Into the Breach, the new turn-based strategy game from Subset Games, looks to be a simple thing at first glance. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that the team behind FTL: Faster Than Light has mellowed with age. This little roguelike piles on the complexity, but removes some of the punishing difficulty that made Subset’s debut frustrating at times.
In the lore of Into the Breach, gigantic creatures have begun breeding below ground. When they emerge on one of the game’s four islands, they immediately attack the planet’s few remaining urban centers, killing off the population and knocking holes in the power grid. It’s a fight to the death against pixelated kaiju played out across multiple battlefields, each a mere eight-by-eight grid. But, as it turns out, that’s more than enough space for interesting gameplay.
At your disposal are three different mechs: a massive bipedal robot that can take a beating and repair itself on the fly, a nimble tank that can fire across the map and a mobile artillery piece that can lob rounds over obstacles. Each enemy telegraphs its attack every turn, so you’ll spend multiple rounds countering those moves to protect the planet’s infrastructure before zeroing in for the kill. Weapons inflict direct damage and will also push enemies into adjacent squares. When collisions happen — either with a building, another enemy or another allied mech — everything involved takes additional damage. Push an enemy onto a mine, into the sea or off a cliff for a quick insta-kill.
The game world is divided into multiple islands, and each island is divided into about a half-dozen battlefields. Battles themselves are fast at only a few minutes each, meaning that each island only takes about 20-30 minutes to clear. If you fail, which will happen often, your remaining mech pilots will try to escape before the monsters take over the world. It’s at that point that you can take one of those pilots back through a “temporal breach,” retaining all their skills to travel back in time and try to defeat the monsters all over again.
Being able to bring that mech pilot back, again and again, is the key to the progression system in Into the Breach. That simple change creates a narrative hook, a continuity that FTL was lacking. But it also allows players to customize their strategy, piling on additional skills and perks to make the next attempt just a little easier. And it adds an element of risk, much like the one found in Firaxis’ reboot of the XCOM franchise. Lose that leveled-up pilot and you’re back to square one.
More than anything, Into the Breach is less stingy with its unlocks. I put a lot of time into FTL back when it came out, playing on both PC and iPad. I had a lot of fun, but I was never able to actually beat the game, and I’m not alone there. What frustrated me the most was that I barely unlocked any new content during dozens of hours of play, meaning that I had to beat my head against the same set of problems over and over without being given any new options to consider.
Into the Breach has more unlockables overall, and is more generous with how it doles them out over time. Players earn coins by unlocking squad achievements, and those coins are routinely earned by subtle modifications in how you play. Knock a few more monsters into the water, use a newly acquired weapon once or twice, and Subset tosses you a few coins that you can then turn in to open up entirely new sets of mechs. It’s a far more generous system than the one used to unlock new content in FTL, and a welcome modification that is guaranteed to have me coming back for multiple playthroughs.
Into the Breach is also tremendously respectful of the player’s time. You can get a satisfying session of play done in under a half hour, while a save system allows you to keep your progress and pick up where you left off. At $14.99, the game is an absolute bargain. Here’s hoping that the Mac version comes soon so that I can keep this open on my desktop throughout the workday. There’s a Linux version on the way as well, while mobile devices and consoles are “not a priority at this time,” according to the developers.