Broken Lines is the latest game from indie developer Portaplay. The studio predominantly focuses on mobile offerings, and their last PC title was 2016’s Tales from the Void. Broken Lines, a strategy game with hybrid “pause-and-play” mechanics may seem like Tales from the Void if you’ve tried that. However, a more well-known comparison would be Mode 7’s Frozen Synapse. So, is Broken Lines worth your while? Let’s find out in our official review.
Broken Lines: The story so far
Broken Lines takes place in an alternate World War II setting. A group of commandos crash land behind enemy lines, and it’s up to you to see them off to safety. Along the way, you’ll be able to rescue civilians, meet a quirky merchant, and find the source of a deadly bioweapon used by facemask-wearing “Steampunk Nazis.”
During breaks in Broken Lines‘ one dozen or so chapters, you’re able to speak to your squadmates to learn more about their past or find out what makes them tick. Some of these conversations present decisions for you to make, each one leading to a specific outcome. Your decisions will have consequences. Some may affect the relationship of characters or your team’s supplies, while others may provide new traits.
Likewise, there are a number of short, optional sequences or events that you can experience in Broken Lines’ missions. For instance, you might be asked to threaten civilians to leave a warzone or leave them at their own peril. In another, you could choose to destroy a radio tower or not, and a subsequent event lets you know of the short-term effects. Since chapters let you choose only one out of two or three missions to tackle, there are different events that you’d spot.
Broken Lines also has five unique endings. Completing your playthrough even shows your overall campaign stats. These include your most useful (and useless) soldier, the number of enemies killed, how many times you’ve restarted missions, and the optional story events you’ve found, and more.
Saving private savepoints
With all the possibilities, you might be keen on replaying Broken Lines a few times after you finish the campaign. You could do that, but only from beginning to end. That’s because your entire campaign will continuously autosave using the same slot. If you wanted to reload a chapter to pick a different mission, the game will overwrite your existing save. Worse, doing so also lowers the composure (morale) of your squad.
Ideally, I would’ve preferred multiple files that can be loaded at any time just like in a number of turn-based tactical games (ie. X-COM). Sadly, Broken Lines relies on a “rogue-lite” concept that becomes a detriment to its presentation. You could opt to have multiple backups saved in your directory, though that’s more of an unnecessary hurdle.
The traits obtained from dialogue options, barring a couple, aren’t particularly exceptional either. As for the bonds between your comrades-in-arms, this mechanic, too, feels tacked-on.
Pause, play, pass
The meat and potatoes of Broken Lines, however, is its tactical gameplay. As mentioned, you’ll be reminded of Frozen Synapse due to the pause-and-play mechanic.
Battles are paused in between turns allowing you to issue orders such as moving into cover, using a weapon skill, or activating a perk. Commit to these by hitting the play button and the action unfolds in real-time for eight seconds. After time elapses, the game is paused again while awaiting your command inputs.
For example, you could have a submachine gunner lay down suppressing fire with two snipers taking potshots at hostiles. All the while, your shotgun-wielding trooper flanks enemies and throws grenades at close range. You’ll even see the effective cover and accuracy that your soldier has in comparison to enemies. Just remember to take care of your heroes since wounded ones will be gone for good if they’re downed again.
The concept is simple but effective. Truth be told, there were moments in Broken Lines where the firefights became hectic. In flashes of brilliance, Broken Lines might even remind you of other World War II strategy titles such as Brothers in Arms and Company of Heroes.
Unfortunately, Broken Lines‘ style of play also has several shortcomings. Firstly, you only have an assortment of weapon types and items to choose from. In the end, you’ll prefer efficiency over variety. For instance, halfway through the game, I just had four snipers and one SMG user. This is due to how Broken Lines‘ combat works. If you’re not using skills or items, your characters will automatically shoot the nearest enemy. Why bother rushing at close range if your snipers can shoot everyone dead before they reach you?
Secondly, while the merchant Izkor does sell a few goods each chapter, only a handful will ever be needed. You’ll mostly want supplies to help keep characters at high composure, followed by a wide AoE healing item, rifle grenades, and then a scoped Mosin-Nagant sniper rifle. Likewise, you can’t even sell the extra gear that you have; you can only dismantle them into nothing.
In addition to the above, it should also be noted that you can’t select and command all squadmates while not in combat, and “play mode” will remain at eight seconds all throughout. This can lead to several wasted turns of just trying to move characters around one by one.
Last but certainly not least, Broken Lines seems to be poorly optimized for 4K gaming. Even with my setup (i7-7700K, GTX 1070 Ti, and 16GB RAM), some locations caused significant drops — think 10-15 FPS for lengthy stretches. Heck, I’ve seen better framerates while playing actual FPS titles. Thank goodness that Broken Lines is a turn-based tactical game, or the baddies would one-up you due to performance woes.
Broken Lines review: The final verdict
While I may have criticized Broken Lines quite a bit, it goes without saying that the campaign will still keep you entertained at times. Although a full playthrough would last you around six to seven hours or so, it’s up to you if you wish to replay the game to obtain very possible trait, mission completion/achievement, story event, or ending.
Likewise, the pause-and-play mechanic is intriguing and refreshing to see in turn-based tactical games and strategy titles. Frantic firefights and wild engagements are guaranteed to excite and keep you on your toes. Broken Lines just needs a bit more polish and optimization to make everything click.
Broken Lines releases tomorrow, February 25, 2020, via Steam. You can purchase the game for $24.99.