Breathedge Review

Breathedge has the dubious accolade of being game that, within 5 minutes of starting, had me both excited to play more and wanting to turn it off.

The setup for the game is that the main character is captured by robots and recounting their tale of how they ended up in this encounter. There are some goofy credits that made me chuckle and then the game pauses as one of the robots lights a cigarette, and tells the player that the cigarettes cause ‘loud headlines in newspapers and other diseases’, prompting the user with ‘Yay, censorship!’, or ‘No, let him smoke’.  This made me mutter, ‘okay, but can we just get on with the game?’.

Breathedge’s gameplay is set up in a flash back; the main character was aboard a giant space liner that crashed, and now they are having to venture out into space and attempt to build enough resources to find a way out of the predicament. The game is played in First Person perspective, and is an open world survival game set in the vast, loneliness of space.

The player has to monitor their hunger, thirst and oxygen meters, being mindful of extreme temperatures and radiation, while gathering space debris to build tools and gear.

Breathedge is really slick when it comes to its sense of scale. In the beginning there are several floating hulks that the player, low on oxygen supplies, will struggle to get to. Trying to explore these fully seems impossible, but as the player accrues refills and upgrades these seemingly massive structures will be dwarfed by later areas. There is a real feeling of accomplishment when returning to an initial area takes seconds after it initially took hours to get out of them. Similarly, the way the player goes from barely being able to survive, to building their own space station, to flying space vehicles helps make the game feel big in a meaningful way.

With the amount of traversal it is really smart how the game guides the eye through lights and colours (as well as manageable waypoints) each piece of the destroyed ship stands out against the greys and blues of the detritus, meaning that the player is naturally drawn to them.

The problems arise in some of the performance issues, some design choices, and the narrative: combing through the refuse is often akin to being a detective as the player comes across vignettes where they discover how other members of the crew met their grisly deaths. This would be macabre, but the game opts to deliver a lightness to the whole proceeding. For example, a smuggler crushed with one eye popping out will prompt the AI narrator to deliver a cheery jibe for the situation. Although this does help to alleviate what would be a sombre game, the humour missed more than it hit for me.

There are swipes made at Marvel, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, as well as references to Chuck Norris, Mass Effect and Alien. It all feels like someone who was an edgy teenager in the early 2000’s, grew up to be a 4Chan and Twitter user, and decided to douse the script with things that were ‘hot takes’ years ago. It got to the point where every time the game twisted away from its strong environmental storytelling and leaned on its narrator, I suffered from second-hand embarrassment at how cringey the lines were.

Equally awkward is the lack of optimisation – when Breathedge is running well the vistas are breath taking, however what it decides to prioritise is occasionally distracting. Lava pits kilometres away will be rendered in detail, while pieces of rock within touching distance will be featureless blobs for extended periods of time. Geometry can be seen through textures in a way that make the game look buggy. Worse, sometimes items will ‘pop-in’ randomly, things like enemy robots that can damage the player or items that the ship can collide with go beyond mild inconveniences when they blink into existence at the last minute.

Less pressing but worth also noting is that the inventory management can be a little tiresome, each item takes up one space in whatever storage device the player has, and similar items cannot be stacked, in the late stages of the game this can mean scrolling through 30 pieces of plastic to get to the one bit of titanium needed to make something.

Finally, there are a couple of puzzles that had me befuddled, a rocket that needs to be powered by meat pellets, and a hitherto unused jump button come into play in the weirdest of places and the game doesn’t signpost these well.

With those complaints aside I still pushed through the game to see where it was going, almost in spite of the naively ‘edgy’ narrative and rough edges, because rebuilding a small pocket of life in emptiness of space just feels good.

Conclusion

Breathedge is an uneven experience: the space exploration/survival is genuinely delightful, but workman-like approach to presentation and the humour drags the experience down, undoing the oppressive atmosphere with dated references and ‘gags’. I would recommend this game to fans of the genre who have exhausted their choices, others will do better to start elsewhere.

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This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.
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Good
  • Vast game to explore
  • Each Chapter feels distinct
Bad
  • Poorly optimised
  • Item management can be a chore
  • A few obtuse puzzles
  • The humour grates
6.9
Okay
Gameplay - 7.5
Graphics - 6
Audio - 6
Longevity - 8
Written by
AJ Small is a games industry veteran, starting in QA back in 2004. He currently walks the earth in search of the tastiest/seediest drinking holes as part of his attempt to tell every single person on the planet that Speedball 2 and The Chaos Engine are the greatest games ever made. He can be found on twitter (@badgercommander), where he welcomes screenshots of Dreamcast games and talk about Mindjack, just don’t mention that one time he was in Canada.

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