Broken Lines is a light tactical experience that fails to capitalize on its premise and potential. While not great, it is still a good palate cleanser between heavier titles.
PortaPlay is a studio mostly focused on developing learning apps and mobile games. In fact, Broken Lines is only their second PC title, and the first game they release on the Nintendo Switch.
When I first heard about the game, I expected a mashup of XCOM, Darkest Dungeon, and This Little War Of Mine. But now, after playing Borken Lines in full, I’m sad to say it did not meet my expectations.
It’s About the Soldiers
Broken Lines takes place in an alternate World War II. A unit of British soldiers, on their way to an unknown covert mission, has crashed behind enemy lines and now must fight its way out under your command.
While that’s a somewhat sketchy premise, Broken Lines use it as a stage for a character-driven story of war, survival, and humanity.
As a character-driven game, Broken Lines puts a lot of emphasis on the conversations we have with our squadmates at the camp. While letting us get familiar with the soldiers and their backstories, these conversations also have us making some decisions. Some of these decisions might have consequences, such as affecting the relationship between soldiers and maybe even providing them with new traits.
War Always Changes Those Who Fight It
Broken Lines is divided to separate missions, were in each one, we will be able to choose one out of several objectives to tackle. Some of these missions throw random encounters and events in our way, such as rescuing civilians from the warzone or destroying a comms tower. While some of the decisions we take will have an immediate effect, others might affect the game’s ending – Broken Lines has 5 distinct endings.
Before each mission, we find our soldiers sitting at the campfire. This is when we can micromanage our units, change their loadouts, and select which four soldiers will come with us to the next mission. Each one of them has unique traits such as suppression or targeting that affect the tactics we can apply on the battlefield.
Each soldier can be equipped with a weapon, two items, and three abilities aside from their unique traits. Weapons types have a different range of effectiveness. Shotguns and handguns are useful for close range, SMGs are suitable for medium-range, rifles are good for long-range, etc. Items are also pretty standard, with healing packs, bandages, and grenades. Abilities are chosen from a pool shared by all squad members so that each skill can only be equipped by one soldier at a time.
The Power of Pause
In Broken Lines, both exploration and combat utilize a pause-and-play system that let us strategize our moves. Plan the characters’ paths and actions, and then start the clock for an eight seconds segment. If an enemy appears, the game will immediately pause to give us time to respond and plan our actions.
You give your squadmates individual orders, which can be annoying, and I did sometimes wish for a way to control the entire squad, at least during exploration. But as the maps are quite linear and small, it does not slow you down that much.
Using the environment is a crucial element of Broken Lines. Higher ground affects your chances to hit the target, and cover or camouflage protect you from enemy fire. Although enemies are mostly stationary in battle, Broken Lines can still be a real challenge. While we advance towards or flank an enemy, new enemies might appear out of the fog and throw our whole plan for a loop.
Aside from a health bar, every soldier also has a panic bar. This is where your squad morale comes into play. Your soldiers’ reactions and tendency to panic are partially affected by their relationships with each other. A squad where all soldiers dislike one another is more susceptible to fear, and a panicked soldier that rushes out of cover and is more likely to die.
On the other hand, if everybody gets along, your soldiers will perform better on the battlefield. Enemies can also panic if you concentrate fire on them, and you can use that to your advantage.
And you’ll need every advantage you can get. Broken Lines is not an easy game. I found myself more than once using all my squad skills and arsenal to barely survive an intense battle. It also takes a not-so-orthodox roguelike approach, where you can’t reload your game if one of your soldiers dies. If you want to save them, you have to replay the whole mission over again. Permadeath is not a new concept in tactical games, but not letting you save your game, even on Normal difficulty, is somewhat uncommon and rather frustrating.
War Isn’t Pretty
Graphic-wise, Broken Lines is no eye candy. The environments, textures, and effects are sparse on details. Although it isn’t all that bad, there are certainly better-looking low budget games out there. The game also has its share of bugs, such as characters not responding to commands. It even crushed on my Switch more than once.
That aside, camera control is smooth, and text is easy to read both on a large monitor and in handheld mode.
Broken Lines tries to define itself as a tactical RPG. While it does hit the tactics mark, it misses the RPG part by a mile. Character development is minimal, and so is the story. I was hoping the morale system will play a more significant role as we see in games like Darkest Dungeon, but it never goes quite as deep.
If you have a soft spot for World War 2 games and are looking for a light tactical experience, I recommend you’ll give it a try. Otherwise, there are far superb tactical experiences out there.
Release Date: Feb. 25, 2020
Genre: Tactical RPG
Available On: PC, NS (soon)
Reviewed On: NS
Our Broken Lines review copy was supplied by the publisher.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.