Huge insectoid monsters of doom and destruction burst forth from the earth and turn their monstrous eyes upon a futuristic human civilization for a snack. “We’re all screwed,” the people exclaim, but you know better. See, there are equally giant mechs in the future packed with explosive fly swatters (not literally) at the ready, all you need is a little time travel which also comes in handy if they fail. Just zip forward, grab some more mechs and try again.
That’s the backdrop for Into the Breach, the long-awaited follow-up release for Subset Games, makers of fan-favorite FTL: Faster Than Light. The story is, well, largely dispensable. It’s merely the bread that holds in the meat of the game—the tactical, turn-based combat between your mechs and the overgrown insects. The aliens will go for buildings and, if damaged or destroyed, the city loses power from its power grid. The power grid acts as your health, and when it’s gone you’re toast. Luckily for the mech defenders, alien super-bugs aren’t great at masking their intentions, and you can see what they intend to do on their turn and plan ahead. You can also see where new threats will emerge from their subterranean lairs to wreak additional havoc.
Your job is to maneuver your trio of mechs to meet these threats and defend the city and its population from destruction by the alien attackers. Combat mechanics are relatively simple and will be instantly familiar to fans of turn-based battlers like Warbits and XCOM. Each unit gets a move and attack action each turn and their attacks take on different flavors. The combat mech punches adjacent units and pushes them back, the cannon mech is a tank that fires a powerful blast in a straight line over a long distance and pushes the target back one space, and the artillery mech launches a shell over a long distance, including over other objects, and its blast also pushes units away from the impact. These knockbacks need to be used tactically to keep buildings out of the line of fire, bounce enemies off of mountains or each other to do extra damage, or blast them right into the sea where they drown.
Each level has a turn limit and you claim victory by keeping the power grid intact as long as you need to. At the end of the level you earn points for the number of humans saved. There are also bonus objectives that, if met, earn additional energy for the grid or reputation points which can be spent on new weapons or other goodies later. Any damage done to the power grid in one level carries on to future levels, so the emphasis is very much on protection and not just taking out the aliens. This creates some very challenging situations and decisions to make, and it often comes down to the lesser of several bad options.
As you advance through levels new regions open up on the world map. Maps have different terrain and environmental effects, such as a tide that comes in turn-by-turn and landmines onto which you can push aliens for a nice big boom. Mech pilots also gain experience to unlock new attacks and options which lead to even more options on the battlefield. As you’d expect, the aliens also get beefier as time goes on. Each has its own movement and attack abilities, including one that blows up when defeated, dealing some ugly area-of-effect damage.
Into the Breach is a roguelike, which means once humanity’s power grid goes down it’s game over. Humans don’t give up, however, they just punch a hole through space-time and give it another shot. The game packs plenty of challenge and should satisfy most armchair tacticians. New game elements are introduced at a good pace to keep things fresh and compelling. It’s also the perfect game for relatively short play sessions as each level takes a few minutes.
Into the Breach is also a perfect game for mobile and, though we haven’t seen any iOS or Android release dates, it positively screams, “I WAS MADE FOR A TABLET!” Controls are simple and perfect for a touchscreen and UI elements are quite large on a computer monitor, particularly in full-screen mode. So, if I have to say something bad about Into the Breach, it’s that I’d really rather be playing it on my iPad. That said, if you enjoy roguelikes and turn-based tactical games I wholeheartedly recommend picking it up now for PC.