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No Plan B is a fiendishly clever breach-and-clear puzzle game

Failing to plan is planning to fail

No Plan B - a breach and clear mission in progress; cartoony figures fire at the defenders  inside a room. Image: GFX47

No Plan B is a game that frontloads all of its tactical thinking into a stretch at the start before the action actually begins. I take control of a squad of attackers who have to breach and clear an area, which is filled with traps, defenders, and obstacles. The good news is that I have tons of tactics and tools at my disposal. The bad news is that I only get one shot to get things right — hence the name.

Franchises like Rainbow Six have built huge fan bases on the strategy and tension inherent to a special operations team breaching and clearing a structure. The indie game No Plan B, which entered early access at the end of 2021, seeks to capture this thrill. Developer GFX47 Games goes about this carefully; instead of being tempted to round the game out and add more features and variety, No Plan B instead focuses on the marquee feature: the pre-mission timeline.

In this window, I have an unlimited amount of time to mess with my options and determine my plan. These sequences are complex, nuanced, and demand careful plotting. There’s a timeline that shows how things should proceed; if my teams split up, I want to make sure they can meet again safely. Every bit of data is at my fingertips: field of view, weapons and gear, and a 3D map of the location I’m clearing. I have to plan every stage of the mission; after my SWAT team (or team of FBI agents, or gang of criminals ... ) knocks down the door, I have to make sure they pivot correctly, sweep the room and eliminate threats, and react to whatever else might be lying in wait.

But here’s the catch: After I plan everything and hit go, my guys go, and there’s not a lot I can do if things go to hell. A typical No Plan B puzzle has me trying a few different tactics and sending my guys into the meat grinder before I learn to adapt and get them out alive. Luckily, bouncing back is pretty quick; No Plan B doesn’t linger too long on the torment before I can begin again.

Invading someone’s heavily guarded home turf is a huge challenge, and it’s also a thrill. No Plan B understands that very well. I have to approach each level like a carefully built puzzle box. Of course, this is easier said than done, but that’s where the game’s tutorial comes in handy. It breaks every individual mechanic down to the fundamentals.

There are a couple of unfortunate bugs — at one point I was stuck because the enemies I had to murder were invisible and as such, I didn’t know to set the “fire” command. But once I figured this out, I felt pretty comfortable trying out the various game modes. There’s even a map editor, for those who want to experiment with even more tricky and torturous set-ups for other players to breach.

It’s a very specific itch, but for those who are craving a challenging puzzler, No Plan B is continually compelling, despite some occasional annoyances. It’s easy to lose track of time fiddling with the timeline and setting up the perfect plan, and every time I watch my guys march into a murder zone, I only briefly despair. Every failure is swift enough that I can get right back to planning, and the satisfaction of a successful breach only grows stronger. No Plan B is currently available on Steam. There’s also a free demo, which is a nice way to give the game a spin.

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