Taking a Risk
It can be easy to say that the gaming industry likes to play it safe with modern releases. We have the never-ending stream of first-person military shooters with very little differences between them, because developers know that a great number of people like these games. Every few months, we get another open-world sandbox crime simulator like the Grand Theft Auto series. Even many indie games can’t escape this, producing 2D-Platformer-With-Old-School-Graphics #9584 or yet another Metroidvania game.
This isn’t inherently a bad thing. People like these games, so the industry is giving us what we want. Hell, my favorite gaming series is the Tales series, which is nearly the same game every release with a different coat of paint.
Of course there are studios that are more experimental with their games, but the ones of these that become popular often get followed up with “me too” copycats. The game Gone Home from a few years back was an interesting experiment in lack of gameplay. Its popularity ended up creating the “walking simulator” genre, and now, the unusual presentation of this game has become common.
The game we are looking at today falls into the more experimental side of things, in both its gameplay and storytelling. I can’t say I’ve played anything like this game in the past, and it’s hard to say if it’s something that’ll inspire more games of this style to take off…but I can say that it is an experience.
Breached was developed by Drama Drifters and published by Nkidu Games. The game was released on June 22nd, 2016, for PC via Steam.
Assembling the Pieces
The year is 2245, and you have just woken from a cryogenic sleep inside of a shelter on a nameless planet. The systems in the shelter have woken you up as your oxygen generator has failed and fuel supplies are running low. As it stands, you only have enough oxygen and fuel to survive for eight days.
Luckily, minerals and components exist on the planet’s surface that you can use to fix the generator and synthesize more fuel. Not so fortunate, though, is the fact that the planet is currently a decimated wasteland. As you are unable to leave the shelter yourself, you take control of drones to scour the planet’s surface for materials to repair your shelter and survive.
Breached has a heavy air of mystery surrounding its sci-fi trappings. You begin each day with your character writing thoughts and memories into a digital logbook. With each line written, you can select certain highlighted words in the line that will cause the next one to focus on the term you selected. Guiding the character to write about certain subjects adjusts the story slightly in different directions, while also providing hints as to exactly where you are and the events that transpired which led to the current moment.
Each daily log also ends with hashtags related to the subject matter of the entry, and clicking these reveals related logs written by the character in the past. Reading through these provides more insight into the setting, past events, and even the character’s state of mind throughout the years. All of these are revealed in non-chronological order, and much of the game revolves around piecing together your character’s past to discover what happened on the barren wasteland of a planet you are trying to survive on.
The story and its presentation are definitely the strongest parts of Breached, and were the main thing that kept me interested in the game. The slow reveal of past events, along with insight into the character’s mental workings, is quite intriguing. The story also provides the most depth in the game, as the rest of the experience can be rather shallow…
The gameplay in Breached is divided up into three distinct parts. The first is the aforementioned navigation of the digital logbook to reveal the story. The second, and where much of the game takes place, is controlling drones to explore the surface of the planet.
From a map panel in your shelter, you can select one of three areas of the planet to explore. Once you select one, you are then neurally linked to a drone in the area and gain direct control of it from a first-person perspective. From here, you search an area of the planet to find one of three kinds of minerals to synthesize fuel, or find capsules that contain items that can help fix your oxygen generator.
Wandering the landscape are what are referred to as electromagnetic anomalies, and they tend to enjoy hanging out around the minerals you need to collect. If you get too close to these, your vision and controls will begin to glitch out, and certain ones will begin to pull you toward them. If you touch them, your drone is destroyed and you lose everything you’ve collected.
While this portion of Breached is the only one with what anyone would call traditional gameplay, it’s also rarely anything better than straight-up boring. Driving your drone around sizable landscapes is, admittedly, pretty nice to look at, but there’s almost nothing to actually do in them. Items to collect are few and far between, making most of the game’s playtime taken up by aimless wandering. Dodging around the anomalies is either stupidly easy or incredibly frustrating, depending on what items you’re trying to collect. It doesn’t help that your drone’s controls are very slow and floaty, making precision movement through anomaly-dense areas annoyingly difficult.
The third part of the game is the synthesis of fuel and repair of the oxygen generator. This portion can be described in one word: guesswork. For the fuel, you need to figure out the exact ratio of the amount of three different minerals that will create pure fuel, and you aren’t given any hints, so you just have to guess. If you run out of one of the minerals while working this, then you have to head back to the planet and collect more. Same goes for the generator repair, where you need to collect certain components from capsules you’ve found on the planet. You’re given a probability rating of your chance to find each item in certain capsules, but that’s it.
The issues are all compounded by the fact that Breached has a strict time limit. You have eight in-game days, and then it’s game over. Controlling a drone, making a guess at fuel synthesis, and opening capsules all take a certain percentage of energy that you are allotted each day. This makes the fuel synthesis especially painful, as it’s easy to throw away all of your energy guessing mineral ratios, getting nowhere and wasting an entire day.
The game does have a relatively short runtime of ~2 hours, and it encourages multiple playthroughs. With a game this monotonous, though, it’s difficult to justify repeated plays.
Breached pulls off atmosphere spectacularly well in the graphical department. While the planet you explore is a brown, destroyed wasteland, the landscapes and ruined buildings littered around the field do create some breathtaking sights. The best moment I had with the game was when I found a mountain to climb, and then seeing the planet laid out before me at the apex. The glitching effects when encountering anomalies are well done, and the jarring cut-off when coming into contact with one was a bit frightening the first time I did so. Even little things like heat haze effects on distant objects reinforce the feel of the environment.
Even when reading through the digital log, little animations and effects go a long way to add to the game’s atmosphere. Watching your view of the log screen get jittery and eventually blood-tinged as you reach the last few days of your survival ability brings a sense of urgency to the endgame.
There are so many games released now that include their soundtracks as “special edition” add-ons that you can pay a premium to own. Unfortunately, in the vast majority of these, they’re never worth it to me. Breached has the same kind of offer, and in this case, I would gladly shell out for the soundtrack.
For one, it’s only 99 cents if you own the game. Also, the soundtrack is excellent. The entire soundtrack for the game is done in an ambient style, mostly with synths and electronic instruments, with some occasional piano arrangements thrown in for good measure. Not only does the music add greatly to the atmosphere of the game, but it is also great (and relaxing) to listen to outside of the game. I’d almost describe it as a more calm and subdued version of the soundtrack for
Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Focus on the Wrong Places
Overall, Breached offers great story presentation and atmosphere, but the gameplay presented is a major drag on the package. Despite everything I enjoyed about the world of the game, I still found myself incredibly bored when I actually loaded it up.
Oddly enough, I feel that this game would work so much better if the actual gameplay was removed altogether. If this was presented to me as something more like a point-and-click adventure, or even a visual novel, I’m sure that this would be a much stronger release. If anything, Drama Drifters has shown here that they can definitely nail a great atmosphere, especially with this being the studio’s first full release.
Luckily, Breached is a budget release at $7, which isn’t a horrible price point if you’re interested in checking out the story. However, I find it difficult to actually give this game a recommendation, as I had a hard time even bringing myself to play through it. I would highly recommend checking out the soundtrack, though, as it is legitimately excellent.
~ Final Score: 4/10 ~
Review copy provided by Nkidu Games on PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.