Into the Breach is the follow-up to Subset Games' wildly successful FTL. It follows FTL's rogue-lite difficulty, but instead of copying their earlier success, the devs made Into the Breach the opposite of their first game in many ways. The result is a game that's just as devastatingly brutal as it is enthralling and straightforward to comprehend.
Who Needs a Story, We've Got Robots
The plot to Into the Breach is incredibly simple. The Vek, an alien race, have invaded the planet and it's up to you to command a team of three mechs to stop them. The twist is that each time you conquer the game (or fail in your mission) you're able to send one of your three pilots back in time to start the whole thing over again. The time travel aspect of the story isn't explained in detail, but nothing in the game really is. It's all to facilitate the gameplay.
The real story is in the struggle you go through in each map. Each of the five islands has it's own type of terrain and hazards. The base level objective for all missions is preventing the human-inhabited cities from being destroyed. If a city is destroyed, you lose a bar in your power meter, and once you lose all bars, then it's back in time for you to start the whole game over. More importantly, each encounter with the enemy is a chance to save humanity. Into the Breach isn't afraid to chastise you with the number of innocent civilian casualties each time the Vek manage to take down a building.
Harder Than Gundanium
The difficulty of Into the Breach matches FTL (at least for the first few playthroughs), but the game itself embodies almost the opposite of that title in gameplay. In Into the Breach, you won't find a lot of the randomness that was a hallmark of FTL's difficulty. Every map plays out the same every time you encounter it. You also won't encounter new mechs during your playthrough. You start and finish each campaign with the same units, though you do unlock new ones to choose from at the beginning of a new run-through.
The whole thing would be boring if it weren't for how difficult the game is. There are times that you just can't complete a mission's secondary objectives with the units you have. There's little chance for do-overs here too. You get one move reset per mission, and that's it. The draw to continue playing comes with the addition of new mech units to use. Your default units are jack-of-all-trades, but you'll unlock the Flame Behemoths squad, which makes use of fire to take out Vek, and the Frozen Titans, which have attacks that can freeze enemies. Each of the squads also has their drawbacks, and you'll find that the most potent mechs can also be the most vulnerable and hard to use.
Pilots, Man Your Battlestations!
To be truly effective in Into the Breach, you have to use your pilots' special abilities in unison with your mech's. There are 16 named pilots in the game, and each of them has their own unique skill. A decent mech can become devastating when paired with the right pilot, and a big part of the metagame in Into the Breach is seeking out new pilots and figuring out which mechs they work best with.
When the game ends, either through failure or completing the final island, you can only take one pilot back to the start of the game. They keep any experience earned, and you can begin a new campaign with their special skills in play, which can definitely make the difference between a smooth run and an impossible one. If you lose a mech in battle, it'll spawn again in time for the next mission, but your pilot will die. Permadeath is a real danger in this game, and if a pilot dies, you'll have to find them again during the game to get them back.
Not Quite the Successor I Hoped For
Into the Breach doesn't have quite the longevity that FTL does, unfortunately. While I understand the move away from randomly generated content, the fact that each mission in the game plays out the same way each time makes it start feeling a bit too sameish after a while. I liked that in FTL every decision was crucial, and there was always a chance that you would read a situation wrong and incur the consequences. In Into the Breach, you'll eventually get to the point that you'll merely know the solution to each mission, which takes some of the replay value away.
The graphics are in the typical 8-bit retro indie styling, a style which I no longer really find charming. FTL was a huge commercial success, so it would have been nice if Subset Games put a little more work into the visuals. I would have liked to have seen more animation from the units on the field, and perhaps larger, more detailed sprites. As it stands, the game has less visual appeal than some turn-based strategy games from the SNES era, much less its contemporaries.
Should You Go Into the Breach?
Into the Breach is an excellent game for those who like their strategy games in short bursts. Each mission only takes a few minutes to complete, and the whole game can be taken in bite-sized quantities. Unfortunately, I don't think it's quite on the level of FTL in originality or execution.
For the asking price ($14.99), Into the Breach is a pretty good buy if you're into strategy games. However, I don't think it'll convert anyone into falling in love with the genre. The gameplay is tight, but not sophisticated enough to warrant more than a few playthroughs. Once you've unlocked most or all of the squads and tried out the different mechs, it loses its appeal and doesn't retain that "surviving against all odds" feel that FTL has. With that said, I enjoyed my time with the game well enough -- just don't expect to be converted if you're not already into these types of adventures.
This review is based on an PC download code provided by the publisher. Into the Breach is available now on Steam for $14.99.