time.