Reviewed on: PC. Copy supplied by publisher.
Let me be blunt: the entire time I was playing Breached, I wished I was playing a better game with the same premise. Which is a shame, because on paper Drama Drifters’ debut game sounds like if The Martian was a walking simulator, but those impressions quickly faded once I passed the tutorial.
The story of a person isolated on a desolate planet could have been a compelling one of existential dread were it not for the incredibly shallow and almost indecipherable writing. By the same token, the survival/exploration based gameplay is at first admirably simple but feels completely disconnected from the narrative and quickly becomes excruciatingly repetitive. And that’s one hell of a red flag for a game with a 90 minute run-time.
But before we get to the why, let’s start with that cool premise.
In Breached you play as Corus Valott, a man who has suddenly awoken from cryogenic hibernation alone on a desert planet. Due to unknown circumstances, the oxygen generator in Corus’ habitat has failed leaving him with only eight days worth of air. The environment outside the habitat is inhospitable, so to scavenge the materials required to fix his shelter Corus must utilise remote probes to explore the surrounding desert. With only so much time and energy left before Corus suffocates, players need to manage their resources in order to survive all while reading through Corus’ journal to try and uncover what exactly happened here.
I really want to stress the word “try”, because lord knows you could be forgiven for walking away from Breached with absolutely no idea what the heck was going on.
The entire story is told through the text in Corus’ journal, with a new entry added at the beginning of each day. Players can influence this by clicking certain words or phrases highlighted within the text, which unlocks branching narrative paths, although the various outcomes differ very little. Each entry also ends with a hashtag keyword/s that can be used to search for older passages in an effort to contextualise present events, a mechanic similar to last year’s Her Story. But unlike Her Story, Breached doesn’t have a fantastic actor, or any actor, inhabiting its lead character but instead is just littered with vague, hollow statements that are under the delusion they allude to something greater.
Okay that’s maybe a little harsh. Perhaps from the developer’s perspective the journal entries provide hints to whatever story they’re trying to tell, but to fresh eyes they make very little sense. Breached thinks it’s being cleverly vague, that its writing is building a cryptic world for the player to decipher when really it is just a series of references to things that aren’t ever fully explained or contextualised. There’s a difference between writing designed to be read between the lines and writing that just says nothing.
For example, the unknown circumstances that led to Corus awakening from hibernation? After several play-throughs, I couldn’t tell you what they were. There was mention of an explosion in several of the journal entries, but no information as to what exploded or why. Corus was apparently abandoned when the planet’s other inhabitants fled, but I have no clue who those inhabitants were and why they left. He also keeps rambling about his guilt regarding something he calls “the Experiment”, which is apparently a sinister event of such unspeakable horror that the game literally refuses to speak of it.
The “Futurist Edition” contains a prequel comic that was not supplied for review, maybe that sheds some light on the whole situation. Even if it does, given the nonsensical nature of the core game, to keep plot relevant information to a special edition is pretty terrible.
As for Corus himself, his internal struggle is the only thing that even comes close to being interesting in this mess. He’s a man losing his grip on reality due a combination of frequent stints in hibernation and prolonged usage of the probes, which he connects to by a neurological link. His ramblings about his real and surrogate experiences blending together are initially compelling but, like the rest of the journal entries, they quickly become shallow and tiresome.
Oh and I only found out his name was Corus Valott by looking at the game’s Steam Store page. Not exactly what I’d call a strong protagonist.
But a terrible game narrative can be saved by excellent gameplay, I mean look at Metal Gear Solid V. Well, sadly this is not the case, because for a game whose loosely branching story-line encourages repeat play-throughs, Breached’s gameplay gets boring fast.
The player has two objectives: repair the oxygen generator and synthesise a fuel source to run it. Both objectives will require various supplies acquired out on the planet’s surface. The generator needs alloys, conductors and microchips (found within pods), and the fuel is made from Alpha, Beta and Gamma minerals. The exact quantities required of each item changes with every play-through.
The gameplay features some classic survival genre tropes: resource management and having a limited number of actions per turn (or day in this case). Piloting a probe to gather resources, hacking open a pod to gather components and attempting a recipe for fuel costs energy, and Corus only has enough to perform around two to three actions per day. Careful decisions need to be made in order to survive. While I admit this does present somewhat of a challenge, succeeding really comes down to luck when it comes to what resources you get from pods and how quickly you can guess the correct fuel formula.
The only really substantial gameplay (and I use the term loosely) on display here is piloting the probes. They’re easy to fly, using just the mouse to steer and left-click to accelerate. Probes can explore one of three locations and gather up to three resources per trip, meaning to collect enough resources to win you’ll be repeating these areas many, many times. The maps are varied in their design, and sport some decent visuals, but ultimately they begin to feel bland after your second visit.
It also doesn’t help that the probe’s navigation system makes hunting for specific minerals or pods difficult, as it only points you in the direction of the nearest thing and won’t tell you what it is until you reach it. At late game stages when you need those last few bits and bobs, you’ll be screaming at Steam for your money back in frustration.
Aside from the limited load capacity, the only other challenge while piloting a probe is evading the “magnetic anomalies” that populate the environments. They’re essentially balls of energy that either sit near where you want to be or are casually patrolling the area. You get too close they pull you in and destroy the probe along with everything it was carrying. The anomalies are clearly intended to act as enemies, but after you’ve been hit by one of them once they’re so easy to avoid they may as well not be there. As for why there are semi-sentient, patrolling magnetic anomalies everywhere in the grand scheme of things? Add it to the list of things that go unexplained.
And therein lies one of the game’s biggest problems: nothing in Corus’ journal has any impact on the playable side of things. On the one hand we have a mystery involving an some kind of sinister experiment, an explosion and the main character is losing his mind; on the other we have a broken generator, driving probes around picking stuff up and avoiding sentient magnetic fields. Perhaps if the developers had put some more effort into telling the narrative through the gameplay then Breached might have been the dark, existential SOMA follow up it wanted to be.
But as it stands, Breached is the sad offspring of a substance lacking text adventure and a tedious exploration/survival game, and a waste of a cool premise.