Alright troops, time to hit the ground running because much like the game’s combat system, I’ll be writing this review in 8-second increments. Broken Lines may be set during WWII, but don’t expect to be fighting any Nazis. Two transport planes full of British soldiers are on their way to the conflict when their plane's engines cut out. After a spectacular crash, a squad made up of the remaining survivors regroup in the hills. Stranded and lacking supplies, means of communication, and orders from their commanders, the ragtag crew must fight their way through a hostile, mysterious country crawling with strange, gas mask-wearing soldiers and a perpetual creeping fog.
Broken Lines’ has a somewhat unique combat system that is a bit difficult to slap into a genre, although I suppose it can be classified as turn-based. Taking a squad of four to five soldiers with you into a mission, you control them separately, issuing commands to each of them one at a time. There is more to the movement than a simple point n’ click. If you want a trooper to follow a very specific path, you can add as many waypoints as you need. There are three modes of movement to choose from, each offering different options to cater to your tactics. Moving at a normal speed allows you to fire upon any enemy while moving, meanwhile, the crouching option forces your soldier to move slowly and bars him from opening fire in exchange for being harder to be detected and get shot. The third option allows you to run as fast as you can to your objective, but you cannot shoot and are more likely to being targeted by enemy soldiers. After choosing a soldier’s course, you can also dictate whether he will stand and shoot at threats or crouch and hold his fire. Theoretically, some of these options should allow for a stealthy approach, but in my case, they never really worked out. Even with the cover and camouflage options I was always promptly detected. At least the crouching mechanics can help your injured soldiers out in a firefight by making them harder to hit. You can’t issue commands to all soldiers at once, so choosing where, how fast, and whether or not they will be standing normally or crouching takes too much time and quickly gets boring. The controls can be fussy when playing with the different movement options and sometimes your soldier won’t respond to orders, causing even more unnecessary aggravation.
You can move your characters about as freely as you want until you encounter an enemy. The game will pause and interrupt all commands when a new enemy appears. When this happens, you will be able to change your previous orders, allowing you to adapt on the fly to the threat. Once you have issued orders and hit the confirmation buttons, the A.I. of the enemies and allies alike will act them out 8 seconds at a time. The battle plays out in 8-second bursts, allowing you to issue new orders during each break until the encounter is over. Unless you are activating an item or special ability, soldiers will simply attack the nearest threat. There is a huge emphasis on taking cover and stress levels. The levels are littered with all sorts of places to take cover. While your rifle users are more accurate at long distances, your shotgunners and machinegun wielders will need to advance on the enemy positions and make use of flanking and suppression to get the best of them. Hitting bad guys with barrages of machinegun bullets will stress them out, giving their efficiency a major reduction and making it easier to move in on them. Same goes for your soldiers too, unfortunately. When their stress bar maxes out they get sent into an uncontrollable state for a few seconds, making them act out erratically and unable to accept your orders. Your squad members can be revived when downed, but they will be put into a wounded state. Getting downed again kills them permanently. There are eight soldiers to choose from in total, but the game will end if you only have three members left.
In between missions, the campfire acts as your home base, allowing you to customize load-outs, speak to your squaddies, and allow you to access the map screen to take on missions, visit the merchant, and tackle optional events. Pretty much all these mechanics are handled blandly, as if they were a last-minute addition to add depth. The way certain things are handled is simply unappealing and there are systems in place that are never really explained. The courage factor and the friendship meters between each squad member are good examples. You have a vague idea of what they should be doing but the benefits are never really explained. Talking to characters in camp can either bring up a meaningless comment or an unavoidable event that ends up with squad members losing relationship status and composure. You should be encouraged to want to talk to your soldiers, not randomly punished. Each character can have up to three traits and three abilities equipped. Traits are unlocked during gameplay and are unique to each character. I like that idea, unlike the way abilities are handled. You can gain a new ability when you complete a mission. Most of them are underwhelming to the point where I didn’t even bother using them. You can assign them to whichever soldier you please and they cannot be removed afterward unless you destroy them. In terms of equipment, each member can equip one of the four gun types alongside a primary and secondary utility. The utilities are all limited-use consumables but replenish after each mission. They range from an assortment of grenades to a variety of bandages and buff items. Getting new equipment requires you to visit the merchant between each level and purchase it with the salvage you find during the missions. You don’t get much salvage and his selection varies between missions, so you probably won’t be purchasing more than one item per visit. A more robust inventory system would have been nice, but there are only about a dozen missions so I guess it can’t be helped.
As far as the main missions go, I enjoy the fact that you are often faced with choosing between two or three options. I like the way the soldiers argue amongst themselves as to how to proceed, and then you make your choice based on that. For example, right at the beginning of the game, they debate the pros and cons of going back to the downed plane during either the day or night. If they attack right now during the day, there will be more soldiers searching there but they may be able to rescue survivors and get more loot before the enemies do. Or do they wait until nightfall, when there will be fewer soldiers but an even lesser chance of survivors and loot? It gives the player agency, lets them feel like they are directly influencing the events of the game. Broken Lines backs up that feeling by adding multiple endings. The optional events are fairly basic. They are basically a short bit of dialogue followed by a multiple-choice question that usually contains some sort of moral dilemma, such as whether or not you should rob a civilian for supplies to help your team survive.
The graphics are another point of contention for me. They are often muddied and small for the handheld mode, forcing me to spend a lot more time than I desire squinting at the screen while scanning for chests, enemies, and cover placements. It’s so easy to mistake which member is which, leading me to mess up my orders more than once. And when the levels take place at night (which they often do) or you need to navigate some buildings, it gets exponentially worse. I have a lot of gripes with this game. Multiple instances of crashing. By the time the plot and characters started to get interesting the game was over. The customization felt lacking. The controls can be frustrating and the simple act of moving your team can be a chore. Despite all the flaws, I had a decent experience with Broken Lines, but it isn’t a title I would readily recommend to other gamers.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 5.5/10
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