I'm not entirely sure how to feel about Breached, developed by Drama Drifters for Nkidu Games. On the one hand, it's a polished and enjoyable experience. You've just been awakened from cryosleep, trapped in a damaged shelter with eight days to fix it or die. Remote-controlled drones let you scavenge raw materials and artifacts from what appears to have once been a sprawling futuristic research installation, but of course there's more to it than that. Drone-killing electromagnetic anomalies dot the landscape, some stationary while others rove about. Even getting close to one can be enough to burn out your drone's circuitry.
The real twist comes in the form of an interesting take on the old "amnesia" trope. This isn't the first time you've been in hibernation, trying to wait out a disaster so bad that even the ocean dried up, but you have a rare brain disease which both cryosleep and the drones' VR interface tend to inflame. The journal you've been keeping over the decades has likewise been corrupted, though you can recover connected fragments as you progress through the storyline. Not just your life, but also your mind, is at risk.
This is where "the other hand" comes in. Have you ever read a novel that builds up a huge new world with factions and history and tragedy, and then never actually delves into any of it?
Breached is exactly that ... except it's a short-story, not a novel. The first time I beat it took only a few hours of play, leaving me thinking that I'd accidentally skipped past something important. After a couple of failures, I beat it again with a different ending, only to once more experience the hollow feeling that something was missing.
Then I remembered: Breached was produced by a small team of Russian game-jammers, whose early prototype had won several awards in 2014 and '15.
AN APPETIZER, NOT A MEAL
In that light, yes, it's very much a Russian science-fiction short-story, with gameplay elements keeping it from devolving into another "walking simulator." The famed S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise was born from similar origins, being derived from the equally-inscrutable novelette Roadside Picnic. But where S.T.A.L.K.E.R. grounded itself more firmly in a setting that did not require over-explaining—the Chernyobl Disaster Zone and post-Soviet fatalism—Breached goes in the opposite direction. We're hit with snippets of backstory about factions and experiments and schisms and disasters, most of which never get more than a mention in a single sentence.
It's a very shallow skimming of a very broad story, which Our Noble Protagonist is never allowed to explore, even as they skim a drone through tantalizingly interesting ruins (which turn out to be full of nothing). "What is the red trident? Why did a particular faction act to preserve a particular item? Could this recording device explain what happened to this vehicle?" All these questions are asked in the course of play, but that's as far as it goes.
That's not good, in a game whose developer pitches precisely this sort of bait in their Steam Store blurb:
Unveil the truth in a genre-blending sci-fi mystery. Awaken from cryogenic slumber you find your shelter damaged by unknown circumstances. Scavenge your surroundings, repair the shelter and explore the ruins in hopes of uncovering – or perhaps avoiding – the uncomfortable truth of what has transpired.
Neither is there much in the way of replay value. Your world-map shows what was once a large island broken into an expansive grid, but only three of these still have active drones. Said drones are limited by radio signal strength, by which I mean the invisible walls around each of these three maps (four, if you count the tutorial).
Everything but wandering anomalies is static on these maps—they never change location or value. After a few playthroughs, you'll have memorized where everything is, making further play little but an exercise in efficiency. At least that might make for some competitive speedrun videos (yes, I'm suggesting that as a possible plus).
BEEP BEEP, IMMA DRONE
That's not to say that what game there is to be had here isn't fun. Growing up in Southern California, one thing I loved doing was scrambling over its boulder-strewn hills and valleys, pitting myself, my sneakers and my blue jeans against the question: "can I get there from here?" It often felt like being an old-time explorer, or archaeologist, sussing out the lost stories of the land and those who'd traveled it before me.
Breached evoked in me that same old sense of exploratory challenge as I zipped around, searching for any way to exploit the smallest gap, ledge, or draw in getting where I wanted to go. I never got stuck on anything, even when it seemed I really should have, which is a big plus for any indie crew working a sizeable three-dimensional environment into their game.
Flight controls are deceptively simplistic: accelerate and decelerate with left and right mouse buttons, move mouse left or right to bank. To pick up an item, just park next to it and spend several seconds letting the automated systems store it. Shooting your way out of trouble isn't on the table, as the drones are unarmed—successful runs involve observation, intuition, and evasion. This is intensified by the fact that your camera is fixed straight forward; you'll quickly learn to track off-camera audio cues until doing so becomes second nature.
Much more than this would amount to spoilers, though. If there's anything Breached doesn't need, it's a walkthrough.
The only downer was that one map did have plummeting issues in a couple spots on its extreme edges. Since there's no "save" or "escape" menu available while in drone mode, though, I was stuck waiting on the inevitable crash short of forcibly terminating Breached via the Windows Task Manager.
Aside from this rare glitch, Breached ran smoothly, giving an overall impression of professional polish throughout. My mid-tier Windows 7 machine experienced no skipping or framerate issues, even on Ultra graphics settings. The musical score and ambient sounds are both immersive and subtle—I sometimes mistook music for relevant signal data.
So what's the final verdict?
I want more from Breached. I want to know more about what happened, to have a swing at unfurling more of its mysteries, to see more of New Caledonia, to investigate more of the protagonist's fragmented psyche. Some DLC could really put meat on these narrative bones ... but as it is, we're left with what the Drama Drifters set out to make: a decently-playable game that can provide about a weekend's worth of diversion.
It does not, however, live up to the promise we've been pitched.
TechRaptor was given a review code for the purposes of review. Breached was reviewed on Windows 7.
Smooth and immersive play elements conflict with a short campaign, limited replay value, and a poignant but shallow story.(Review Policy)