Breached Review

Don't bring him home.

Cranes and excavators tower over a deserted alien landscape like skyscrapers. Mysterious obelisks and arches dot the horizon. Metallic colossi sprout out of the earth, decaying remnants of a dead world. Sentinels of pure electromagnetic energy roam the desert.

Breached is a hybrid science fiction adventure game grounded in the legacy of Russian existentialist literature, particularly Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris and Stalker. You wake up in a damaged pod, suffering disorientation after a stint in long term hibernation. All you know for certain: your shelter is falling apart, your oxygen tank is low, and you've got eight days to come up with a survival strategy. Across the game's three large maps, your mission is to guide a drone to locate materials for repairing your ship and synthesizing fuel.

As with all the game's controls, you pilot your drone using mouse clicks. Unfortunately, you're either flying at unnecessarily high speeds or standing still. That's helpful when you're zooming across an expansive desert and you only need to maneuver around the alien obelisks and construction equipment that dot the landscape. It's frustrating when, for the third time in 20 minutes as you are forced to navigate tiny cliffsides to reach caches, you fly off a cliff that houses the capsule you need to win the game. It's even worse when you need to carefully avoid the game's electromagnetic anomalies. If the drone touches an anomaly, your turn is over. Your turns are very limited over an in-game week, so if you lose more than one drone, it's essentially guaranteed that you'll lose the game.

Exploring Breached's large maps for resources can be equally agonizing. There's a radar system that lets you know how close you are to the nearest resource, but there's no way to tune that radar to any of the specific materials you need to collect. Without that guidance, you spend a lot of time wandering aimlessly, praying to find what you need. Given that you need a lot of fuel and many parts to repair your ship, this becomes yet another tiresome act that weighs Breached down.

The story is presented via text logs that your character reads from their computer inside of their pod. Like the game's evocative alien landscapes, these logs hold a hint of promise. Sadly, they ultimately devolve into a banal technobabble. The game is a very basic text adventure during these portions. You click on a handful of hyperlinks in the text logs, and based on which hyperlinks you click, the details you're given into Breached's lore change. You can also do a little detective work by clicking on hashtags at the end of the text logs that give you more logs to read and more pieces of the story to put together.

On the surface, the story has some interesting pieces. Is everything really what it appears? Are you actually stranded and about to die, or is the game some bizarre virtual reality experiment gone wrong? There are hints of cataclysms and factions at work and even teases that you've done this before as your memories return. But these are just breadcrumbs that whet your appetite for something more substantive that never arrives. There's a case to be made (see: Journey, Limbo or The Witness) for games that tease lore and worldbuilding without giving concrete answers, but Breached lacks the imagination and stylistic flair needed to fully draw you into its ambiguous tale.

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But it's the game's resource management that ends up being the biggest source of frustration. You have eight days to gather the resources you need, and the larger macro-actions you take use up a certain percentage of your energy for that day. If you go exploring, you immediately lose 40% of your energy, which makes any failed expedition practically fatal for the long-term run of a game. If you want to open one of the capsules you find--whose contents are randomized each playthrough--that's 30% of your energy. There are four different components the capsules can give you, and the game changes how much you need of each to repair your ship each time you restart the game. So, even if after multiple playthroughs you manage to memorize the location of enough capsules to repair your shelter, it won't matter because their contents are liable to change. But all of that pales in comparison to the madness of synthesizing fuel.

There are three main sources of fuel in the game: alpha, beta, and gamma material. The game's conceit is that your material analyzer is broken so you have to manually synthesize those materials into fuel. In order to synthesize fuel, you need to combine specific proportions of all three materials, and those portions are different each time. The game gives you no clue what the solution is, and there are enough potential solutions that it's perfectly feasible you never solve the problem. In three complete playthroughs (and a handful of half-playthroughs that I quit in rage), I managed to guess the correct solution once.

If you want any hope of succeeding, you'll need to play through Breached multiple times. But the exploration and text-driven portions of the game are totally static, and resource management is so maddeningly random that victory becomes a far from certain affair. Considering how poorly it controls, how shallow its mystery proves to be, and how little Breached cares if you succeed, it's pretty easy to mark it as a sci-fi adventure worth skipping. Breached has a spark, but it ultimately fades before catching fire.

The Good

  • Impressive alien landscapes evoke a sense of wonder
  • Story hints at a mystery that's begging to be explored

The Bad

  • The existentialist mystery goes nowhere
  • Does a poor job of introducing mechanics
  • Clunky controls
  • Rote tasks and randomized variables don't mix well

About the Author

Don loves existentialist sci-fi and will talk your ear off about the genius of Tarkovsky's Stalker if you let him. Don spent about four and a half hours with the game over three complete playthroughs. GameSpot was provided with a copy of the game for the purpose of this review.