You’ve got to admire a game that takes a solid premise, then adds a liberal dash of urine-based humour to it. Space (or indeed science-based) games benefit well from comedy, if the Portal and Kerbal Space Program series are any indication. The problem that Breathedge faces, however, is whether it strikes that balance.
On one hand, there’s a very well put together survival-and-crafting-in-space game here. Exploration and trying to piece it all together, as well as literally piecing bits of scrap to make functional tools is indeed fun. That it looks cracking with its space-retro aesthetic adds to the overall joy.
On the other, you’ve got an immortal space chicken and a tutorial video whose sole focus is you being able to pee in space. It constantly wavers that line of just the right amount, occasionally bordering on the eye-rolling absurdity.
Perhaps it’s just me being cynical and pretending I’m too good for bodily fluid-based humour anymore. I mean, I don’t think I am, but there’s a limit. Anyway, let’s don our space suits and find out if Breathedge is worth it.
We’ll Deliver You Wholesale
Our space adventure starts off with a bang. In two regards: the robotic mafia(?) henchmen hitting you upside the head, and your ship exploding. These two events are coincidental, as the former is a sort of in-medias-res affair while the latter is you recounting what has happened.
You, a man known affectionately throughout the game as The Man, are the astronaut equivalent of Gordon Freeman: you don’t say a word. You do possess thoughts, however, as near enough every item will have The Man’s opinion on it. Anyway, you’re on your way to deliver your deceased father to a funeral in space.
Something happens to the transport ship that you’re on, daddy’s coffin gets sucked out into the vacuum of space, and you’re marooned in what soon becomes a space-scrapyard. This is what the Mr. House-like robots (for the Fallout: New Vegas fans here) are trying to ascertain. But far from asking you nicely, you’ll get wrench-based love taps upside the head if you deviate from his questions.
There’s a framing device to do with eco-terrorists, this robot mafia angle, and a drive to keep The Man from joining the other space corpses. It seems a lot, but it can be done. You just need to stay alive, warm and breathing.
Time To Get Crafty…
Having only glimpsed the trailer, I thought the setup above was going to give way to a linear space adventure with a crafting mechanic. Turns out, I was very wrong indeed. Crafting is Breathedge. Not just in the modern Tomb Raider/Horizon: Zero Dawn sense of light crafting on the fly, no. Think bigger.
The ship you were on is decimated, scattered around like a a freeze-frame of a massive car pileup. Your cabin is your hub, a rest stop between scavenging the cold environs of space. The rest of it is your scrapyard, the banquet in which you painstakingly help yourself to whatever you need.
And why is this important?
Well, if you’ve ever seen/read The Martian, think along those lines: survival. Crafting starts off relatively small (including an oh-so hilarious literally pile of junk as a mission task), but it soon grows. From upgraded space suits and bigger oxygen tanks, The Man tackles the big stuff after a fashion.
By big I’m talking rebuilding stations, making a fully-functioning base, complete with airlocks and power stations. It caught me by surprise: think you’re playing space survivor and suddenly you’re a galactic architect. Not in a bad way, though, just a nice change. Like Brutal Legend’s twist but conversely not rubbish.
What makes Breathedge’s base-building twist a joy to deal with is how well it handles. I made that reference to Brutal Legend and that wasn’t a light comparison. You’d think, looking at the picture above, that you’d have some Sims/Rollercoaster Tycoon, top-down view to build things.
But no, much like Tim Schafer’s rock and roll strategy game, you get in the thick of it here too. By that I mean you control The Man through every facet of the adventure. From the cautious beginnings and trying to make food and water, to the grand platform building you see above. You are in control here, not some hypothetical overseer.
Which, thankfully, isn’t a pain to get to grips with. It’s very reminiscent of the 2017 Prey reboot, in regards to how you “fly”. Playing with mouse and keyboard took a while to get used to, but once it clicked, it was actually quite serene. Besides the imminent threat of suffocation. In fact, the whole atmosphere was similar, with peaceful music playing hauntingly quiet in the vacuum of space.
