Whereas FTL had you running across the universe, Subset Games latest title, Into the Breach, is set firmly on terra firma. This time you're not being chased by a near omnipotent fleet of starships. Instead, you're bringing the fight to the enemy using squads of giant mechs.
FTL was a smash hit, and it's surprising that Into the Breach seems to deviate from that proven formula. However, once you dive in, you see how much of FTL's blood runs through Into the Breach's veins and how much Subset learned from developing its first game.
Into the Breach Review: Never Be Game Over
The plot of Into the Breach is largely inconsequential and serves as a vehicle to drive the gameplay. It's entertaining to see the little cutscenes and whatnot, but it boils down to a simple concept. Aliens called the Vek have invaded your planet, and it's up to you to lead a squad of giant mechs against them. Also, you have limited time travel capabilities, so if you fail in your mission, you can go back and try again. Also, even if you accomplish your mission, you'll go back and try it again.
Failure is a significant gameplay aspect in Into the Breach, and the game expects you to fail. The difficulty of FTL returns in spades in this game, and you're expected to struggle and eventually lose the game more than once before you make it to the end. I always enjoy games that don't punish you for game overs, but make them part of the standard gameplay flow instead. With the knowledge that you're going to lose sometimes, and that it's okay and natural, the asymmetrical interaction between your forces and the Vek becomes a challenge instead of an annoyance.
Into the Breach Review: Giant Mechs and You
The Vek almost always have an advantage over you in every single mission in Into the Breach. Each of the five islands that compose the different stages of the game is broken into around 8-10 missions apiece. In each mission your goal is simple: survive and keep the Vek from destroying human cities. While the Vek are innumerable, your pilots and humanity are not. There is a Power Grid meter which keeps track of your overall losses. Each time a human city or power plant goes down in a mission, a bar is subtracted from the Power Grid meter. Once it's empty, your mechs lose power, and it's game over. There can be many cities on a map, and if you allow the Vek to destroy them all, you could see your Power Grid empty in as little as two missions.
Fortunately, there are upgrades for your mechs that allow you to improve their weapon's systems, health, and other capabilities. However, upgrades are far and few between, as are the reactor cores you have to add to your mech to fuel them. One of the major strategic points in Into the Breach is knowing when to upgrade and what upgrades are best for you. This system is coupled with the pilot system.
Into the Breach Review: The People Behind the Robots
There are a host of named pilots in the game you either start with or find in Time Pods located throughout the maps. These pilots can gain experience and level up and also have unique abilities. These abilities are incredibly useful when paired with certain types of mechs and can make a huge difference in a run through of the game.
When you lose a game by running out of power on the Power Grid, or win it by completing the last island, you can choose one pilot to send back in time. This pilot retains all their skills and experience from the previous game, but your other two pilots will start fresh. Additionally, there are new mech squads you can unlock in Into the Breach, and when you start a new run-through, you can take control of an entirely different set of mechs with their own strengths and weaknesses.
However, one of the more punishing factors in the game is permadeath. If the Vek take out one of your mechs in a mission, it'll be repaired in time for the next one. However, whoever was piloting it will die permanently, and you'll have to acquire them again. When they die, their experience goes with them, and even a high-level pilot that's survived several trips back in time can be lost if you're not careful.
Into the Breach Review: Not FTL Part 2
Into the Breach has the charms of FTL while still being different enough to carve its own niche. I think there are people who loved FTL that might find this game a bit too slow-paced, as each mission is the same in each playthrough. Into the Breach lacks the randomness that could turn a good run into disaster in the blink of an eye in FTL, and eventually you'll simply figure out the solution to winning every time. That solution might be different for each player, but once you figure out the puzzle behind each map, it kills some of the replay value.
I enjoyed my time with Into the Breach, and it's a great game to pick up and play for a few minutes at a time. I hope that it finds its way to mobile devices or the Nintendo Switch because it would be perfect for playing on the go. Each map only takes a few turns, and even when you lose its quick and easy to get back into the fray. The ease of access and quick time to beat each mission is what separates this game from other turn-based strategy games and makes it more appealing for those who don't necessarily have 30 minutes or an hour to complete a map.