Here’s what I know about Into The Breach: It’s made by the same people who made FTL (i.e. Subset Games). You can hardly blame me for knowing that and only that, though: ‘From the makers of FTL’ is such a part of Into The Breach‘s marketing push that it’s literally a byline on the game’s main Steam header.
Beyond that, what I can divine from looking at other promotional materials is that Into The Breach is going to feature… let’s see, giant mechs? And ruined buildings? Hopefully the building don’t get ruined by the giant mechs, but then again, maybe they do. A mech-focused reboot of Rampage World Tour could be interesting.
Assuming it’s not that, though… what did I just sign myself up for.
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, high-ish. Mechanical, relatively low, only in the general sense.)
(Game source: Patreon funds.)
‘Welcome to the video game Into The Breach. MAKE A PROFILE BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING ELSE!’
One mandatory profile later (you get no bonus points for guessing what I called it), I get a chance to mess around in the options. There’s some screen resizing, options to ‘stretch’ the graphics to accommodate fullscreen play, tutorial tips, colourblind mode… audio sliders…
Okay, so there aren’t that many options. Who needs ’em, am I right? What Into The Breach lacks in options breadth, it more than makes up for in achievements! There are so many achievements, all in a row!
Starting the game proper removes the menu, but keeps the background image. With the clutter removed, it’s easier to see all the details: An enormous robot. A small human figure, standing on a pile of rubble. And a massive clutter of destroyed skyscrapers and power lines in the purple distance.
And then the talking starts.
Humanity is destroyed, the robot AI tells me. The ‘Vek’ threat is unstoppable. Our mission has failed. Then the man beside the robot — Ralph — speaks. ‘Open a breach. Time to go back and try again.’
Well, there’s the title drop. But open a breach into what? And go back where?
The screen onto which I’m deposited has a lot going on. On the right side: Three mechs, with stats and weapons I can’t parse and colour schemes I can’t select. The same achievements from before. A ‘select squad’ button showing me a dozen squads I can’t select. And a difficulty modifier. And on the left side, the man from before, ‘Ralph Karlsson’. My… time traveler? I guess that might answer some questions regarding where we went back to. Obviously, the ‘change time travel’ button is currently as much of a lie as the ‘change squad’ button: There’s nobody else right now. Just us.
I hit the Start Game button — after first renaming my mechs ‘Punchy’, ‘Shooty’, and ‘Lobby’, because I’m a literal child — and my squad is lowered into indents in the floor. And then, just like that, there are islands.
Clicking on the mech portraits on the left actually zooms in on them now, which is interesting. For instance, I can see that Shooty is a Brute-class mech, which determines which weapons it can use. It’s currently equipped with a ‘Taurus Cannon’, which deals damage and pushes targets in a line. And it has room for upgrades, both to its weapon and its stats, assuming I could get the requisite ‘power’.
I can actually de-power Shooty’s main weapon, giving me one power point that can then be used for stat upgrades. But does that seem like a good idea to you? I think not.
There are four islands, but three of them are ‘unavailable’. So I click on the green one. In a short cutscene, a bearded white man explains that this island is the ‘Archive, Inc. Head Office’, and that it contains ancient war machines from Earth’s past. Also, there are Vek. And then…
A brief tutorial happens, like this:
The long and the short of things is this: Every battle in Into The Breach takes place on one of these square-grid isometric maps. It’s going to have my mechs, some buildings housing the people that live there, and the Vek, which are apparently enormous insects. Look at that one, it’s the size of two buildings. Gameplay moves in turns: On their turn, the Vek move, then plan an attack — visually indicated by red dotted lines — to be executed at the start of their next turn. Then I get a go. Each mech can move and then attack, or attack and then not move, using its equipped weapons.
Any Vek that aren’t killed by the start of their next turn will execute their attack, which can be be bad: They’ll either try to hit my mechs, damaging or destroying them, or they’ll attack the civilian buildings. By doing so they weaken the top-screen Power Grid, which as it happens is not connected to individual mech power, but is instead an overall ‘health’ measure for the war against the Vek. If it runs out, we lose.
Now, here’s the trick: Most of the Vek are going to be too tough to die to a single attack. But most attacks don’t just deal damage, they also displace. Like this:
And as far as the tutorial goes, that’s it! I can win by either killing all the Vek, or by waiting a set number of turns — letting them burn through some excess rage, so to speak, before they crawl back in the holes they came from. Either way’s good, as long as no buildings get damages. Mechs can get damaged a little bit; they’ll get better.
The tutorial thus completed 82.1% successfully, I’m shown the larger Archive island map. It’s made up of interconnected territories, all under attack by the Vek in their own way. I can currently only access two parts of it, the ones connected to ‘Corporate HQ’ — where I assume I landed. Do I want to safeguard the Preserved Farms, in order to build my reputation with Archive, or defend Antiquity Row, in order to… also build reputation?
