Breached review

Game Info
Platform Win
Publisher N/A
Developer N/A
Release Date Jun 22, 2016

Breached is a game that puts you right in the command chair, and then patiently waits as you suffocate to death in it.

Developer Drama Drifters wants you to feel the weight of that command chair; both the player and the protagonist are seated the same way, glued in front of screens, experiencing things remotely. It makes great use of the medium to draw a powerful parallel.

At the same time, Breached handicaps itself with the triviality of its gameplay loop, one that focuses too heavily on the banal moments that a short story would cut out. Minigames and mechanics are alternately vague and slight.. This leads to a well-conceptualized piece of science fiction that might've worked better in print.

Being stuck in the chair is winningly claustrophobic

Breached begins with a tight, simple setup: You wake up from suspended animation and have eight days to repair your shelter with drones and science before you run out of air and die. You play the game in first person two ways — as the protagonist seated in front of a bank of screens, trying to synthesize fuel and hack modules, and as a remote drone on an island, trying to gather resources and survey the damage.

The abstractions of a video game's interface become a means of conveying the sci-fi experience in Breached. Most recent survival games are sandbox titles, challenging you to live as long as you can, however you can. There's a lot less to do here than in a big sandbox, but what there is has been implemented in ways that contribute heavily to atmosphere. Being stuck in the chair, relying on what little is still accessible to the drones, is winningly claustrophobic.

During each of your allotted eight days, you must choose between three different actions that can be performed from your command chair. You can pilot a drone to a zone of the island and harvest mineral resources and artifact capsules. You can hack a capsule to get parts to repair the shelter's generator. Or you can try to synthesize fuel for the generator from the minerals you collect in the drones.

And that's it. That's the whole game.

breached screen 02

Each time you go out in a drone it takes 40 percent of the day, while each crafting activity takes 30 percent. So if you scavenge with drones twice, you can't craft at all. Since all you've got is eight days, the order in which you do things greatly affects your ability to get life support functioning again. I was disappointed that, mechanically speaking, that's all there is to the game: two objectives, accomplished by crafting the game's only two items.

Since the plot is presented with a similar minimum of detail, it's hard not to spoil it, but there's also a lot of expositional detail in the environment. You'll read about two different groups on the island in the logs, the Guild and the Hermits, but it's only through their ruins and left-behind artifacts that you get to know them. The arrangement of toppled buildings and machinery, half-buried in the sand, is melancholy in a kind of relaxing way — your drone moves smoothly and quietly among them, one of the last working things on the whole island. When you pilot the drone to a recall point, usually there are many clustered nearby, all of them shattered and broken save for your lone exception. The way your visual control of the drone warps and crackles with static is eye-catching and immersive. Suggestions of what once was and how much has been lost are everywhere, performing most of the heavy lifting of Breached's worldbuilding.

breached screen 03

Those details are nice, but when you get down to it, Breached is little more than a scavenger hunt. As expressive as the maps are, there are only three of them, and once you've got them figured out they don't randomize or change.

There are hazards to your excursions, such as electromagnetic anomalies that pull you in and overload the drone, cutting your session short and voiding what you've scavenged so far. The way the anomalies pull you in is very aggressive to a degree that would be unbalanced if maps were randomized. As is, the static nature of the maps just makes memorization a requirement to "win." Getting there is a hugely tedious process.

Since fuel synthesis is also a trial-and-error affair, it's easy to burn through huge chunks of your eight days on simple mistakes as you try to understand the game systems. It wasn't satisfying to play this way for me, not before I got the hang of it or after. Even though the vagueness and difficulty is thematically on point, it can't sustain itself. At first these systems seem too vague and then, once they click, they feel too simple and repetitive. In my first playthrough, the tension was strong because everything seemed so foreign and impossible and the stakes are so dire, but once I became familiar with the maps and the puzzles, the gameplay I was left with for subsequent playthroughs felt empty and flat.

The worth of Breached is in its plot, which takes its time to unravel. Even for a short game like Breached, the sense of curiosity and mystery stays consistently strong. As the protagonist begins writing a log for each of the eight days, certain words are highlighted — picking one makes the log focus in on that subject, and slightly branches the game. They also unlock search hashtags, through which you can discover old logs your protagonist wrote before going into hibernation. Breached has a few different endings, depending on these word choices and whether you're able to fix the shelter. If you don't, you die, although you remain in character and the game continues right up until the bitter end, where you slump dead in your chair with your log for the day trailing off. "Beating" the game by completing your two objectives provides a welcome plot twist, and also unlocks hidden logs on the player's control terminal that give context and added explanation for the endings on your next playthrough.

Wrap Up:

Breached's storytelling is strong, but its mechanics wear thin

Breached is strong in how it uses the first-person perspective for storytelling, how it builds identification between player and protagonist by blurring the lines between them in a minimalist way. But the actual game systems struggle to keep up with the atmosphere and presentation. The weakness of its mechanical systems and the simplicity of its scavenger hunt undercut the experience a lot, especially on multiple playthroughs — even though multiple playthroughs is an intended feature of the game.

Breached was reviewed using an early Steam key provided by Nkidu Games. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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