Over the course of the last few years, the discussion around video games — more specifically, around narrative-focused games — has changed drastically: anything with a strong narrative and minimal action is considered a “walking simulator.” I’m not sure if I like or even agree with this terminology, as the games are often more about exploration and discovery than a simple point-to-point walk, but it has become at least an effective shorthand for discussing certain types of games. Breached initially seems to understand this issue, but doesn’t seem to be willing to put forth the effort to make good on its premise. There’s exploration, but it’s only to gather resources. There’s crafting, but it’s only to craft two specific items. Indeed, it seems that the strongest part of Breached is its storytelling, something it does at least as well as its contemporaries in the “walking simulator” field.
Breached starts with an easily understood concept: you’re awakened from cryo-sleep, you’re alone on this alien planet, and you have eight days to repair your command center by gathering fuel and fixing generators so that you don’t run out of air and die. The way Breached puts you into the protagonist’s perspective is worth noting. Everything in the game is done while sitting at a chair looking at a computer screen; it adds a level of immersion, helping give you more agency over the protagonist and his plight. It’s just unfortunate that there isn’t more here, especially since the only way to gather the hidden journal logs is through repeat playthroughs, but your days literally consist of budgeting your time with three options. You can gather resources and artifacts with a remote-controlled drone; you can hack the artifact capsules you’ve obtained to gain parts to repair your shelter’s generator; or you can craft fuel with the resources you’ve gathered. Each task takes a set amount of your day — exploring takes 40% of the day, crafting and hacking take 30% each — so it becomes a game of optimizing your time. Do you explore two areas and put off crafting until tomorrow? Or do you explore then craft? This formula seems to lend itself to allowing real choice, but over the course of the three to four hour campaign, it just becomes an issue of finding the most optimal gameplay loop and repeating it to get to the next bit of exposition.
While it does a good job of building a world, Breached seems more interested in forcing you to collect trinkets than being able to explore it. Long-broken equipment, ruined buildings, and destroyed infrastructure help make a glorified scavenger hunt less repetitive, but random magnetic anomalies scattered about disrupt your drone’s vision and movement, and make actually taking time to look at and attempt to decipher the world nearly impossible. You do learn about the two factions on the island through their artifacts, and that was perhaps the most compelling part of Breached’s narrative. These two groups no longer exist in any meaningful way that you can see, and yet their ruins and logs are scattered throughout the desert, waiting to be read and seen. I just wish the individual story threads were explained in more detail. There’s talk of schisms and chaos, but only in passing, never for more than a brief moment. Specifics of the two factions are mentioned, but never explained. It could be argued that you as the player are supposed to come to your own conclusions, especially since you don’t have all of the information on the Hermits or the Guild, but what some call interpretive storytelling I call passivity.
I do think Breached would be better served as a visual novel of sorts. The more video game portions became repetitive and dull, while the story remained the most interesting part for the four hours it took me to complete (both times). It is worth noting that it was created by a small group of Russian developers who received such acclaim for their game jam prototype that they made it into a full game. At $7, it’s hard to say “No, you should not buy Breached,” but divorced from price and circumstances surrounding development, it’s a difficult product to recommend. If you want a good sci-fi narrative, Breached has you covered. However, if you’re seeking a survival game akin to ARK or Rust, you should look elsewhere, because Breached ain’t it.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PC (reviewed), Mac; Publisher: Nkidu Games, Inc. ; Developer: Drama Drifters ; Players: 1 ; Released: June 22, 2016
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher.