Into The Breach has this moment that happens over and over again where you realize that you’ve made a mistake, and you’ve just doomed your progress. But the turn-based mech strategy battler from developer Subset Games is brilliant because, if you just stop and think, you can rise to meet that moment of damnation with a cunning series of maneuvers that lead to your redemption.
Subset released Into the Breach on Steam for $15 on February 27. It is the company’s followup to the beloved starship-management strategy adventure FTL. Like that previous hit, Into The Breach has players taking a series of runs to see how far into enemy territory they can get. But now, Subset is on the ground and putting you in control of a squad of three mechs who must fight off waves of giant insectoid aliens on one 8-by-8 grid after another.
Structurally, Into The Breach carries over a lot of FTL’s DNA. You have a master Power Grid bar that represents the HP of your human civilization. The bugs can drain that Power Grid by attacking settlements. If that health gauge reaches zero, you have to select one of your living pilots and return back in time to the start of the invasion — like that Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow: Live Die Repeat.
That’s it as far as your overall considerations go: you have to keep your Power Grid charged up, and you must keep your mechs alive. If a mech dies during a fight, you’ll repair it for the next one with a new pilot.
You could look at that and every 8×8 map, and I can see how you might think Into The Breach seems like a basic spin on Nintendo’s Advance Wars. But every turn is so deep with potential choices because your mechs are more capable than the units in that Game Boy Advance classic. While your melee mech can punch for damage, and your ranged artillery mechs can fire projectiles for damage, those attack have various knockback characteristics.
With knockback, you can punch a bug into the water for an instant kill or to move it into an open field so that its attack fires off into a void. This is a crucial technique because the insect monsters cannot attack without first giving you a warning. So during a turn, you might see three bugs lining up to hit three different buildings. And these situations are often hopeless — especially if your Power Grid is down to only 1 or 2 HP. But as I got into more of these scenarios — and learned more about how to use my mechs — flashes of insight would hit me more often.
What I find so exhilarating about those flashes of insight is that they are so complex and yet they came to me after only an hour or two of learning the basics. I remember one battle (which you can see near the end of the video at the top of the story) where I was down to 3HP during a boss fight stage. I just finished a turn where I was able to kill or knockback some ferocious enemies preventing them from destroying more of my Power Grid.
I was feeling good until an enemy jumped in on the far side of the map. I now had the devastating boss bug preparing to attack two buildings at once as well as one of my mechs at the bottom of the map, the Psion support bug that buffs its allies with +2HP, a bug right next to that Psion, and then the northern bug preparing an attack across the water on another one of my settlements.
By stopping and thinking, I was able to see the steps I had to take to make the most acceptable sacrifices. I hooked my melee mech around the side of the boss bug, and knocked him into an open space. That boss’s attack would now rush across the countryside without hurting anyone. I then brought around my artillery mech to fire its attack right onto the Psion. This was enough to kill the Psion, but the knockback was also enough to push the adjacent bug into the water for a double kill. I was then able to move my tank mech into the water between the northern bug and my civilian buildings.
You cannot fire from the water, but I had just bought an HP upgrade for my tank — and it was easily able to absorb the enemy attack.
Hitting the spacebar to end my turn and pass control to the A.I. was satisfying. I went from feeling hopeless to what was essentially checkmate all on the same turn, and it wasn’t about waiting for an ability to powerup — it was just about understanding my units and executing on those capabilities in the correct order to maximize their effectiveness.