Not many tactics games tell you every little detail about your enemies next turn but Into The Breach wants to make sure you have an intimate knowledge of what’s about to happen. It sounds like an interesting gimmick, but you’d never expect it to result in as many intellectually satisfying moments as it does.
Into The Breach throws you into battle in skyscraper-sized mechs to protect the world from similarly gigantic bugs known as the Vek. You’ll mostly have three mechs to fight with that come in many varieties armed with lasers, flamethrowers or even shields to help protect their fellow robotic comrades.
It doesn’t look anywhere near as epic as it sounds, each mission sees your mechs plonked on a fairly plain looking 8×8 grid like pieces in a board game with different coloured tiles to represent various environments. If you’re just going on appearance you’d understandably be apprehensive about giving it a shot but you’d really be missing out if you avoid Into The Breach on looks alone.
The best part of the game is, as it always should be, the gameplay. As I’ve said, Into The Breach provides you with all the information you could ever need about your opponents next turn. It’ll let you know where they’re attacking, how much damage they’re going to do and even the order it’ll happen. This means you have to figure out how to react best to minimise the damage they’ll cause.
From there it becomes a satisfying brain teaser as you work out the best way to stop the Vek. And the variety of ways you can do this is staggering. At first, on instinct, you’ll probably be focused on avoiding damage to your mechs and killing the giant bugs as fast as possible. But, after a while, you’ll come to view their health points as a resource and discover that killing the Vek isn’t always necessary for victory.
Instead, you’ll realise that you want to prioritise completing bonus objectives so that you can earn reputation that can be spent on upgrades for your squad. These are the usual suspects like increased health, movement amount and weapon damage with a few additional effects thrown in here and there.
If you don’t complete enough bonus objectives for these upgrades you’ll find the last mission much harder than it needs to be. The objectives vary from protecting specific buildings to disposing of the Vek in specific ways. It’s a good way of forcing you to try out new things, which in turn leads to new satisfying strategic solutions.
These objectives will often be your main focus whilst preventing grid damage will be a secondary concern. If too many buildings are hit you will lose grid power, which is also how your mechs are powered, so no grid power means no sweet robots to batter bugs with.
This means that if taking damage to one of your mechs can help complete objectives and protect the power grid, let them take that hit. Similarly, each mission is usually only 5 turns long so killing the Vek isn’t always necessary, you can simply block their shots or knock them out of the way until they lose interest and go back underground.
Of course, you can still kill them if you want to by smacking them in the face with mechanical fists, drowning them by bashing them into water or even by displacing them in such a way that their attack is now aimed at one of their own kind. There are so many different ways to deal with the Vek that each time you discover something new it’ll make you feel like a strategic genius.
It’s often a case of if you can think of something it will probably work. There are flying enemies that can obviously hover above chasms but if you can freeze one of these airborne irritations they’ll fall right down that hole and die. You can shoot your own mech so that it bumps into a Vek and causes damage. It all sounds very simple and it is, but it’s smartly designed to make every turn you succeed feel like a triumph.
The strategy doesn’t just change depending on the situation either. Into The Breach also has 8 different squads for you to use, each with their own playstyle that will force you to think differently each run. They’re all fun to use with the exception of the Steel Judoka who are supposed to reposition the Vek to damage each other but often feel like they’re lacking the ability to actually do that.
The more enjoyable squads include the Blitzkrieg who are focused on lining enemies up to act as conduits for when you slap them with a lightning whip to damage to a larger number of enemies at once. On the flip side, there are the Frozen Titans who aren’t particularly fussed about killing the Vek at all and are quite content to just lock them all up in ice, so long as you have the right pilot that is.
Into the Breach is more roguelike than the traditional meaty campaign type of strategy game. Each playthrough only takes a few hours, so that means there are few random elements thrown in, including the pilots of your mech, to try and keep things fresh. You start each run with three standard pilots and are tasked with completing missions on one of four different islands. After securing two islands you can tackle the final mission but you can also complete the other two islands for more challenge and a higher score.
The types of enemy and missions you undertake will vary slightly each time. Completing all the bonus objectives on an island will earn you a perfect island bonus that can earn you new weapons for your mechs, refill your grid power or reward you with a new pilot. These are random of course but once you’ve earned a pilot you may choose to start a new run with them as the leader of your squad. You can only ever choose one pilot though, which makes a majority of them seem fairly redundant.
These special pilots come with additional abilities their standard counterparts don’t have. The issue is that some of these are abilities are so much more useful than the others that you’d never choose to use them. Camila, for example, allows your mech to fire from within smoke and escape the Vek variant that can hold you in place with a web. This is exponentially better than a majority of the other offerings because it comes into play so much more often.
There are other useful pilot abilities such as Abe who gives your mech armour, which decreases incoming damage by one, or Prospero who gives a unit flying which allows it to make better use of its movement allowance. However, whilst they’re useful they don’t feel anywhere near as essential. Camila’s ability can win you the game, the others merely help out.
There are a few niche squads where a specific pilot is more useful than Camila, such as the Frozen Titans who have one mech with a cryo launcher that freezes both the target and the mech that used it. Here you’ll want Bethany Jones who starts each mission with a shield that prevents freezing which makes the drawback of the Cryo Launcher redundant and makes it magnitudes more useful.
This essentially leaves you with only a few good starting pilots and leaves the others as a nice extra if you get them randomly during a run. It’s not a huge problem because the strategic side of the game is so enjoyable, but it would have been nice to be faced with a tougher decision when it comes to selecting your first pilot.
Despite this, Into The Breach is still an excellently designed game with one of the most satisfying tactics systems in recent memory. Knowing how your enemy will act and having to react to is an original enough gimmick that Into the Breach feels fairly unique in the sphere of strategy gaming. It provides so many moments that make you feel like a genius that it’s incredibly easy to recommend Into the Breach on excellent mechanics alone.