Into the Breach (PC)

The far-fetched premise of Into the Breach is that in the future, climate-change-fueled ecological disasters have devastated humanity while neoliberalism-run-amok has left the entire world under the control of four corporate monopolies, one of which is entirely based around exploiting nostalgia. The story gets a little more believable when the planet is invaded by a race of giant bugs from space. You play a pilot from the future who travels through time back to the present day to destroy the original space bug hive before they breed and overrun humanity. To do this, you bring along three giant mechs to punch the space bugs in the face. Unfortunately these futuristic mechs have an achilles heel: they’re apparently powered by extremely long extension cords and if the local power grid goes down, so do your mechs. So keeping the giant bugs off the civilian infrastructure is an even bigger priority than preventing damage to yourself.

Gameplay-wise this is a very chess-like isometric tactics game taking place on an 8×8 square grid. Every round a group of giant bugs emerges from the ground and winds up for clearly-marked attacks against civilian targets or vulnerable mechs. You then get a round where each of your mechs gets one move to try and kill all the bugs, or if you can’t output enough damage, at least reposition the bugs so their attacks whiff. Any damage to your mechs is repaired for free at the end of each match, but any damage to buildings results in civilian deaths (score reduction) and more importantly damage to the power grid (if it reaches zero, game over). Unless you’re playing on easy mode, the space bugs usually outnumber your mechs, but maps in this game are always littered with a variety of environmental hazards you can shove the bugs into for instakills and other beneficial effects. Each battle has a turn-limit after which the bugs retreat, so even if you get overwhelmed, holding the line with clever tactics will still win the day.

The campaign takes place across four corporate islands with their own thematic environments before a final battle with the main hive on a volcano island. Each island offers seven missions with different rewards (mech cores, money stars, and power grid repair) but you can only complete four of the missions before a boss bug assaults the main corporate tower. Missions will randomly feature crashed escape pods from the future that always contain a power core (used to upgrade your mechs’ weapons) and sometimes a future pilot (Future pilots earn up to 3 passive bonuses from XP, regular pilots only two). After completing the island, you’re taken to a shop screen where you can buy cores, new secondary systems, or power grid repairs. Between games you can unlock up to eight squads of mechs, each built around a different strategy (One squad is built around weaponizing smoke, another drags and bumps the bugs into a straight line to be fried by the beam mech, etc). Like FTL, each squad has three achievements that go toward unlocking new squads, but unlike FTL these achievements aren’t hair-pullingly difficult.

Overall this game is easier than FTL, (after a couple false starts I was able to finish an easy campaign with 100% success) but I feel that has more to do with reducing opportunities to get screwed by the RNG than skill level. Going back to the chess analogy, all attacks in this game are deterministic and clearly telegraphed so if you fuck up, you KNOW it’s your fault. Ranged weapons all extend the entire length of the field (no diagonal attacks) and the space bugs only emerge from one half of the board. The result is some very chess-like tactics like positioning your artillery in an unobstructed lane, controlling the center with your up-close mechs, and so-on. Besides enemy spawning and map design, the one piece of RNG in the actual battles is a small chance (from 15-33%) that civilian buildings will resist a giant bug attack without taking damage. All these deterministic elements make victory very, very satisfying.

The biggest downside of the game is its awful tutorial. Tooltips pop up when you attempt a relevant action, often teaching you mechanics long after they would have been useful, and some tooltips might never pop up at all. I had to learn from an online guide that holding “alt” reveals the order of bug attacks in case you want to reposition one bug to kill another before it can attack. The other big downside is the graphics. Like FTL, the graphics are barebones utilitarian. Mechs and bugs don’t even change facing. The last complaint, and this is a minor spoiler, is the final battle breaks the rule of three, consisting of only two stages even though there’s hints of some giant bug queen who never shows up (though I only beat the game on easy so far, maybe she shows up in the higher difficulties?)

Overall I’d say Subset games hit it out of the park with Into the Breach. It’s a more tactically complex game than FTL, but far less frustrating thanks to minimizing the RNG’s involvement. It’s gonna be a hard sell going from the total control of this game to missing three 85% chance shots in a row when Battletech finally comes out.

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Mischief Maker