The strategy genre comes in a variety of flavors. Do you want real-time or turn-based gameplay? Do you want to command a small band of warriors or control an entire empire? Whatever the case, the philosophy behind the genre all seems pointed the same way – the more complexity, the better. Some of the meatiest games in this genre, usually falling under the 4X subgenre, are so complex that even their in-game tutorials are largely inadequate. The time required to simply wrap your head around something like Crusader Kings II could be used to play through an entire JRPG.
Into the Breach shoots recklessly in the other direction, operating almost as strategy in arcade form. During battle, you are limited to three mechs in a fight against giant insects. Like a standard SRPG, you get to move each of these mechs and then attack. The controls are ridiculously simple, but like so many other great minimalist games, that serves the purpose of allowing the game to build up an intricate web of challenging scenarios based around that simplicity.
Into the Breach never lets up. If there’s ever a moment where you feel in control, know it’s only temporary. Set across four islands, each containing several maps, Into the Breach is an endurance run. Each map is littered with civilian structures, and their destruction reduces your campaign’s HP. Thus, the game is more focused on mitigating civilian losses than protecting your own crew, though both will be necessary for a successful campaign.
The ingenious twist on the combat here is that the player’s turn takes place between the enemy’s movement and attack. When they stop moving, the direction they’re planning to attack is shown on the grid along with how much damage they will do. Your own attacks offer a variety of options; surviving in Into the Breach typically has more to do with positioning than outright attacks. While doing some damage can be satisfying, the best option usually involves shoving the enemy so they no longer have a target – even better, you can set them up to attack their own allies. With the game offering the enemy turn order, you can prevent two separate hits in a single move. While being overrun with enemies, you simply must do this; a successful turn can transform your measly three attacks into six or more.
What makes this game so infinitely replayable is the variety of the mechs. There are eight squads to unlock, each consisting of three entirely unique units built around each other’s abilities, along with random and customizable squad options. Each squad is like playing an entirely new game. Where a few are simply based around shoving the enemies, some instead offer the ability to place temporary barriers over the civilian structures, or to turn the enemy in the opposite direction, or to freeze the enemies in place. Each requires you to analyze the situation in a new way, especially since the more powerful abilities have serious drawbacks.
Adding to this is that each mech needs a pilot, who in turn have their own abilities. The right pilots in the right mechs can make an unstoppable force. Pilots can earn experience for additional abilities through combat while you can also earn reactor cores to boost the abilities of both. Unfortunately, any unstoppable force is only temporary. Whether you win or lose a full scenario, you begin the next by sending one pilot back in time, leaving you to scrounge together the rest of your team during the next playthrough. Thus, the game is always fresh, but with just the right amount of continuity.
The islands themselves offer a wide variety, each having their own theme. One has conveyor belts which will move enemies around, while another is also overrun with its own dangerous mechs. The finale unlocks after completing two islands, meaning the islands you choose to tackle are just as much part of your overall strategy. The maps gets consistently harder as you go, but there are advantages and disadvantages to completing more islands. Additionally, each island has seven maps to choose from, but you only have the option of completing four; each map has its own risks and rewards, so you must consider how much you’re willing to risk to get another reactor or a bit more energy added to your health bar.
The best indie games feel as if they come from another dimension where 2D games reigned supreme even after the introduction of the PlayStation. Into the Breach is the minimalist culmination of several ideas we never actually saw. This is a game which feels like it should have always existed; every element present in its design could have been done decades ago. But improved technology is only a tool; it takes a great developer to notice so many overlooked possibilities and mash them all together in one cohesive work. Every part of Into the Breach is simple and clean, yet juggling everything at once proves a suitably challenging experience – the simplicity is a shortcut to the same satisfaction some other strategy games take literally days to provide.