Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
Back in March of 2018, I wrote a review of Subset Games’ Into The Breach, the second game from the creators of indie starship sim FTL. Looking back at the review, I’m happy to note that, while it’s undeniably gushing, it’s at least authentically so: Into The Breach was then, and is now, a masterpiece—something underscored by the release of its new Advanced Edition update a few days ago, which, among other things, instantly transformed ITB into one of the greatest mobile games of all time, pretty much overnight.
As its name suggests, the Advanced Edition ups the complexity, if not necessarily the difficulty, of Subset’s original game, centered on an endless war against an inhuman but voracious foe. With more mech squads to manage, more types of kaiju-esque bugs to defeat, and a wider array of mission types to complete (all happily optional), players who drove themselves nuts with the game’s chess-esque war puzzles back in 2018 will find a joyous mix of the familiar with the new, with much of the focus on a new “Boosted” mechanic that powers your fighters up under specific battlefield circumstances.
At its core, Into The Breach remains a game about finding ways to do the most you can with minimal resources, as the apocalypse creeps ever closer. Each turn, your enemies, the insectoid Vek, move into position, telegraphing their attacks. Your hardened squad of survivors, outfitted in a wide variety of giant robots equipped to push, burn, or blast the bugs, do everything in their power to keep those attacks from killing anybody, or destroying vital objectives. Sometimes they pull it off. Sometimes, not so much.
Then, and now, Into The Breach is a game about learning to live with the least awful alternative, of taxing your brain to find the solution where everyone lives, and then, when that fails, where the least vital resources dies—like a hundred little trolley problems barreling down at you every single hour. The game’s story remains minimal—there are bugs, the bugs are bad, time travelers fight the bugs—but its use of flavor text and tiny snippets of dialogue ensures that you feel every failure before your pilots leap away to a hopefully less-fucked timeline.
Advanced Edition doesn’t necessarily improve on any of this, but only because it didn’t really need to; instead, it simply widens the number of problems you’ll be asked to slam your brain against. New squads focus heavily on ever-more esoteric ways to move or wound the Vek, with the most interesting weapons letting you do things like take direct control of a rampaging bug, or swap the places of two different units on the map. The more options you have, the more chances to save everybody—and the worse it’ll feel when you inevitably let another couple of hundred of the last remaining humans die.
I’ve mostly been playing Advanced Edition on my PC, losing a whole new bushel of hours to Subsets’ brilliance; a dip into the Android version looked great, but also crashed almost immediately on my Samsung 10+. (A second attempt was more stable—but there’s also the part where the game is only available via a Netflix subscription, as part of the company’s oddball push into games; on the plus side, that means you’re free to try it as long as you’ve got Netflix, but you’ll never really “own” it.) Hopefully those bugs can be smoothed out, because the actual implementation is as smooth as fans always figured it would be; this was always a game that was always going to soar on mobile, its genius exposed to even more people at last.