EARLY ACCESS REVIEW: ‘Breathedge’ Goes Where Many Games Have Gone Before (PC)

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Breathedge is the first game by developer Redruins Softworks with publishing help from HypeTrain Digital. Labeled as an “ironic space survival game” by the developers, Breathedge challenges players with surviving space in the wreckage of an enormous spaceship. 

The game starts with players being interrogated by two strange robot characters. The robot that is clearly in charge asks the player to go back and explain everything. This narrative technique is effective, if conventional. However, it is easy to forget it is there at all because, after the introduction, it goes unmentioned for hours and hours of gameplay unless you die. From there, the player character explains how he got himself into such a mess. While escorting his deceased grandfather in a giant space hearse, something goes catastrophically wrong, leaving the player as the lone survivor in a massive asteroid and debris-filled wreck with only your suit AI and an immortal chicken to keep you company. From there, players have to scavenge supplies, craft new tools and equipment, and navigate the hazards of space to piece together what happened and try to survive. 

The story is, for the most part, serviceable. It can be hard to follow at times due to how quickly it changes objectives and the suit AI delivering its narration and analysis so fast that it could be doing the disclaimers at the end of a medicine commercial. The story goes about where one would expect it to, but it can be easy to lose track of what you are working towards at that exact moment because of how meandering and poorly communicated the smaller plot points can be. 

Breathedge attempts to spice up its story and gameplay with constant jokes, oddities, and jabs at the industry, hence the “ironic” part of its description. The comedy here ranges from pretty funny down to painfully not. The jokes come in a fairly constant procession, so for most of the ones that do not land, there is one that does not far behind to distract you. There are some jokes, however, that are distractingly poor.

Breathedge opens with a message stating that the game is just trying to have a good time and doesn’t mean to offend anyone, and it is the jokes this message is referencing that are the worst offenders. Now I like offensive or more explicit humor, quite a lot actually, but the attempts at it in Breathedge simply are not good or funny. Jokes like finding a collectible that is a poster for a superhero named “Mr. Libtard” come off more like a middle schooler just thinking that a word on its own is funny rather than an offensive joke that has any real thought or weight behind it. These jokes land even worse when next to the easy, lowbrow humor that pops up here and there throughout, such as building a booster for floating in space that is powered on farts. Maybe I would have chuckled at that in the sixth grade, but I definitely would not now.

As for the gameplay, it is what one expects from a survival game. There are hunger and thirst meters to manage while keeping an eye on your oxygen supply when in open space. Playing through the game on standard difficulty, hunger or thirst was never a concern. There are supplies to make nutrition packets and drinkable water in abundance and are even scattered right in front of the starting pod at the start of the game. This boils managing those meters to nothing more than taking a few minutes every half hour or so to scrounge some up quickly and craft what you need before continuing with what you were doing.

Oxygen is another story. At the start of the game, you can only hold thirty seconds of oxygen at a time. This makes venturing out from the shuttle harrowing as every point of interest nearby timed out perfectly to be a close call. This does make scavenging at the start of the game a tad annoying. Still, it also injects a lot of much-needed tension into Breathedge, which is slowly phased out as you upgrade your oxygen tank to the point of being largely negligible.

The core of Breathedge‘s gameplay is centered around scavenging, making it all the more unfortunate how many annoyances come with it. There are two primary methods to gather resources. There are small chunks of metal, salt, or other resources that one can simply grab, and there are resources that must be harvested with one of the many tools. The more basic resources, such as metal, fabric, and ice, are fairly easy to spot and find, but the less used ones can be a struggle, especially the first time. This is largely a consequence of the game’s environment. When everything is shredded metal mixed in with asteroids, there are no tells or hints about where you might find these resources.

For example, aluminum, alkali, and ice can all be found in deposits on asteroids. But if you are looking for just aluminum, there is no way to tell what asteroids have it and which do not, or where the deposits are on each asteroid. This leads more often than not to the player wasting numerous trips out into space, slowly floating around asteroids finding either nothing or just resources that they do not want or need. There are a few exceptions, such as lead and paint being found in a giant bubble of lead paint suspended in zero gravity off in the distance, but these instances can be counted on one hand, and the resources gained are much rarer in use. 

Then there are the previously mentioned tools. At any given time, players can have four items mapped to hotkeys, including tools. Items such as nutrient bags or bottles of water or deployable stations like a floating station to refill oxygen at. But there are a total of six tools frequently needed when floating in space, necessitating frantically switching them around in the hotbar as they are needed. The tools also have pitifully low durability, sometimes in the single digits. After a few upgrades to my oxygen tank, it was common to use up a brand new tool completely, or even two or three in a single journey for supplies, leading to yet more frantic hotbar management with continuously depleting oxygen. 

Tool durability becomes a near maddening annoyance upon progressing far enough to hit the massive grind walls that dominate the story’s back end. It is not uncommon to have two or three large-scale projects to manage at once to progress, despite multiple jokes mocking grindy game design popping up throughout in the narration. The scavenging does get slightly less annoying after upgrading the tools and getting access to a vacuum cleaner turned into a space bike that helps alleviate the slow movement. Still, the story requires so much of it at once that these solutions are more band-aids that help make it a tad more bearable. 

Another staple alongside resource gathering in survival games is base-building, and here Breathedge succeeds unanimously. The building system is easy to use and has enough options to feel customizable and personal. There is a ton of potential for the types of bases to be built, and it is truly the game’s highlight. There is well-placed motivation to build your base as well, as it unlocks the ability to research new crafting recipes that prove both very useful and critical to completing the story. 

It feels especially gratifying to build a base and put some windows on a wall to look out at one of the beautifully surreal vistas spread across the game’s world. As unvaried as the locations throughout the wreckage can be, there is a lot of stellar visual and environmental design to be found here. Sundered sections of the ship mix with scattered corpses and liquids caught in stasis, accompanied by a sparse but effective soundtrack to create a desolate beauty that makes the player feel as small and vulnerable as one would assume to be in space.

Many points of interest have small scenes that are meticulously pieced together to give the necessary clues to figure out what happened. Unfortunately, these bits of environmental storytelling are often spoiled by either your suit’s AI blurting out what happened over it or your oxygen supply limiting your time too severely to take it all in. It would do a lot for the world to have some system for it to change, even slightly. As it is now, most of the interesting locales and sights become so commonplace that the world starts to feel static and artificial like a playground. 

For a first outing, Breathedge is pretty impressive. It is highly derivative of other games in the genre and fails to match up to the standards set by heavy hitters like Rust and Subnautica. But it does bring a novel setting and atmosphere to the table. For any fans of the survival genre, it is a fun playthrough despite its hiccups and pacing issues if the attempts at comedy do not bother you too much. 

Breathedge is available now on PC.

**The offensive humor noted in the game has been toned down and/or removed following early access in the game’s full release. 

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