This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Breathedge.
It's the time of year when AAAs are put to bed to dream restless dreams of middling Metacritic ratings and rampaging seven-headed Twitch influencers, and we have to keep the nightlight on with midrange jank and the usual indie survive 'em ups. It's not that I dislike survival crafting as a genre; I just don't feel like it's taught me any practical survival skills. I head out to the wilderness, gather some wood and some stone, pack them together and tuck them under my scrotum for five seconds, and the result is not a makeshift axe, but an awkward conversation with my prostate specialist.
But anyway, this week, I've been playing an indie survival craft 'em up called "Breathedge", which is Subnautica, but in space. "Why yes, I am that very thing, Yahtz; in fact, I contain multiple direct references to Subnautica to acknowledge its influence." You know, you're really sucking the fun out of dismissive know-it-all assholery, Breathedge! But yes, take Subnautica and remove all the water so that nothing remains but cold, forbidding vacuum, and that's Breathedge. And while you're at it, remove the interesting story and any particular reason to engage with its base-building mechanics-- Wait, I liked those! You removed too much, Breathedge! "Ooh, sorry; guess I'll fill in the gap with fourth wall-breaking humor that, over the course of the game, gradually, almost imperceptibly, moves over the line from amusing to insufferable."
But let's not pull our dicks out before the striptease has even begun. Breathedge has much the same starting premise as Subnautica: you're a spacer who's minding their own business on a giant spaceship when it dies horrifically of not all being in one piece anymore, vomiting bits of itself all over 15-20 hours of exploration-based gameplay and leaving you the only survivor with nothing to your name but a single escape pod and the ability to turn raw materials into complex machinery by tucking them under your scrotum for thirty seconds. So the traditional Subnautica gameplay structure ensues: you explore the immediate vicinity to gather basic materials to craft bigger oxygen tanks and better equipment that lets you explore further out from your starting position, and find more exotic materials for even more complex equipment.
And if there's one thing Breathedge absolutely nails, it's Subnautica's majestic quality, as applied to space. The lonely spectacle of the distant stars and planets is a symphony for the eyeballs, and you really get a sense of the massiveness of everything and the sheer, unforgiving distance between it all; you can basically see everywhere you're going to go right off the bat, but you can't get to most of it at first 'cos you're using some bubble gum on a straw instead of an air tank, and you'll suffocate before you can so much as get close enough for your farts to register on an extremely sensitive Richter scale.
So it's definitely got that Subnautica-brand majestic beauty crossed with terrifying hostility, like a sultry, attractive woman with the face of a giant spider. And one certainly gets the satisfaction that comes with getting near the end of the craft-explorey loop when you finally build your endgame rocket flip-flops or whatever that allow you to fully traverse the sandbox, at which point, the sultry, attractive woman still has the face of a spider, but now you're kind of into that because those pedipalps can do things to your prostate that will make your toes roll up like tubes of nearly-empty toothpaste. So those are the parts that Breathedge gets right. Ooh, there was some subtext in that last sentence, wasn't there, children? Did you spot it?
The protagonist apparently refused to splash out on one of the better-quality magic scrotum replicators, because every tool he makes breaks down quicker than a germaphobe at a bum-licking contest. And the majestic distances of space are all very well until you wear out your flip-flops traveling to one of the rare non-stingy asteroids to draw some resources, only to find once you get there that your drill only has two uses left because, apparently, it's just an electric whisk with a Cheesy Wotsit on the end. There are also way too many instances of having to craft a highly-specific tool to get past one obstacle that never comes up again, especially in the second half of the game when Breathedge goes off its attention deficit disorder meds and forgets what kind of game it's trying to be.
You spend the majority of the game in the big survival sandbox, gradually expanding your capabilities until you acquire a working spaceship, and my assumption was that this was the next stage of expansion; I was going to be able to cruise around the sandbox in my new penis extension, go back to all those mean asteroids that once bullied me, and drive through a nearby puddle to humiliate them in front of their asteroid girlfriends. But no; all you can do with your new ship is fast-travel to another, entirely separate sandbox where there's space combat mechanics all of a sudden, and introducing combat at this stage is like giving us a Snickers where all the peanuts are crammed into the last two bites. Although, you don't even have to fight them, so it's more like all the peanuts are put in a little Ziploc bag and taped to the outside.
Because all progress from this point forward is made by docking with one space station after another and going down some linear corridors until you find something that advances the story, except the game is still clinging by its fingernails to its identity as a crafting survival sandbox, so you'll occasionally stop dead because some tool or component is required to proceed, and you need to walk all the way back to your ship to craft it. And since we can't go back to the first sandbox to hunt resources, the game just has to awkwardly sprinkle some around the floor, like a previous player ran through here with an overloaded shopping trolley taking the corners too quick. It's rather baffling; it's like the game realized it forgot to spread the plot around the whole game and had to load it all into the last two hours of it.
This might be related to Breathedge's deliberate attempt at fourth wall-breaking subversive comedy, which, early on, I thought worked well and gave it a humorous edge that made it stand out in the garbage trawler that is indie survival craft 'em ups. But while a fourth wall break is surprising and funny, all subsequent fourth wall breaks is just waving your comedy hammer at empty air, and the omnipresent fast-talking A.I. narrator who flips back and forth between doing a comedy motormouth bit and just talking too fast 'cos they're not a very good voice actor really starts to grate when they constantly point out all the gags.
"Oh no! You can't get past here without crafting another piece of arbitrary bullshit! The developers, who are me, who are writing these words that I'm saying, must be trying to pad the gameplay out; what a bunch of scamps. Oh, look! It looks like something is about to happen! Oh, my goodness! The thing we were all expecting didn't happen the way we were expecting it! What a clever subversion on the part of the developers who are writing these words." See, there's poking fun at yourself, and then there's poking a finger so far up yourself, you can pull undigested Cheerios out of this morning's breakfast.
- A naughty astro: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Space or ocean or wilderness, yawn. Why doesn't anyone set a survival game in a huge vat of meringue or something
- Man I feel like a cold one