When you consider the idea of surviving in hostile environments, what crosses your mind? Death Valley, a trek to the North Pole, or maybe you imagine what you’d do if you were stranded at sea. These are all fine options, but how about we up this a level and attempt to escape from an accident in deep space. Every resource is scarce, and any mistake will probably cost you your life! That’s what I call an extreme situation, and this is the premise behind Breathedge.
Developed by Redruins Softworks and published by Hypetrain Digital, this is a science fiction survival title with a twist. Recently reviewed by Wil Raterman for the PC version, it can be read here for comparison. Breathedge takes you on an adventure through space, where the priority is; to collect resources, craft tools, and explore the surrounding areas. It is a doomed situation, but Redruins Softworks attempted to lighten the atmosphere with toilet humour, and well timed one-liners.
Gangster robots and an unsightly crash.
The dark humour is chucked straight in your face with an unfortunate accident involving your grandpa’s ashes and a hearse. Robot mobsters wish to know how the incident occurred, yet you defy them by spitting in their faces and spinning them a yarn. The truth must come out, and so the story begins. You see, the world through the eyes of “The MAN”. The crash occurred, the spaceship is ruined and you only have a chicken and a witty AI as company.
You do not know what caused the accident, nor does it matter. Your aim now is to survive for as long as possible, and journey to the place where you’ll be rescued. Like all survival games; Ark, Subnautica, Stranded Deep and so forth, this relies on you scavenging for anything useful. You start with a spacesuit and little else, you must collect: metal, rubber, ice, aluminium, and more. You will use these objects to craft tools that will be required to survive. So, in all honesty, it’s pretty standard fare.
Breathedge borrows heavily from Subnautica.
The key concept of survival blended beautifully with exploration, and this is where Breathedge shines for me. The 3D world can be explored freely, and your only restriction is how much oxygen you have to breathe. This is where Subnautica’s influence is most apparent. The world is wonderful and vast, yet you must plan how you will explore it to its fullest. Running out of O2 is a nightmare and unlike Subnautica where rising to the surface replenishes your tank, Breathedge enforces you either; take plenty of canisters, return to your base, or die.
This was a big problem because one of its major plus points is heavily tainted with the tedious requirement to trek back to your home, or risk losing it all by dying. Canisters weren’t difficult to find or make, but they used up precious resources just so you could explore a little further. It was a vicious circle; gather supplies, waste them, and gather more. Though you could see progress was being made, it was painfully slow.
Anyone who has played a survival game knows that half the fun is the grind. Moving from primitive to high tech, and reaping the benefits of your hard work.. Nothing irks you more than when there is no reward for your effort, and everything you craft breaks. Sadly, this is the route taken by the developers. Everything is painfully brittle, you venture out, start mining resources and your tool breaks. “F*&%ing H&^%” you scream, turn around, head back to home and build another to try again. This is the cycle of resource gathering from start to finish, and it doesn’t get any easier.
That may annoy, but you learn to adapt. Multiple tools are created and you shout “Ah ha, in your face broken object mechanic.” Yet, what you can’t get around is the truly diabolical difficulty curve that strangely goes hand in hand with each upgrade you equip. Bigger oxygen tanks, increased boosts, stronger suits, sounds great right? Nope, the objectives simply move further away, and the radiation gets stronger. Increasing your tech doesn’t feel like a step forward, you are metaphorically treading water, permanently! It’s a major oversight, and something that veteran players find abhorrent. Grinding away with no progress is soul destroying and only serves to stretch out the gameplay and to manipulate the difficulty curve.
When is a survival game, not a survival game?
I may seem very negative, but that’s only because I wanted to enjoy what was on offer. Everything was serviceable, and the exploration was fun, once you worked out the oxygen issue, that is. However, what was truly strange was the later chapters. It led me to thinking, “when is a survival game, not a survival game?” The answer? When the developers go off track and turn it into a linear adventure game.
I couldn’t compute why the gameplay ditched its core concept for a 10 to 15 hour exploration of the finale to the plot. It was strange, belittled all your hard work, and left me feeling uneasy. I wasn’t bothered about the; who, what, and why by this point. I certainly didn’t want closure! It was a weird move that undermined the few positives I could find in the early chapters.
Every space cloud has a silver lining.
If you dig hard enough, you’ll find positives in everything. The silver lining in this rather gloomy space cloud is the visual presentation. The first-person perspective works brilliantly with this genre, and you get an instant sense of the vastness of the surrounding environment. The depth of colour creates an impression of isolation, and the detail of the damaged vehicles show the reality of the catastrophic accident. The UI is simple, and the use of the submenus keeps the display clutter free. The movement is smooth, I encountered no bugs, and this part of the game was a pleasure to experience.
The audio didn’t fare so well, sadly. I loved and loathed it, mainly because of its slapstick style humour and distracting ways. Its positives came from the delightful piano music that helped to emphasise the sombre situation and the loneliness of space. The slow tunes were great to listen to as you floated towards your destination. Unfortunately, the immersion was destroyed with the gutter comedy and tiresome one-liners that were ever present. Some gamers will despise these from the off, and others will find them amusing initially. Eventually, however, everyone will despise them as they sully the desperate atmosphere, turning it into a comedic side show.
Floating through space is fun.
There is no denying it, zero gravity space exploration is fantastic. The sense of weightlessness is captured perfectly. You float around with limited control over your movements, enjoying the ride from structure to structure. It would have been a peaceful experience if it wasn’t for the ever ticking oxygen clock. For all its shortcomings, the control setup isn’t one of them. The UI was easy to handle, it had responsive controls, and it was a pleasure to play on console. It’s a shame that everything else wasn’t to this standard.
I would normally scream about the replay value, and how you should return to discover everything. This will not happen. It’s rare that I don’t get on with a survival game, but Breathedge had made it onto that short list. It’s playable and enjoyable in places, but it doesn’t have enough redeeming qualities for me to say you’ll want to return to it.
Breathedge took a gamble, and it didn’t pay off.
The survival genre has been around for long enough that developers should know what works, and what doesn’t. Oddly, Breathedge captured all the genre bad points and rolled with them, anyway. Then, there is the strange change of direction that must be considered. In all honesty, it’s a bit of a mess, and I won’t be recommending it. However, if you want to buy it, you can here! Tough and unforgiving mechanics will leave you frustrated, and an odd story marries up with some weird gameplay choices. If you want a survival game, there are better options available.