Every level of Into the Breach is like one of those ball bearing mazes that come in Christmas crackers. They’re a puzzle in miniature that, with enough patience and planning, can be solved in a single faultless run. Success in both comes paired with a sense of relief, as each move towards the end carries the risk of losing all the progress made so far. This comparison falls apart, however, in that I tend to snap the toy in two before Boxing Day, yet after months with Into the Breach I’m still in love with its challenge.
I spend a lot of my time playing Into the Breach staring at the screen, trying to solve the mental Rubik’s cube that is each turn. The enemy aliens move into position, every one of them trying to attack either my time-travelling mech rpilots, or the densely populated city blocks I’m trying to defend. Then it’s up to me to find a way to kill, block, or move the enemy before their attacks land. For instance, a well-placed mortar shell can shove a bug one square to the east, meaning their claws will swipe at thin air instead of a skyscraper.
What I’ve come to appreciate most over the year I’ve now spent with Into the Breach is its spirit of reinvention. Yes, each time you play you’re diving into a new procedurally generated campaign, but I’m really referring to the squad system.
While there’s room to progress in each campaign, by upgrading mech abilities and buying new weapons for your war machines, the metagame is earning coins to buy new squads.
These new sets of mechs are built around a specialism. Flame Behemoths are immune to fire and their weapons are all focused on setting your enemies alight and watching them burn over subsequent turns.
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Blitzkrieg mechs, meanwhile, are all about repositioning enemies into clusters and then hitting them with chain lightning attacks. The Rusting Hulks push you to wreath your enemies in smoke that immobilises and damages them. Your tactics must change from one squad to the next to succeed.
There’s a film called The Five Obstructions in which Lars Von Trier challenges fellow director Jørgen Leth to remake The Perfect Human, a short film Leth made more than 40 years earlier. He has to remake the film five times, each time following a different cripplingly difficult rule. For instance, the first remake can only include shots of a maximum of 12 frames.
In each case, Leth is tightly restricted but from that stricture creates something new, and wonderfully inventive. You might be right there with me, but just in case: the unique qualities of each squad in Into the Breach have that same sense of restriction, but also the spout of creativity that comes with it.
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In a year where we’re celebrating the spirit of reinvention, it’s only appropriate that Into the Breach is recognised. It’s one of the best turn-based strategy games I’ve played and, within its compact frame, repeatedly recreates itself into wonderful new forms with which to both crush and reward me.