The Last Casualty Is Sanity

HIGH Perfect flanking is always a delight.

LOW Trying to find enough supplies to keep from starving.

WTF Seriously, what language is that?

Bite-sized strategy games are few and far between. There seems to be an assumption that anyone interested in dealing with the minutiae of moving pieces around a board must want to spend a hundred hours doing so, but I’m not entirely sure why that is. Does a mechanic necessarily dictate length? Would XCOM be worse if the player saw the whole story of an alien invasion in just a dozen missions? Is there room for focused strategy that gets in, makes its point, and gets out? If that niche exists, it’s the one Broken Lines is attempting to fill.

This small-scale strategy title tells the story of a commando raid that goes disastrously wrong and soldiers who come up with a plan to complete their secret objective under the worst possible circumstances. Over the course of a handful of missions the player will uncover nefarious secrets, come face-to-face with desperation and madness, and maybe — just maybe — have a chance to figure out exactly what’s going on in this alternate history version of WWII.

From the start Broken Lines wears its ‘Strange War Stories’ pedigree proudly. Instead of run-of-the-mill Nazis, players will find strange masked soldiers swarming the countryside. These enemies aren’t simply holding territory, they’re carting around toxic waste and building odd machines in graveyards. The tale starts as a relatively straightforward war story, but soon the troop will find itself enmeshed in a horror-tinged narrative.

While BL lacks deep strategic elements, team management is of the utmost importance. Each mission takes one day, and after it’s completed, the troops set up camp and hunker down for the night.

On this camp screen the player can choose optional events which offer text-based stories that can alter character relationships for better or worse while revealing backstory and information about the mysterious country the troop is trapped in. It’s a real risk to click on these story segments, though — sometimes they’ll reveal a heroic narrative and unlock a new skill. Other times, a character might wander off and murder some local farmers to steal their food. They’re a gamble, but the side stories are key to building the bleak tone that the devs are going for. Right from the start the player is primed for disaster, and the vicious slog characters go through on their way to the end pays off in spades.

The tactical combat of Broken Lines is effective at offering intense, small-scale firefights. The player plots out eight seconds’ worth of movement for their characters, then starts the clock. Once an enemy is spotted they get a chance to replan their actions, but until every alerted enemy is dead, they’re stuck with whatever they choose to do next. Planning actions requires a deep knowledge of squad tactics and smart use of cover, and since soldiers will fire automatically at whichever enemy they have the best angle on, the player’s job is to position their troops to create effective fields of fire while keeping them alive.

In a addition to a wide variety of skills they can employ — smoke and frag grenades, high-speed sprinting and the like — suppressing enemies is a key mechanic. Any character under sustained fire will eventually have a mental break and lose composure, causing them to crouch behind cover until the fusillade ends. Even the best-defended line of sandbags can be defeated if players pour enough fire on while sending a character around to flank the cowering soldiers behind it.

Perhaps the best feature Broken Lines offers is just how replayable it is.

Once the prologue is complete, players are offered a selection of missions to pick from. Each choice closes off the other possible path, eliminating access to a whole set of adventures. I only completed the game once, and in doing so, saw just one piece of the overall story – fully understanding what’s going on in the world of Broken Lines requires multiple kicks at the can. However, the relatively short length and brisk, fast-paced missions makes doing so a relatively painless proposition.

With a fascinating story and great gameplay, Broken Lines makes a strong case that turn-based combat can be used for projects more modest than the grand strategy and expansive RPGs that generally feature it.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by PortaPlay and published by It is currently available on PC and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: We were unable find the game’s ESRB rating on the ESRB’s own site or the Nintendo eShop, but it’s not tough to see that it contains Violence and Mature Themes. Even by the standards of war games, this one is pretty bleak — for example, there’s a counter for how many civilian deaths the player is responsible for, and it’s really, really hard to keep that number at 0. Mature audiences only.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the majority of the game without sound and encountered no difficulties. I encountered no audio cues of note. All information is displayed via text. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable. Everything is controlled with the mouse and keyboard – left clicking to select actions, right clicking to cancel them, and the keyboard to quick-select characters and powers.

Daniel Weissenberger
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