Broken Lines is a story-driven, tactical RPG-like experience of some 7-to-8 hours about a small squad stranded behind enemy lines on a Roger Corman movie set about World War 2. As any B-movie horror worth its salt, there is no historical accuracy here, beyond gear and equipment names, but plenty of gas masks, bio weapons, fake accents and Nazi props.
Story & Narration
The game is set in an alternate history World War II, where you and your small band of
brothers squad mates get stranded in an unknown neutral country with an unknown enemy, speaking an unknown language. Your party is made of Britain’s best and brightest, however, without their officers, who got separated and captured by the enemy in the prologue, they have no idea where they are or what their mission is.
This is how the game starts, with you tasked to find survivors of a plane crash, learn where you are, what your mission is and who is your mysterious enemy, speaking a mysteriously fictitious language. One by one you collect your pre-Brexit British chaps and venture further into an East European heart of darkness. Ugh, the horror!
Maybe a good time to mention the game is co-funded by the European Union.
If you are particular of the mood and tone games employ to set their world, imagine Coppola’s Apocalypse Now in a Wolfenstein theme park and you won’t be far of Broken Lines.
The characters and cut-scenes are done in a comic book style, with brief conversations between the characters and some British humor.
This is a turn-based tactical game that uses pause-and-play mechanics, where you plan orders for your squad in the pause phase and then execute them in the active 8-second phase. Your orders are executed simultaneously with those of your enemy, with automatic pausing after 8 seconds, enabling you to react to new developments on the battlefield.
Broken Lines has some RPG elements. After each mission you go to a camp where you manage your team, giving your solders different weapons or unlocking new abilities. Each soldier has his or her specialty and skills that can prove crucial during missions.
Soldiers using machine guns are great for suppression fire, preventing enemies from action and doing area damage. Soldiers with rifles are great for sniping enemies from afar, while shotguns are useful in close range combat. In addition, each soldier carries accessories with him, from the grenades to medical aid.
The amount of equipment and supplies is important as it is consumed with time and needs to be replenished between missions. You can buy accessories and supplies from the local retailers, paying with salvaged goods.
The game mechanics work well in practice, even though the action can be somewhat slow for people who are not fond of turn-based combat.
The action phase instantly stops when you spot an enemy unit and you switch back to the planning phase. This gives you a chance to plan and react to the changed conditions on the battlefield.
During the 8-second active phase, both you and the enemy soldiers act simultaneously. This can ruin your plans as enemies move on the map and execute their own attacks, which in turn can break your own moves. You’ll need to learn to anticipate enemy’s actions during your planning phase.
Fortunately, you are given a very clear timeline how long each action takes, so you can combine actions from several combatants over the 8 second phase. One example would be waiting until a smoke grenade is detonated to hide your soldiers sprint towards cover, or time your suppressive fire with flanking movements to surround enemies without taking damage.
Broken Lines is NOT like X-COM!
I see a lot of people compare this game to X-COM, but I have no idea why, except that they both belong to the same genre of games? There is very little comparable between the games. Broken lines has no base-building, no research or world building and much less customization.
The mechanics of Broken Lines are more comparable to some older games, like the Jagged Alliance series, with Jagged Alliance 2 being the superior game. Thematically it also reminded me of the Commandos series, but I would also give the nod to Commandos over Broken Lines.
However, Frozen Synapse is probably the closest game to Broken Lines among these. I would understand if someone describes Broken Lines as Frozen Synapse 2 in a WW2 skin.
Manual Saving is NOT an Option
Please note that there is no manual save option in Broken Lines. There are three auto save files that follow your progress, but any decisions you make during the camp phase or in completed missions are final, no going back or replaying a mission after its done. You have to start from the beginning.
Current missions fare slightly better. You can restart missions in several ways: from the camp if you want to re-equip, from the start of the mission or from a reached checkpoint. All restart options cost you composure.
I have to say that I do not appreciate games that waste your time by NOT offering a manual save. Yes, there are a few great games that benefit from no manual saving. But they were already great games to begin with, where that additional investment from the players brought the extra reward. I just feel that too many developers lately take a lazy approach to saving, trying to force player investment, improve replayability or increase difficulty by not offering manual or semi-manual saves.
Even though Broken Lines is not as guilty of this as some other games, saving must be better thought out in games. Devs cannot hide from criticism behind “it was a gameplay decision early in development”. Sure, it’s their decision, but it’s for us fans to criticize it when it doesn’t actually benefit gameplay.
With many missions mutually exclusive (or the possibility to be done in a different way), decisions that cannot be changed and no manual saves, the replay value of Broken Lines is high and it might take up to 3 replays to explore all options the game offers. That is, if you enjoy the game and don’t mind the lack of manual save. As for me, while I liked the game, I wasn’t compelled to do a replay. I would have rather preferred manual saves to explore all that the game has to offer.
Graphics & Audio
Overall, I liked the graphics. The levels are well designed and realistically evoke the atmosphere of an alternate history World War II :). OK, if you compare the graphics to modern AAA titles, it’s not particularly impressive, but it never bothered me and I actually enjoyed some of the drawn art. The character models are OK from a distance, but look rather rough up close at the campfire.
The audio doesn’t stand out in any way (maybe some annoying VA from time to time). Overall, the music and sound effects fit into the whole atmosphere of war.
Broken Lines currently has a Metascore of 78 from 13 critics and a 7.7 user score from 18 ratings. 82 percent of reviews on Steam are positive.
A Few Words About the Developer
PortaPlay is small Danish indie developer and Broken Lines is their second game, following the 2016 space adventure tactics game, Tales from the Void.
Honestly, Broken Lines is pretty unique, even among the tactical games genre, and the interesting story adds to its appeal (it might have been a cult movie by now had Roger Corman ever brought it to screen).
New players or players just exploring the genre might find the pause-play 8-second mechanic a hassle, but veteran players will quickly adjust. It often can be absorbing and 7-8 hours game time it offers will pass just like that. That is a weakness, for the amount it currently sells for. Sure, mission and choice variety, equipment and abilities add to the replay value, but I was fine letting it go after one play through.
If you’re a fan of tactical gaming and WW2 (but not historical accuracy), it might be worth picking up Broken Lines.