Lead a squad of World War II soldiers in their mission to survive being cut off from the rest of the world in a mysterious and hostile territory.
Release date: 25 Feb, 2020
Another review, another tactical RPG. I’ve been paying attention to Broken Lines for quite a while now and through its development, it’s only continued to improve. Now that it’s finally had to put its money where its mouth is, I’m even more impressed with its innovation and soul than I thought I would be. Strong writing and an emphasis on tactical combat make this title stand triumphantly over much of its competition in the genre.
This Isn’t Your Grandfather’s World War II
The setting of Broken Lines is somehow both what you would expect and something altogether different. Your squad is made up of eight soldiers from the United Kingdom of varying backgrounds who end up being on board a plane that crash lands deep in territory that they had believed to be neutral. Their equipment checks out for the World War II setting, but the alternate history begins as soon they realize that their enemy is something entirely different, and perhaps even more sinister than what they had expected.
The story starts off a bit slow after the plane goes down but after the first few missions are completed and you’ve reunited your party, it takes off in a big way. The gas mask-wearing “faceless” (or ‘ginks’ if you prefer) are engaging in some rather nefarious activities in the area and your squad will be deciding along the way on how exactly they’re going to deal with it. The amount of dialogue here seems to hit a sweet spot for me, it creates a tense story of survival, budding friendships, and deepening rivalries with particularly exceptional character development. Each choice will make you think, whether it is simply choosing which soldier has the best idea for how to hunt the local wildlife, whether to blow up an enemy radio tower or try to repurpose it, or even which mission you’ll take advantage of while losing the opportunities provided by the others. More often than not, your options frame the idealism of your recruits and the raw pragmatism of your veterans in a way that will keep you on your toes. You’re spoiled for choice and I look forward to a second playthrough and beyond, not only for these choices but for the handful of endings that are available based on them.
The Bold and the Brave
By far the best part of Broken Lines is its cast of characters. From the burly and tough King to the grizzled former sergeant Morgan to the smart-talking recruit Wood, I found myself fully invested in the squad of eight’s survival throughout the story. Camp, in particular, leads to a significant amount of character development as your squad discusses the issue at hand as well as having side conversations between them that can deepen their bonds with one another or put them increasingly at each other’s throats. These side stories not only alter how well characters work together on missions but also unlock powerful abilities that can be very useful or detrimental to that character’s performance.
Each soldier begins with a single unique ability of their own but can learn others as the game progresses. New capabilities are acquired both from the dialogue of camp and side stories as well as completing missions, the latter of which tends to offer generic abilities that can be permanently equipped to any member of your party. These soldiers will also be packing some heat in the form of submachine guns, shotguns, rifles, and utility items, all of which can be upgraded by new purchases from a merchant ally that you meet early on. Submachine guns are dangerous at medium range and can suppress enemies, forcing them to panic instead of posing a threat to your squad for a time. This often opens up the opportunity to slide one of your shotgun-wielding soldiers in to clean them up at short range, freely blasting them off their feet so that you can lay even more punishment on them before they can pose a serious threat. Rifles, on the other hand, are best at longer ranges and can be aimed to boost their accuracy at the cost of their firing rate to pick off dangerous targets before they can close the distance. Utility items come in many categories including healing items like bandages and additional heavy firepower like bazookas.
Firefights and Skirmishes
It’s important to note that Broken Lines isn’t turn-based in the strictest sense of what we’ve come to expect from the term; it’s more of a Frozen Synapse than an XCOM. When you issue your orders, you do so to each squad member while time is stopped and once you hit play, several seconds will go by as they carry them out, rinse and repeat. I really enjoyed seeing this type of combat show itself again, although I certainly love classic turn-based games, I’d like to see solid games with these kinds of mechanics hitting the digital store shelves as well.
The overall presentation of the title doesn’t fall behind in the genre, but I would say that it’s not particularly impressive. Character models look fine from a distance, though they’re rather unpleasant to look at up close, especially around the campfire. The audio isn’t anything that stands out, it does its part without getting in the way but it isn’t particularly exceptional or memorable. Fortunately for this title, I found that its superb gameplay and writing made me not at all concerned with either of those elements being less of a focus.
If you’re a fan of tactical gaming, pick Broken Lines up. It has enough of a unique feel to it that it will most likely not be competing with many other titles in your library; the story itself is enough for me to push that statement even further. The variety of mission choices each day as well as the varied equipment and abilities add to the replay value and I can absolutely see me picking this one up again in the future to try out some of the other options. PortaPlay has now caught my eye as a developer who may have a bright future ahead of them if they can continue to put games of this quality out, just don’t go into it expecting a lesson in history.
If you’re interested in playing Broken Lines you may be in luck! Ask JimDeadlock on our Discord server and he may have a free key for you, if you’re quick!