(Review) Broken Lines

A World War II turn-based, tactical RPG? Sign me up! I love the era and I love the genre. It’s more of an alterverse version, but the weapons and aesthetic really do a great job recreating the feel of some of the older FPS’s I played as a kid in a different setting. Kind of like MoHAA, but isometric, or maybe a more modern version of Commandos without the sneaking. Maybe you could sneak… well the option is there, but I just ran everywhere. Let me just break it down for you before I ruin the review in the opening paragraph.

As I mentioned above, Broken Lines is  turn-based Tactical RPG, but it’s not the norm. This game is more gridless similar to The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. This is my preferred version of the genre. The freedom to put my “heroes” wherever I want makes a ton more sense spatially for my brain. I know that they design the levels for grid based combat when the game utilizes that method, but it feels more natural to run amuck. This is where the game shows its first real issue though. There are certain spots in the game where the path-finding will go awry. Sometimes it’s more obvious, but other times it’s so subtle that you don’t notice that you’ve used up all of your time doing a simple task. (You can adjust before going into the action phase, if you catch it.) Below you’ll see that Wood simply can’t go around boxes without making a wasteful detour.

Maybe Wood’s allergic to something in the boxes so he’s going the long way around… This wasn’t even the worst example though.

There are ways around the random path-finding errors sometimes by giving your soldiers shorter, more specific paths. The “shorter paths” method will let you do more with your allotted eight seconds too. Yes, every turn is exactly eight seconds long. When the eight seconds are up or you encounter an enemy, your action phase will abruptly end and you’ll be able to plan your next eight seconds accordingly from there. This is SUPER nice since that means you can react instantly and not be stuck running right into a death-trap like other games where your soldiers will finish up the pre-planned action. As I just mentioned, if you break down how far your squadmates run into different sprints or walks, for some reason you’ll be able to go farther than if you ran in a straight line in one single action. This will help you get an extra sniper shot off, heal a bud, or start letting the bullets fly by laying down suppressing fire on the current turn instead of the next. One mission I had to have my people wait a few seconds while one of my guys finished up using suppressing fire. It’s a pretty flexible system.

Firstly, I’m grateful that you can zoom out this far. Secondly, if you’ll notice the dotted lines on the left. That’s where Sherman gets to a certain point and decides to backtrack pretty far and then back again for no discernible reason. You’ve got to watch when you’re clicking. (This was at a very specific point on the map.)

This is where the second issue comes in though. This one is both major and minor at the same time, but it deals with Veteran Hailey. Veteran Hailey gets “stuck” at times. Not just when she panics (which would obviously make sense not to move when you’re panicking depending on the situation), but on invisible walls and can’t go anywhere. It happened three times on my play through and it was rather frustrating. I’d click on her and tell her to move and the game would accept what I told it to do, but when the action phase started she’d just wiggle in place and not shoot or do anything. On one level I had to finish with three of the four soldiers because Hailey found a nice rock to cuddle and just wouldn’t let go. (I didn’t think the rock looked that attractive…) On another stage, canceling all of her actions and telling her to go to a different location worked thankfully. It’s only been her, but on the bright side, you can still finish the missions by getting one person to the exit point (most of the time from what I remember). That’s why it’s not a major issue, but the level of difficulty definitely goes up when you’re down a man. Woman! I meant down a woman. (Phew, close one!) (To note: a recent patch makes it sound like they may have fixed this in some areas: “Characters would sometimes get stuck in/behind cover.” I haven’t noticed it since, but I did say it was rare.)

In between missions you can take your chances with these scenarios and get abilities and possible composure buffs or debuffs. On a side note: don’t cross Hailey. She’ll cut you!

With the few hours I’ve spent in the game, I’m still not quite sure what the pacing of Broken Lines is supposed to be. You start the game with a plane crash behind enemy lines and there’s some weird crap going on with this nasty yellow fog. You kind of want to get out of there right? But there’s an option to sneak during the missions… and none of my people have a knife with a one-stab-kill ability. I spent the whole game running from one place to the next and let the game stop me when I needed to clear out some baddies. (What your people don’t stop to do is shoot if/when an enemy runs through the middle of your lines. Your people will continue to shoot even at each other to get a bullet in the enemy. This only happened once and it was bad positioning on my part, but I still blame AI.) As of the writing of this review, haven’t “lost” anyone officially. (I may or may not have scum-saved, but you’ll never get that information from me!) At the end of each level you’ll be rewarded depending on how fast you made it through, how many baddies you’ve killed and if you lost anyone or not. This “Missions summary” screen gives me the impression that faster is better, but I’m not really sure.

I’m not trying to humble brag, but it’s nearly impossible for me to not get this shiny badge at the end of each level. What does it do for you though really?

Another thing to worry about in-game is that everyone in your group needs to eat. Yes, that makes sense. However, after every mission you’ll consume supplies based on the number of people that are in your party. With a full group, the supplies go down rather quickly. Am I supposed to have people die off to make it easier? You can only buy so many supplies from Izkor and you can’t eat the bandages or guns he sells. If you were to take your time, there are supply crates in most levels that I’ve noticed. However, the minute you hit that exit, you leave. There’s no extra exploring. I don’t see much benefit from getting medals for a faster completion at that cost since you can’t eat the medals. Maybe I should be taking it slower…

I want to like Broken Lines more. The game mechanics alone are fantastic and the “stop your action phase when an enemy is spotted” feels so right I wonder why it wasn’t implemented in more games in the genre. However, there were a few hiccups along the way that don’t really ruin the experience, but don’t help it either. In the end, while I’m not expecting kittens and unicorns, Broken Lines has a very interesting storyline, but tends to come off as a “horrors of war” game with hope dwindling throughout the game. There’s a place for this, no doubt, but it creates a really heavy atmosphere that wears on me with play. The levity and humor in the beginning help, but as the situation gets worse, well… so does the mood. If you can get into all of that, the ride is rather fantastic, but I think I need to play something with a bit more levity like Animal Crossing in between every other level.

Further Reading on Broken Lines: Facebook / Official Page / Twitter / Steam

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