Sunday, 11 March 2018

How Into the Breach turned me onto Mechs

I want to preface this by saying my only experience with mechs is through my enjoyment of Pacific Rim and the few series of Power Rangers I watched as a kid. Other than that, I know absolutely nothing about mechs, are Gundam mechs? Are Zords mechs? What about Titanfall? I honestly have no idea.

A couple week ago I heard Waypoints, Austin Walker smitten with a game from the creators of FTL (Subset Games). I couldn’t help but be suckered in by his passion and enthusiasm as he spoke about his team of mechs working together to save people from big bugs, however I was left disappointed and pretty deflated when a quick search revealed it was a turn based strategy game.

I’ve had a spotty history with strategy games, I adore the historical Total War series and they are the only strategy games I’ve spent a stupid amount of time learning, I also dabbled in Advanced Wars on my DS as a kid when my dad bought it for cheap from a guy in a pub not having a clue what it was. I absolutely love the concept of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but in practice it didn’t click with me.

However, hours before Into the Breach released, I came across some reviews on Reddit that done nothing but sing the games praises. With a Steam voucher I had saved from Christmas for Fire Pro Wrestling’s management mode (which has been delayed) I decided I would dive into the breach take the plunge, and it has got me hooked.

Into the Breach is an 8x8 turn based strategy game where you command a squad of 3 mechs and fight the Vek (a giant insect species/army). However, what makes it special is its ability to make me feel like a Kaiju killing mastermind. One of the first major things that I noticed was that the game allows you to undo movement before you commit, letting you test out potential moves, it even allows you to reset one full turn once a round. In doing so it is a perfect learning tool to show how to use individual units as a team, and even acts as a great first strategy game to find your feet in the genre.

However, there has been claims that the game is falsely labelled as a strategy game, and that it is closer to a puzzle game. Whilst I understand the arguments I don’t necessarily agree. Into the Breach can feel like a puzzle game at times, as it is completely transparent and gives you all the information you need to solve each scenario and often feels like there’s an optimized move each turn. However the decisions you make, the strategy you execute all matter. One false move and you can doom your pilots, lose vital power from your grid and fail objectives.

For me, the stand out features of Into the Breach are its tiny story beats. These minuscule, brief flavours of story really created a more human world one that completely immersed me, but blink and you’ll miss them. The majority of these are delivered through speech bubbles appearing from buildings you are tasked to defend, the rest come from your pilots as action develops on the battlefield.

Picture this, your mechs drop into the map from the sky and crash into the ground with a ground shaking thud, they activate ready to fight the Vek and defend the city. Then, from a skyscraper somebody cries “Look, they’ve arrived, we’re saved”. You realise there’s people in the buildings, people who are scared for their lives, people who thought they were doomed. Those poor people could see the Vek approaching from emergence holes, and there was no sign of any help. That is until now. Hope has been restored.

Somehow these tiny speech bubbles manage to convey pure elation, hopelessness, and unadulterated fear. More often than not I pictured a child, face pressed against the window, wide eyed watching in awe as he witnesses my mechs dash, roll and fly into a ballet with the Vek.

Similarly, when a building is encased in a web, in preparation for an attack, its occupants cry out in terror “It’s attacking us”. I can’t even begin to imagine the panic and hopelessness inside, people looking for a way out, others cowering in corners, comforting their loved ones, those who turn to their Gods an begin to pray, the people who are at peace and have accepted the inevitable.

Into the Breach features pretty decent customisation options, you get to choose a pilot and one of the ready built squads each time you start a playthrough (providing you have unlocked them), on top of that there is an abundance of skills and weapons to discover which I’m still finding after 15 hours in. Aesthetically, the only choice you have is a pre-set colour scheme for your mechs which is a little bit disappointing, I wish it was a bit deeper but that’s just me nit picking.

Into the Breach is fun, there’s no question about that. I love that if I find myself stuck I can walk away, make myself a cuppa and come back with a fresh mind to hopefully make the right call and minimise damage the best I can. More importantly though, after playing Into the Breach I had an epiphany, I realised exactly what it is about Into the Breach that made it stick with me.

I started thinking about the mechs I had seen in Pacific Rim and Power Rangers, I started thinking about all those people who must have been so relieved to see the Megazord arrive in Angel Grove and those who watched as Gypsy Danger went toe to toe with numerous Kaiju from the safety of their skyscrapers, only to then be massacred as the enemy crashes into their building as a direct result of the heroic mechs actions. It is here where Into the Breach is different, I have the power to ensure I don’t send the enemy crashing into occupied buildings, I can attempt to save those people who are scared for their lives, and I can prevent collateral damage. But if I fail to do so, I can always warp into another timeline, start fresh and save the world.

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