Into the Breach and Star Renegades are two very different games from two completely different developers, but they have a number of things in common I thought worth analyzing.
The premise of both games is identical: Alien invaders are attacking, and you must defend humanity by traveling across timelines and passing on your knowledge and technology every time. Both games have no true ending: After the end of every run, win or lose, there is always another timeline under threat that you must jump to.
What’s interesting is that despite this similarity, their execution of story elements is diametrically opposite, and both left me unsatisfied in different ways.
I played Into the Breach first, which is helpful for this writeup because it’s the most minimal. A key component of the metagame in Into the Breach is that there are a large number of time travellers who can pilot the mechs you use to fight the aliens, and each is a unique character with a name, backstory, gameplay benefit, and in-battle barks. These characters were written by none other than the writer of Planescape: Torment, a game we previously reviewed for its fantastic storytelling.
You would think this would mean the game has a heavy story and character focus. You would be wrong.
You see, those backstories exist only in the writer’s head, and have only been revealed picemeal through interviews. The characters’ random barks are the only insight we get into the personalities and the deep lore behind them. There’s no in-game bio, the characters never talk to one another, and we never get their opinion on this nightmarish loop they’re trapped in and if they believe there’s a permanent solution. This information does exist! The writer has given us some very detailed fanfiction explaining all of this stuff in interviews. It’s just not in the game.
This baffling decision quickly made me lose interest in Into the Breach. The gameplay just wasn’t good enough to keep me invested without lore and story hooks. Despite how interested I was in the characters and their situation, the game would never give me anything more.
Enter Star Renegades, a game that does exactly what I thought Into the Breach should have done with its characters… and yet still fails colossally.
Star Renegades does have conversations between characters, you see! It also has interactive objects that give lovely worldbuilding flavor text. There is even a main character and a plot, sort of. Passing on your technology to future timelines is also an actual mechanic, instead of only implied flavor as it is in Into the Breach.
The problem is that it’s all flat as cardboard. The characters only ever display one emotion, their dialogue is incredibly stilted and obviously modular, and the worldbuilding is completely incomprehensible. (I got the same feeling I got from HEARTBEAT, that there was some other work in this setting that actually explained things that the game assumed I was familiar with.) The story has quantity, but not quality. As such, I have zero interest in continuing the metagame; even finishing a single run felt like a chore.
I’m not sure I really have a conclusion here. It just struck me what a perfect contrast these two were, and how badly they missed the mark in such different ways. A game with the quantity of Star Renegades and the quality of Into the Breach would have been lovely, but alas, ’twas not to be.