A great deal of my time has been spent playing tactics titles, as of late. The role-playing genre is no stranger to turn-based affairs, but the implementation of the mechanic is often fairly straightforward. This is largely why Broken Lines managed to surprise and impress me, as its unique take on a combination of both real-time and turn-based combat ends up being its most defining and compelling aspect. As a narrative taking place on the European front during World War II, this title draws heavy inspiration from the tactics and characters one might expect from a narrative such as this. Does its highly inventive gameplay transfer over into its narrative design? Read on to find out if Broken Lines feels wholly unique.
Broken Lines approaches “turns” as eight-second chunks of time, where actions play out on the map based on how commands have been set on each respective unit’s “timeline.” This timeline is more or less an action queue displaying the amount of time each action you’ve selected will take. Though the amount of planning required in order to make this sort of tactics system work might seem overwhelming, the game executes it very easily due to the relative simplicity of actions and the ability to view all squad timelines in quick succession with relative ease. What also helps is that the gunplay mechanics follow some very stringent, real-life techniques and applications, which also means that, ultimately, your tactics are a bit limited.
Much of Broken Lines’ gameplay revolves around the usage of a set of tactics that are established in the game’s tutorial, which largely focus on precision shots, flanking, and the use and destruction of cover. While much of this is taught to the player in these early sections, it is most likely what you’ll find yourself utilizing in most scenarios. Now, to be fair, a player would likely have to learn by brutal trial-and-error if they skipped said tutorials, and these techniques are indeed very true-to-life. Characters can sprint, fire while moving (for an accuracy penalty), and move under cover in order to make the most of their environment, and utilize their weaponry in a variety of ways for different sorts of ranged scenarios. Unfortunately, the game’s realism has a tricky way of backfiring on it in the worst ways, as shotgun users have some of the worst utility despite their “knockdown” function. The guns with the best chance of tearing down cover and suppressing fire are the ones you’ll want to use most often.
Broken Lines is more than just its gunplay, however, as you’ll find yourself exploring a multitude of environments, and experiencing skirmishes throughout. You’ll be able to obtain resources in these areas that can be traded for upgrades on the loadout screen, meaning your units can improve in a few ways. The character progression is not expanse, but it is satisfying in a few roguelike ways: similar to Darkest Dungeon, your characters can suffer morale losses when put into consistent mental and physical duress during skirmishes, which can result in negative traits developing. Similarly, there are a number of moral choices you can make in between combat maps, where you can receive some benefits or have negative traits form based on the choices you make.
Broken Lines truly is designed with a roguelike mentality, as you can lose squad members in skirmishes. Once your entire team has been exhausted, you will actually end your current campaign and have to restart, meaning that strategic choices and proper planning are crucial. This is why approaching skirmishes carefully and using your tactics wisely is paramount- while the game isn’t extremely difficult, a disorganized squad with a few poorly structured turns can get completely overwhelmed if not implemented correctly.
Narrative and Aesthetic
One positive element of Broken Lines’ aesthetic design is that characters are not bound to specific grindlines- maps have organic terrain and can be navigated around with relatively free movement. While this environmental design is more realistic, this mentality doesn’t translate as easily to the visual design. While the landscapes look fine from the zoomed-out, overhead default perspective, the generic nature of some structures, models, and textures is a bit more evident upon closer inspection. Nothing offensive, but lacking a bit of personality.
The 3D models do a fair job of representing the character portraits, which utilize a somewhat cartoonish art style to represent a variety of character archetypes. Although the game is set during the second World War, the female soldiers are given a logical reason for their presence, and add some nice variety to the squad. The expected character archetypes are all here- timid and hesitant, “yes-man,” gruff veteran, cocky spitfire… much of the standard fare are on display. The saving grace of the oftentimes exaggerated script and dialogue is the synergy of the main cast- or lack thereof. Though all of these characters exist in the same place and are dealing with the some issues, they are trained to approach skirmishes in a certain way, and not necessarily prepared for social interaction. Watching them play off of one another and pressure each other into certain moral decisions is a nice change of pace from the “we’re all in this together” vibes of most tactics titles.
With that being said, the narrative is fairly standard despite its fictitious nature. A group of soldiers crash lands in uncharted territory on the European front, and are quick to discover a sinister outfit of uniquely-dressed enemy soldiers. Their quest to address this faction and make their way back to their intended positions makes up the bulk of the game, but this narrative window dressing is serviceable, if not a bit uninspired. The archetypal characterization of squad members does little to help this matter, but it’s also not necessarily a problem, either.
Impressions and Conclusion
My time with Broken Lines has been mostly favorable, as I’ve enjoyed playing with the unique elements of its combat system. While it does feature a selection of simple actions, the control mapping is where things are complicated, as the game makes players open up option wheels, select different “states” for character movement and aiming, and to adhere to this step-by-step process throughout their playthrough. There were several times where a mistaken input caused my character to rush up towards a rocket launcher wielding opponent, which was less-than ideal. The more consistent and extended your play sessions with Broken Lines, the more accustomed you’ll become with this exhaustive checklist of inputs, but the game never makes it any easier.
While I do adore the more unique aspects of the turn-based combat system, I did find that, outside of the differences in environmental design, I spent most of my time utilizing the same flanking, cover, and suppression techniques learned in the tutorial throughout the course of the game. While this did make the gameplay loop fairly consistent and reliable, I did not feel as if the game forced me to rethink my tactics at any point- although that might have just been my “if it ain’t broke” mentality. There is variety in objectives and terrain, but the realistically limited range of weaponry makes squad composition and utility a low priority.
For all of its unique gameplay folds, Broken Lines failed to grip me as other real time and turn-based strategy titles have, whether because of the hokey writing or the wartime setting. I do feel that there is so much to love about the combination of mechanics here, and so it is a definite recommendation for fans of the genre simply due to its inventive action system. If you’re expecting a technical or narrative marvel, there are likely other titles worth exploring, but for what it is, Broken Lines does a fine job at stressing the coordination of gunplay and the trials and tough choices inherent in war.
Editor’s note: As of April 3rd, 2020, Broken Lines is not currently listed on the eShop, despite its late-February release date. We will reach out to the publisher for clarification.