I am partial to a bit of tactical action and so when Broken Lines from PortaPlay and Blowfish Studios arrived, I wasted no time in getting involved. Described as a “story driven tactical RPG”, is there enough about Broken Lines to allow it to take on a genre in which Warhammer 40,000 rules?.
First, let’s examine our motivation, why are we advancing tactically across an enemy land? Well, Broken Lines is set in an alternate version of WWII, and sees our heroes, a group of Allied commandos, on their way to a mission in Germany (I assume) before being unceremoniously shot down. The problem is, we don’t know where we were shot down, what we were supposed to be doing, and how to get out of the fix that we find ourselves in!
There are a total of eight survivors in place, and the way they work together and get on (or not) will be key to our fate. Can this group of soldiers pull together, or are they doomed? With a strange, gas mask wearing enemy seemingly attacking from every turn, we need to shape up and get out.
The graphics are not too bad, at the risk of damning with faint praise. Viewed from afar, with the camera zoomed out to see the landscape and what is going on, they work very well. Zoom in to see a more granular view, and the cracks start to show, with the soldier models being angular and jerky. It certainly isn’t Xbox Series X quality visuals, let’s put it that way. The actual landscapes are nice and varied though, with our heroes slogging their way through swamps, sneaking through villages and busting people out of a prison camp. The levels are certainly challenging.
Sound is okay as well, with enemies shouting when they see you, and all the soldiers having something to say, whether they are trying to heal their squadmates or throwing a grenade. The sounds of war all come through too, with gunshots and death cries loud and clear. All in all, the presentation works, as long as you don’t look too closely.
For as good as the story and visuals are though, how Broken Lines plays is a bit of an odd one, so bear with me while I try to explain. The game has two phases in each level: a pause phase, where you can tell your troops what to do; and an action phase, where they will perform the actions you specified. It isn’t turn based at all, but feels like it is, if that makes sense?
When you spawn into a level, you can see only the landscape, with no sign of enemy soldiers anywhere. As your troops move in response to your orders, the game will pause when the enemies are revealed, and you can then choose what to do. Whether you should continue the move you had planned out, or whether you should shuffle the squad back into cover is the most basic issue! I can pass along a few words of wisdom about now too: Cover is your friend, and don’t bunch your guys up; a single grenade can then ruin your whole day. Trying to flank the enemies works well, as does laying down suppressing fire, a special ability that can be utilised.
Otherwise, combat is pretty much automated. Your guys will go where you tell them, and if they have a shot at the enemy, they will take it. They are pretty efficient at taking the enemy scum out as well, especially if you can get a guy with a shotgun to sneak up from behind. Healing, suppressing and throwing grenades are all examples of special actions, and when you tell the relevant soldiers to do that, they will stop shooting until it is done.
If your soldiers should fall, they can be revived once per level. If they fall again after that, they are dead. And I mean dead, as in no longer available for subsequent missions. I found this out the hard way, as I moved Hailie, my main healer, up to a tempting clump of cover that proved to be full of bad guys. You see, Hailie had gone on her own, shot to pieces, dying immediately. If you do revive an ally, when the mission is over, they are found in a wounded state when you go to select the team for the next level, and while you can still send them, they will be less effective and their morale will fall. Every soldier seems to have a distinct personality, and also their own ideas about what the team should be doing, so managing the soldiers is almost a full time job.
As you go through the various levels, exploring and liberating supplies, you will come across salvage. This can be spent at a shop set up by a friendly local, and there you can buy new weapons, food to keep everyone going, and also grenades and other consumables. Making sure that your team has the correct loadout for each mission is vital – it’s no good sending a squad of shotgun guys to a long distance engagement, for instance. Playing the levels and making mistakes seems to be part of a fairly brutal learning curve.
Broken Lines is a pretty interesting proposition. It isn’t the best looking game ever, but the way it plays is challenging and rewarding; getting out of a level with no one dead will feel like an achievement. If you like a tactical game, I recommend you give it a try. Just watch out for that permadeath!
Broken Lines is on the Xbox Store