Let’s have a quick chat about Into the Breach. Into the Breach is the sophomore release from Subset Games, who, in my humble estimation, heralded the PC indie game renaissance when they dropped a little gem called FTL. Fun fact: FTL was one of the first games I reviewed back when I was writing The Page of Reviews.
The premise of Into the Breach is that giant bugs called “the Vek” have invaded a series of corporate island nations, which may or may not be the last vestiges of life on Earth. The player controls a team of three time-travelling, giant robot pilots in a series of fast-paced, but deeply strategic, turn-based battles.
One of the biggest tonal changes between Into the Breach and FTL (and every other FTL-like/Rogue-like/Permadeath battle against impossible odds) is the way in which Into the Breach manages defeat. When a player loses, and lose they shall, they choose one of their three jaeger mech pilots to carry on the fight against the Vek in an alternate timeline where the world isn’t overrun with kaiju bug monsters. And in this, I think Into the Breach offers a delightful bit of subtextual storytelling.
So much of Into the Breach’s story lives in its ephemera: quote bubbles from onlookers; snide comments from corporate overlords; anxiety-laden comments from mech pilots. Why are the mech pilots bubbling over with stress? Because the natural extension of the time travel mechanic is that the moment they stepped into their mechs they agreed to fight until they die. Remember that line in TRON where the MCP says that he wants Kevin Flynn in the games until he dies playing? That’s the life of a mech pilot. The mechs’ sub-orbital drop in the mission prep screen could only be more of a descent into hell if it was written by Dante.
Even if the mech pilots destroy the primary Vek hive, their only way to survive is to open a breach and jump to another timeline. The macabre consequences of this endless loop only catalyzed for me when my current time traveler, now in his ninth timeline, landed on an island and exclaimed, “I saved it once. I can save it again.”
The Rogue-like/FTL-like genre defines itself by making its players repeat the quest. People, independent of the characters on screen, settle in for one more run through the dungeon, or one more charge against the enemy flagship. Games like Rogue Legacy energize the repetition through the idea of a player character’s descendants carrying the proverbial torch. Into the Breach takes this a step further by having a persistent character become a visible Sisyphus, constantly pushing a Vek-sized boulder up the hill. This invites an interesting question: at what point do I choose to give my time traveler his rest?
In a universe of endless timelines and parallel realities, how much can we expect of a single time traveler?