Review: Breached

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Breached is an obscure, obtuse game that is rather difficult to put into words despite the fact that, mechanically, there’s very little actually going on.

In this mysterious sci-fi survival adventure, you play the role of someone who has just awaken from years of cryosleep hibernation, now alone in a futuristic space colony that has collapsed due to some sort of catastrophic accident, with dwindling supplies that can only keep you alive for eight days. During those eight days, you will read computer logs, pilot drones to scour the planet’s surface for resources, and then use the gathered resources to repair the oxygen reactor and synthesize fuel before death comes a-callin’.

The story, which I won’t go into any specifics about since this is the type of vague, cryptic narrative that needs to be experienced by each player and then interpreted communally to fully understand, unfolds through a form of text-based adventuring. Each day begins with logging into the deck computer and reading the protagonist’s latest journal entry, using the mouse cursor to point and click on highlighted keywords to give direction to the ongoing internal dialogue sort of like a choose your own adventure. Each daily journal is also footnoted with Twitter-like keyword hashtags that link to other logs to data mine for additional backstory.

At only an hour long, two hours tops, the game was designed to be played multiple times to uncover the different text branches, dig into the stacked logs, and piece together what led to the protagonist’s predicament. Having played through the story seven times now, surviving at the end only twice, I’m a little disappointed that the divergent log choices haven’t led to any truly groundbreaking revelations or significantly different ending sequences. Selecting one keyword over another generally leads to one or two different sentences thereafter, which leads to uncovering minor tidbits of information that help to paint a broader picture of the protagonist’s state of mind and the state of the game world overall. Ultimately, the clever format through which the narrative is delivered winds up outshining the content of the storyline itself.

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While uncovering the story is the motivation to play through over and over again, in terms of gameplay the primary goal for achieving a successful outcome is to repair the protagonist’s damaged shelter before reaching the unchanging end point. Once the eight days have passed, you either die or survive and proceed through a closing sequence of journal entry choices. To survive, both the fuel supply and oxygen generator need to be restored. This is where the drones come into play. A world map is available from the deck terminal with three possible locations to choose from, each containing a set quantity of available resources. Selecting a map point boots into a first person hover drone camera view. Using a simple mouse navigation system to accelerate by holding down the left button and brake by holding down the right button (ICYWW: gamepads are supported, but a mouse is clearly the best input for the cursor-heavy interface), you’re able to freely hover around fairly large and open environments in search of three different types of minerals used to make fuel, as well as special capsules that contain random caches of the components needed to repair the generator, including conductors, microchips, alloy, and a filter. The drone has a maximum capacity of three capsules or minerals on a single run, so it’s important to be cognizant of which resources are needed most. If the generator has already been fully repaired, there’s no reason to waste a slot for a capsule, and vice versa.

Drone navigation is a mixed yet engaging experience overall. Hovering across the rolling desert landscapes is quite enjoyable, combining an exhilarating sense of speed akin to piloting a podracer with a satisfying, smooth-flowing locomotion that to a certain extent is reminiscent of Journey. The game world is rich in atmosphere and just beautiful to behold, dotted with crumbling buildings, abandoned construction equipment, non-functioning wind farms, drone graveyards, and various types of futuristic architecture that only you are left to admire. Other than magnetic anomalies which manifest as glowing orbs that patrol the terrain and attempt to wreck your drone (inventory and energy is lost if caught by an anomaly), the world is an empty wasteland devoid of natural life, which immerses you in an atmosphere of total isolation. As majestic as the world is, there is an equally wonderful sense of discovery to scavenging its nooks and crannies to find all that it hides. Tracking down capsules and minerals is akin to using a metal detector, the drone equipped with a guidance system that actively relays your distance to the nearest collectible and begins to beep when the item is within immediate proximity.

