It seems that the Nintendo Switch is destined to be home to an ever-increasing number of turn-based tactical and real-time strategy games, which suits me just fine. The latest to elbow its way onto my 32gb of internal memory is Broken Lines, a squad-based tactical game that is set loosely around an alternative take on World War II.
Aside from doing the basics to a high standard, Broken Lines names each and every character in the squad and uses light roleplaying elements and permadeath to ensure that the players are invested. With decisions made both in and out of combat, Broken Lines practically demands multiple playthroughs in order to see everything it has to offer.
The game begins innocently enough, with the player being shown a cut scene that indicates that two British planes are flying towards an as yet unknown mission. As they make their way over apparently neutral territory, they are suddenly shot down, and the handful of soldiers (a mix of veterans and rookies) are scattered and forced to regroup.
Over the course of three or four missions, the players will gather their forces in what acts as a kind of tutorial. Losing soldiers during these missions isn’t such an issue since you can always restart, but once the game begins proper, wounds persist between missions and death is permanent.
With the full squad of eight soldiers (including six men and two women, but only one person of colour) assembled, the player will be free to make their way through a branching storyline that takes about ten to twelve hours to complete from end to end. When I say branching, however, I do mean that certain missions will become unavailable when the other branch is taken, so to see everything Broken Lines has to offer, you’ll need to play it two or three times at least.
Broken Lines is heavily story-driven, and you’ll make choices about which path to take based on your current circumstances. As an example, an early choice demands that players choose between a risky daytime assault or a more considered night-time raid, but by waiting, it’s inferred that critical intel will be lost. Later, you’ll probably need to take on similarly low probability missions because you’re low on supplies.
It is in these missions that Broken Lines really shines though, and trust me, even the seemingly easy missions will require your full attention. Broken Lines uses a specific system called “WeGo” in which all orders are given whilst the game is paused, and then executed simultaneously in eight-second long sequences.
This system places a real focus on making tactical decisions in the heat of the moment, rewarding the best use of cover, flanking the enemy and occasionally, rushing them when you have a clear advantage. It’s a system that I feel works better than classic turn-based tactical games, but which results in a far more nuanced experience than real-time strategy can offer.
The enemy in Broken Lines is unnamed for a long time, but the mask-wearing foot soldiers resemble those of the Killzone series in appearance. It’s clear that Broken Lines is an alt-history take on World War II because the player squad is made up entirely of British Army operatives of the era, whilst the weapons include PPSH SMG’s, M1 Garand’s and other weapons that also featured during the period.
Aside from a difficulty level that will test almost anyone and frustrate many, Broken Lines delivers incredible in-game action for the most part. There are occasional slow sections where the squad moves between action zones (with the game pausing when an enemy is spotted) but aside from this, the combat is thick, fast and logical.
The firing lines between each squad member and the enemy are shown in both directions, with the hit percentage for each (enemies in red, friendly in green) shown as you scroll the cursor. Rifles do well at long range, machine guns at mid-range and shotguns when close, so you’ll see the odds of a hit swing one way or another depending on the equipment that your squad member and the enemy have.
Every character (on both sides) has a panic bar, and when filled, that character will run — sometimes towards the enemy whilst continuing to fire, and sometimes towards the nearest cover. The name of the game when the enemy has a fortified position is often to cause this using the skills available to your troops and the terrain – pin them, chuck a grenade in and flank them if you can.
Outside missions, the player will need to spend their resources on keeping the squad healthy and ensuring morale stays high, but it’s also necessary to invest in enhancing the abilities of squad members. Some can be built as medics, others as snipers, close combat or explosive specialists.
In an interesting twist, classes are not preset as such, and the player can choose any loadout of weapons and equipment as needed. Early in the game, a local refugee joins the group and sells them weapons between missions, with more and more interesting choices becoming available as the game goes on.
Broken Lines is a very good tactical strategy game, and despite looking a little ropey on Nintendo Switch and having a couple of rough edges, it’s pretty much an essential purchase for me. If you enjoy games like XCOM, then Broken Lines has the potential to blow you away, and at the very least, is well worth an extended look.
You can find Broken Lines out on PC and coming soon to Nintendo Switch.