Humour Aimed At The Toilet
Yet what juxtaposes the almost peaceful, calm nature of space is the abundance of comedy in here. Everything from sly little jabs and references to piss-based deaths, there’s something for everyone.
Now, like all things, comedy is purely subjective. I can’t tell you what you’d laugh at and vice versa, which is fair enough. But what we can agree on is that too much of one thing can and will stop being funny. I don’t just mean this game’s fascination with peeing on everything (to the point of having a dedicated button), but that’s the biggest one.
It’s also the sarcastic, “We’ll say dangerous things in a jovial voice” computer that also grates after a fashion. You can’t pick up something without some kind of wacky witticism in your ear. At first it’s funny, but over time you’ll grow weary, just wanting to explore in peace.
It’s not an inherently bad thing, however, but it feels like they’re trying to pair the wit of Portal’s GLaDOS with the toilet humour of Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Separately, they’re great, but as a combination it doesn’t always hit the mark. Or the toilet.
Playing The Fowl Game
Thankfully, the space-base building aspect doesn’t completely dominate the game. There’s still just as much fun exploring as if it were a sole survivor-esque game. And that’s where your immortal chicken comes into play.
It’s best not to ask why you have an immortal chicken companion, but it certainly comes in handy. Breathedge, besides the other mechanic, has managed to work in a 90’s puzzle game-like logic in too.
It’s not as devilish as the infamous goat puzzle from Broken Sword, but there is a logical element from time to time. Say, sparking wires or gas leaks obstructing access to a stash of materials needed. You could wager the risk/reward of navigating around the hazard with your oxygen reserves.
Or, you can use your poultry. The little sucker is a Swiss Army bird, capable of being plugged into/onto many a hazard. In quite an amusing fashion, as shown above. It’s not a foolproof solution every time, but it adds a fun little puzzle moment to break up the monotony of space.
One Is The Loneliest Number
Unfortunately, the vacuum of space and the crew being dead does allow for boredom to set in from time to time. When it gets rolling, and your habitats are coming together, the momentum is strong. But like a match under a bathtub, it’s a slow boil. Being that crafting a base takes more than a few screws and battery packs, you need to do a lot of hoarding.
Which isn’t helped by Breathedge having possibly one of the most obtuse tutorials I’ve ever witnessed in a game. And calling it a tutorial is being polite. I’m all for games letting you at it, but there’s a limit. It’d be nice to have help readily available.
Sadly, it’s not that simple. Rather than teach you the basics for the big leagues, the game just takes it as read that you’ll discover the crafting by yourself. If you’re a regular PC player, then survival/crafting games are dime a dozen. But it’s rich to assume that you’ll know already, and that’s a massive fault on the game’s part.
Case example: building the literal pile of rubbish because “The developers wanted to put it in” and giving you a patronising end result. That it took me long enough to find everything, only to be told it was a genuinely pointless exercise did not have me rolling on the floor laughing.
In Space, No One Can Hear You Rebuild
As far as starts go, Breathedge fails on that point. The assumption you’ll just “get it” and be on your way with your genius brain is insulting. Don’t punish me, the console player, for not knowing how to build a two up, two down in the coldness of space.
But once you’re past that and things are starting to [literally] come together, it works. When you sync with the free-floating player controls, as well as the base-building, you’ll be having a grand ol’ time.
The humour, as mentioned, is subjective. But broadly speaking, there are a lot more hits than misses. The blend is occasionally jarring, sometimes formulaic and cringe-inducing, but for the most part, it’s actually quite funny. I can take a few groans over some of the genuine chuckles this gave me.
As an overall experience, it’s smashing. If you’d gone in blind, the change from survival to base building may be a shock. Yet not a bad one, especially if you’re familiar with the likes of Ark or Rust. Once it all comes together (building pun intended), Breathedge is a stunning looking, quite deep comedy affair. Invest the time and you will be rewarded.
It’s not very helpful at the start, and at times the comedy falls flat. But stick with Breathedge and there’s a surprisingly deep mechanic entwined with a Schafer-esque story adventure.
Breathedge is available now on PC.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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