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Like every other part of the game, the guidance system takes getting used to and leads to a lot of aimless wandering until you do. Resources placed at different elevations or inside caves are difficult to pinpoint even when the detector is pinging on full blast due to the way it only tracks linear distance. More problematic are the glaring inconsistencies as far as what the drone is capable of hovering over. In some areas you can drive right up the side of a steep cliff or over craggy terrain without a hitch, and yet at other times invisible barriers force areas to be accessed via a specific entry point or cause the drone to hang up on ledges, holes, small rocks, or lengths of severed machine cable snaking across the sand. Fortunately the capsule and resource locations never change, so once you learn the lay of the land through the first couple runs the aggravations subside. At this point I’ve memorized where everything’s at, so I can finish a run in less than an hour.

For each day that passes, you have a limited number of actions that can be taken, represented by a meter on the right side of the screen that shows how much energy the protagonist has available before needing to rest for the next day. Firing up a drone to go resource gathering docks 40 percentage points of energy, while hacking collected capsules or making an attempt to synthesize fuel uses up 30 percent. The trick is to maximize a day’s energy allotment to get the most done within the limited number of days, for example exploring one map and doing two resource/repair-related actions to use up every last ounce of energy. Doing two drone runs on the same day leaves 20 precious percentage points of energy wasted. Of course this pattern can’t be followed all the time, because the results of your actions ultimately dictate how you need to proceed. Once you’re out of enough energy to perform any tasks, clicking the “end day” button advances time to the next day with a new journal entry and replenished energy supply.

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The main problem with this limited energy supply is the way it punishes you for actions that are almost entirely random. This is particularly true of the fuel synthesis mechanic. The three types of minerals harvested while out in a drone are pooled back at the lab. In the lab, you must click a display of graphs to set the correct combination of the three minerals to synthesize a fuel formula that registers at 100 percent, which basically turns into a guessing game of trial and error. Having to rely primarily on trial and error when there are strict limitations on how many attempts you can make before needing to rest becomes an exercise in frustration. All five times I’ve failed to survive have been due to not being able to guess the fuel formula before minerals/time have run out, and it drives me absolutely bonkers. And yes, the mineral formula is different every time you play, so there’s no way to memorize it for future tries.

My experience with Breached has been a rollercoaster ride of emotions, flipping wildly from moments of intrigue to infuriating moments of confusion that have left me scratching at my head and pulling at my hair at the same time. I can’t think of another game where my opinion has fluctuated so drastically back and forth between love and hate. After my first two failed playthroughs, I was honestly ready to throw in the towel and move on to other games. But I soldiered on like a good little game reviewer, not wanting to trash the game without giving it a fair shot, and once I got into my third and fourth tries, I started to settle in with a better grasp on how to navigate the maps and manage the daily energy limitation. Frustrations persist even now as I carry on through multiple subsequent attempts, and yet through it all an unhealthy obsession has taken hold that keeps me trying my damnedest to fully understand this enigma of an adventure game. I haven’t played a game quite like Breached before, which in a weird way can be taken as a compliment or a disparagement depending on when you ask me. Many players will understandably not have the desire to endure the frustrations of failure due to random events beyond the player’s control as well as the monotony of having to repeat the same sequence of events and scavenge the same three maps again and again to make incremental advancements. The appeal may be limited to a pretty narrow audience of adventure game and “walking simulator” fans, but with patience and a willingness to stick with it through the burdensome learning curve Breached is hiding a fascinating sci-fi world that is worth discovering.

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Pros:
+ Atmospheric, captivating sci-fi game world
+ Drone flight is mostly fun and intuitive
+ Fascinating sense of discovery and isolation
+ Data mining computer logs works as an engaging narrative delivery device

Cons:
– Fuel synthesis is obnoxiously random
– Scavenging is tedious until you learn the maps
– Branching journal entries only lead to subtle changes
– Only three map locations
– Requires playing multiple times just to gain a basic understanding of how everything works

Game Info:
Platform: PC/Mac
Publisher: Nkidu Games
Developer: Drama Drifters
Release Date: 6/22/2016
Genre: Adventure
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by publisher

Buy From: Steam

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!