Into the Breach Is Our New Favorite Strategy Game on Nintendo SwitchSeptember 11, 2018
BY JOSHUA RIVERA
At the start of Into the Breach, you’ve already lost: Humanity has been wiped out by the Vek, a species of giant monsters that level cities with ease. Your pilot, the last survivor in their squad, has been sent back in time in one last gambit to stop the Vek, an attempt to repel them from the Earth before they overwhelm its last remaining cities. That’s where Into the Breach puts things in your hands, lest you think saving the world is easy.
Into the Breach is a strategy game by Subset Games, released at the start of the year on PCs, and at summer’s end on Nintendo Switch, where I finally played it, and highly recommend you do too. (Plus, it’s less than $15.) In it, you control a squad of three giant robots, or mechs, on a small grid beset by the Vek. Your job is usually to protect the city—if a building takes a hit, it gets destroyed. If a building gets destroyed, civilians die and you lose power. Run out of power, and your game is over.
That is the simplest breakdown of what a game of Into the Breach looks like. But, like the crust of the Earth through which the Vek mercilessly tunnel, Into the Breach has layers. Each mech under your control has powers both innate (you can use them right away) and upgradable (you can purchase or activate them using scarce resources you accumulate). Like chess pieces, they have different movement and attack patterns, and multiple effects they can have on Vek. Some units do damage, others merely push Vek away, others still will cloud them with smoke, making them unable to attack. And of course, the same goes for the Vek.
You’re not going to get all of this right away, because you’ll be too busy losing. That’s the point—like that Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow, you’re supposed to get as far as you can, and then at the moment of your defeat you can send a pilot back to start over, bringing a stat boost with them. And then you start all over again.
This sounds frustrating because it doesn’t seem like progress, but Into the Breach is more like an elegant board game than it is a video game. It also has ways to progress that doesn’t involve getting to the end—namely, unlocking other kinds of mechs for you to use. If you complete challenges, you’ll be awarded coins you can spend on new mech squads, and new mech squads open the game up for you to try more ingenious, daring schemes to try. And you’re going to want to try them, because few games are as perfectly tuned as Into the Breach.
Strategy games are hard to get excited about based on looks. Peek at someone else playing one, and a lot of times they’re an indecipherable scheme of grids and icons. That can be a huge turnoff! Into the Breach, however, is clean. Every map is the same size, you’re operating under extreme limitations, and the game alwaystells you what’s going to happen after you end your turn. There are no surprises, and in most missions, you don’t even have to eradicate your foe. You just have to keep everyone alive long enough until they move on.
Take all of what I’ve told you into consideration and you can get a sense of what Into the Breach feels like. It feels desperate. It somehow manages, with tiny, carefully animated pixel art, to convey a feeling of weightbecause all of your decisions are costly. Into the Breach teaches you that bigness does not necessarily mean excess, it means gravity. You’re going to have to make some tough calls, and send one mech pilot to their death in order to save a building full of people, or watch it crumble to the ground because two of your mechs are too far away, and the only one close enough has been webbed in place by a monster much faster than you. With great economy and just the right amount of art direction—a score that’s somber and determined but not repetitive; a narrative that’s sparse but hints at an interesting-yet-ruined future—Into the Breach conveys what it’s like to be locked in a futile struggle that you, by almost all accounts, cannot win.