I pick Preserved Farms. The objective in this map is to safeguard a train from the Vek, and I’m a Dutch man who doesn’t drive cars, so I love trains. This should be a cakewalk.
Reality proves… more resilient to my ideas. For instance, one thing the tutorial didn’t teach me is that on some turns, which is to say on most turns, new Vek will be tunneling up from the ground. You can see the places they’ll spawn on beforehand, and it’s possible to block them by putting your mechs on the spawn area — except that’ll deal one damage to the blocking mech. Of course, in theory it’s also possible to move Vek to block other Vek…
Another thing that the tutorial didn’t prepare me for is that I’m a major doofus. For instance, in my rush to move one ranged Vek unit to a place where it won’t directly attack one building, I shift it towards… a spot where it’ll attack a different building. Yeah, forward thinking.
Luckily, reality is also kinder on occasion than expected. For instance, it turns out that the Power Grid isn’t just there to get destroyed: If a building takes a Vek hit, there’s a chance — a small one, currently 15%, but a chance all the same — that the hit gets negated.
Into The Breach is also fairly permissive with regard to letting me roll back my fuckups. All mech moves can basically be undone, just as long as I haven’t attacked after yet. And even if so, there’s the once-per-map ‘Reset Turn’, that basically lets me time-travel to the start of the turn I’m currently in. Because wouldn’t we all like to have the power to literally erase our mistakes from the past?
Even with all this power, though, I can’t prevent the train from being hit once. That’s okay, that’s okay, it’s still mostly intact. Won’t be getting to the end of the line soon, but if I protect the surviving carriages, I’ll still get a partial reputation payout. And that’s what I end up doing. One out of two stars is fine, and hey: No buildings or mechs were damaged.
Next up is Antiquity Row, because even though more of the island opened up after my victory I see no reason to rush. The mission objectives here are to destroy a dam, and to block Vek spawning three times, for one star each. It’s in this mission I learn two important things regarding water. One, land-bound Vek can’t swim, and will instantly die if submerged by (or pushed into) water. Two, land-bound mechs don’t do so hot in water either: They don’t die or take damage, but they can’t attack while wet, only move.
Missions move at a rapid pace after that. In the Storage Vaults, I defend ancient Earth artillery — that’s actually a functioning combat unit, helping me against the Vek — and a power generator. In Chronology Hall, I protect emergency batteries to boost the grid while also trying to keep my mechs unharmed. As a surprise, a ‘time pod’ crashes in from the sky at the start of that mission, and I’m given the bonus objective of either collecting it, or keeping it safe from Vek until the mission hands. When I do so, at the end of the mission I’m given a little extra reward — one free Mech Reactor to upgrade one of my mechs, and a new secondary weapon I could equip on any one of them!
And just like that, the world starts shaking apart. I haven’t cleared the whole island yet, but the three map parts I didn’t address get permanently eaten by the Vek — who then turn their attentions towards the Corporate HQ sector. And they’re bringing their A-game this time, in the form of a Firefly Leader — the strongest form of the Firefly-type Vek I’ve seen so far, overpowering both the regular Firefly and the rare Alpha Firefly.
In turn, I too bring my A-game. I deal damage as fast as I can. I move Vek into water, and onto forest tiles, and onto their own spawn points. I use my special abilities to the full extent of their power. Hell, I even start looking at the Attack Order indicators — it’s actually starting to become relevant which Vek moves when!
And after five hefty turns… although things almost go south with the near-collapse of the Power Grid, I hold. The Vek retreat, the Corporate HQ still standing after their assault! Sure, the Firefly Leader escaped too, which means I don’t get full rewards, as it might come back to haunt them. But do I care? No. Archive Island: Successfully defended.
It’s now that I finally get a chance to use my corporate reputation, i.e. the stars I’ve been getting as rewards. In a small storefront, I can spend my five stars to buy new weapons and passive abilities, Mech Cores, and Power Grid repairs. Funnily enough, I can also sell my weapons for reputation, as well as my time traveling pilots — permanently landing them cushy government jobs on the islands in the past so I can scrape by a little bit more power. I decide to keep these nerds around for now, but do sell the acid tank weapon I found in the time pod, then use my reputation to buy one more Mech Core and three Power Grid upgrades.
By completing the Archive island, I’ve unlocked the second island: The desert-themed ‘R.S.T’. Into The Breach quickly tells me that in later games, I’ll be able to visit the unlocked islands in an order of my choosing. But for now, I see the shape of this: Completing Desert Island probably gets me Ice Island, which gets me Acid Island, which then… Well, I don’t quite know where this is all going to go. Some sort of saving-the-world-from-the-Vek thing, I assume. But then, there’s only one way to find out!
Check back in after I successfully complete all the islands on my first-ever playthrough!