It’s fair to say real-time strategy is one of the genres with the highest potential for emerging gameplay and story-telling. Almost unbeatable, in fact. These faceless mooks you created yourself (maybe) become accomplished fighters. They’re not just Generic Dude 38: They’re Major Generic Dude, who is saving Earth from the alien scourge! Broken Lines seeks to recreate this feeling, and it doubles down. There’s no such thing as Sergeant Generic Dude: It’s all named characters, with a bio, and a playstyle.
It works both ways. You see, characters with a name aren’t as easy to attach yourself to as something you made on a character maker. Many players will never even delve into X-COM and its goofy hat-wearing, that much is certain, but even those will understand that Generic Dude has grown from a green rookie into a seasoned alien killer. By giving you some privates with names, much like giving your own bratwurst a funny yet charming name to impress the ladies, it manages the opposite effect. Thus, it’s harder to like these guys. They’re not given much time to make an impression, although I think this’ll change in the final product. Unless there’s a force of personality the likes of Freddie Mercury on board, it’s hard to fall in love that fast. Even if the guy looks like Freddie Mercury, or the girl looks crazy, drugged and loopy.
Visually it is thoroughly average, with character design not hitting any high notes or missing them horribly. Serviceable perfectly describes it, although the map design is a bit messy and garbled, with a lot of terrain not being immediately discernible. By this, I mean you’ll bonk your soldiers’ faces into walls and mountain sides that looked totally surpassable a lot. I’m happy they leap over waist high fences, though.
Combat has that Unity weirdness to it. It’s stiff but none the less punchy enough, and seeing soldiers take shots at one of the superhuman enemies has its appeal. There’s not a lot of depth to combat, though. Soldiers have individual, markedly different playstyles, stated in their bios. This, in practice, makes no difference. Nobody can charge an enemy position and survive; slow and steady is the only way to go. Stress and panic are factors and your soldiers will, not very frequently, lose control and break line. It might be some narrative statement that all you’re doing throughout is holding the line, keeping it together just barely.
In practice this hasn’t got X-COM’s depth. There are abilities to use, and there are special perks and build paths you can follow to make your soldiers more custom and polished. Obviously, having only played a preview, the assumption to make is it’ll get a lot deeper. Soldiers can permanently die, and there’s penalties for retrying, so there’s a bit of iron man/roguelike in there as well. Presumably soldiers who have survived for very long will have access to more perks and stronger weaponry.
The story is a bit of alternate history where the Nazis finished a wonder weapon, presumably, and it went pretty wrong. It appeals and I’d like to see where they take it. Every time I questioned myself whether I’d keep playing it, I found the answer was yes.
Find a house to hunker down in, set up a firing line, and the enemies will gradually charge in and die. Keeping your soldiers alive feels nice and rewarding. The game might not have the flair of X-COM, or the sheer artistry of Darkest Dungeon, but I would nonetheless recommend it to fans of the genre who are looking for a challenge. The ambition of having characters with personality I find very praiseworthy. Like most great things, it could go horribly wrong, but that risk averse mentality is what keeps us from having flying cars.