1: Into The Breach (2018)
Developer: Subset Games
Publisher: Subset Games
Screw it, let’s forget ourselves and embrace some ‘Q magazine declaring OK Computer to be the greatest album of all time in 1997’ madness. In a perfect world, something will come along and handily leapfrog this turn-based mechs vs giganto-beasts follow-up to FTL, any day, but in terms of what strategy game we would go out and tell almost anyone to go out and play right now? There is no other answer.
Into The Breach throws out every millilitre of superfluous strategy bathwater without losing even a single bit of baby in the process. It asks you to focus only on the most immediate problem to hand: your guys are there, the acid-spitting enemy is there, a skyscraper full of helpless civilians is there: what are you gonna do, hotshot?
It’s very easy to lob chess comparisons at any turn-based strategy game, but ITB really does nail that move-to-move dilemma. Every. Single. Action counts; failing to do something useful with one of your three units almost always spells doom. Most of all, ITB is masterful at slowly dumping a whole load of knowledge into your head – recognising a wide array of enemy types and their special abilities on sight, figuring out how to combo an equally wide range of mech abilities, and most of all grokking the importance of moving enemies, above and beyond attacking them – without your even realising it’s happening.
The adjective to beat for Into The Breach is ‘elegant’, but maybe that makes it sound cold and distant. Only the opposite is true: it rings high drama out of every movement, and it does so while having the confidence to leave your imagination to fill in the gaps left by its 2D, minimally-animated presentation. To show anything else would take time, and taking time would only make it baggy, and it is precisely because Into The Breach is not baggy in the slightest that it feels like such a (currently) final word on how to make a turn-based strategy game.
An instant-classic masterpiece that doesn’t even remotely try to tell us it’s a masterpiece. It just gets on with the job.
Notes: Despite its minimalism, Into The Breach also functions remarkably well as a story game – but, just as with its action, it only gives you the broadest strokes of how and why your mech pilots are travelling back through time to try and prevent the near-destruction of Earth by giant bugs from god-knows-where, leaving your imagination to fill in the rest. Which, again, is exactly why it works so well.
What else should I be playing: BattleTech offers a far more decompressed and statty take on mech combat, if ITB is all too minimal for you. And, if you have an olden Nintendo portable, the GBA’s Advance Wars is another smart lesson in how to do meaty TBS with none of the flab.