I really want to like Breathedge. It’s a game that, on paper, sounds like it should be a riot: a survival game set in space, with the unique challenges and opportunities that come with that, dressed up in irreverent humour and with more of a narrative push than your typical survive-’em-up. But in practice, it’s a tedious outing, one with the occasional bright moments, but far more misses than hits.
Breathedge is the story of The Man, a simple dude who just wants to deliver his grandfather’s ashes to a galactic funeral. But the explosion of the cruise liner you’re travelling on has a way of interfering with such noble goals, and so you’re left trying desperately to survive amid the wreckage, find other survivors, and find a way to get back to safety—all while a particularly obnoxious AI keeps yammering in your ear and a seemingly immortal chicken becomes the most versatile multitool you could imagine. Yeah, it’s that sort of game.
But for all its promise of fun and frivolity, Breathedge quickly settles into a particularly tiresome routine. The biggest culprit here is what’s also the whole game’s defining feature: the oxygen management that comes with being unable to breath in space. Every trip outside the comfort of your base comes with a time limit in the form of a quickly-depleting oxygen tank, emphasising quick scavenging trips over extensive exploration.
It’s an interesting idea in theory, but in practice, it just means a lot of running (slowly) back and forth. Head out, gather a few resources, return to base, wait for your oxygen to regenerate, head out again… Various upgrades and oxygen-restoring consumables help a little bit when you need to head further afield, but it’s not until much later in the game that you get anything substantial enough to take the tedium out of that loop.
This problem is compounded by the generally uninteresting nature of Breathedge‘s survival game. There’s a lot of the sort of menial tasks that often come with the genre, as you gather materials to craft tools, so that you can gather more materials and craft more tools, but without the more interesting sides of survival games to balance it out. Exploration is strictly hindered by oxygen management, there’s little scope for creativity in building up your base, and there’s not much by way of tension and atmosphere, either. Limited durability on tools means you have to spend an inordinate amount of time just on gathering the necessary materials just to keep yourself stocked on essentials.
Things open up a bit more towards the middle of the game, once you’re able to establish a proper base, start researching more useful developments, and build vehicles that take some of the nuisance out of navigation. It’s here that Breathedge is at its best: oxygen management is still a factor, but a less constraining one, and there’s far more variety in what you’re able to do, where you can go, and what you can see. Were this middle the entirety of Breathedge, it’d be a different, much better game.
But even that is short-lived, with the latter part of the game taking a very abrupt turn as the story—mostly drip-fed through discoveries up to that point—ramps up. What was a survival game turns into a linear adventure game, and not a good one. Any sense of exploration and, well, survival gives way to running from objective to objective, completing straightforward puzzles along the way and fighting the odd enemy here and there. At the same time, the mystery of the early game gives way to a fairly generic AI-gone-rogue sci-fi romp, populated with some oddball characters but never quite living up to the promise of a “universal conspiracy” to unravel.
Sense of humour should be Breathedge‘s saving grace. The whole game is set up for a tongue-in-cheek parody of survival games, with more than a dash of irreverent nonsense and plenty of toilet humour. And it certainly has its funny moments: the use of condoms as a source of oxygen supply is just ridiculous enough to work, especially when you think about it deeper and start to wonder about why condoms are so (relatively) prevalent on what was meant to be a funeral ship. The discoveries of other travellers who didn’t make it are often morbidly funny in what their remains tell you about how they died, and there are a few good laughs to be found in the way the game pokes fun at the genre’s tropes.
But for every joke that lands, there’s a bunch that miss the mark. Poor delivery and misjudged punchlines are often the culprit, but most of the time, what lets the humour down is just the constant barrage of jokes. It’s as if the writers were so worried that you might stop laughing for a moment, and sought to cram every second of the game with an annoying narrator babbling away in your ear, with rehashed jokes getting less funny with each new iteration and even the better ones losing impact because they’re caught in the middle of a constant stream of someone trying a little too hard to be funny.
That’s not to say Breathedge doesn’t have its moments. It can be genuinely funny when it lets itself, and once you reach the point where the survival aspects start to open up and oxygen management becomes less of a pain, it even starts to get a little fun. But the journey to that point is too long and too laborious, and as soon as Breathedge finds its groove, it cuts away to a particularly unsatisfying end.
Developer: Hypetrain Digital
Publisher: Hypetrain Digital
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.