I know, I know, it’s another new new “survival” game. Believe me, I’m bored just saying it. But stay with me on this one.
The gaming metaverse is correct in the generalization of it being “Subnautica in space.” Especially in the ways that it counts. It has a great immersive quality, there’s lots to do, and it rides the line of chill and stressful without going too far in either direction.
This title’s most divisive quality however: its use of humour. Some like it, while others seem utterly repulsed by it. Enough so to leave a negative review, and they even seem to comprise the bulk of the negative reviews, against the otherwise high ratio of positive (90%) reviews on Steam.
So when is the literary use of humour enough to turn people off, and even stop playing an otherwise clever game? Well, we’ll get into that. But first, let’s talk about what the game is.
As is asserted and agreed upon by many, this game shares a lot of similarities with the highly acclaimed, Subnautica. It drops you into a dangerous, unforgiving world, with little but your wits to figure out how to survive and thrive after a catastrophic accident aboard a spaceship. So yeah, basically the exact prologue to Subnautica.
You spend a lot of the first act just trying to survive. You have limited oxygen and limited tools, so you spend a lot of time just trying to acquire blueprints and materials so you can spend more time in space. Eventually, you move to build yourself a habitat, while further exploring and delving deeper into the narrative. The base-building is simple, easy and doesn’t ask for a monumental grind, but there is a chance you will have to fix systems along to way to keep your base in good health, especially as it grows. Item and gear progression should be familiar to most, especially if you’ve played similar games.
There is a divergent sense of atmosphere, most certainly, in the attempts at humour. Subnautica comes across more serious, and is occasionally absolutely terrifying. Breathedge pushes away from horrors of the unknown, and takes a more lighthearted approach. If I were to compare it to anything, it has some similarities with Borderlands, and Fallout, or Outer Worlds in its juxtaposed cheerful corporate dystopia.
So this is where the controversy begins: when is use of humour too much? I will admit, the game never lets up. Every item description, every helpful notification from your internal computer voice, every achievement even… are all written to be clever or funny. I can see how this might be tiresome to certain people, but in the later game it just blends into the environment. For me, the humour is just another element of the game, like the skybox or the art style. When jokes hit, it adds to the game for sure, but when they miss, I don’t find it any more detracting than a poor colour choice, or a low res texture. It can be distracting, but it’s unlikely to actually take away from gameplay, especially if the gameplay is good.
And the gameplay is good. While the humour absolves the game of starkness, and wedges out most potentially scary moments, I consider the eased tension a nice break from the stress and occasional terror present in so many other survival games. Subnautica is an easy comparison here, because it is genuinely terrifying at times, without ever classifying itself in the horror genre. It does a good job of this, however, by balancing the terror with beautiful, serene moments in shallow waters. Most other survival games also approach fear in various ways, especially in having more dangerous monsters come out at night, or even making sanity a mechanic with its own meter, like in the Don’t Starve series.
But there’s no day-night cycle in Breathedge, so no creepy monsters to pop out in the dark. And while there are things to shoot at later on, the game never really seems intent on jump scares, or generally causing fear reactions just for the sake of it. There are some creepy elements here and there, but the general sense of joviality never really lets you be afraid of anything other than dying and losing progress. Considering there are corpses littering the entire map, both those who were alive and dead before the accident (you were in a space hearse, transporting hundreds of coffins, after all), I give this small indie developer credit for going with a dark humour approach at what would otherwise be considered a horrific incident.
This feels refreshing to me. Sure, the jokes don’t always hit, and they are unrelenting, but it’s such a nice change of pace from every other survival game that plunges you into darkness every 10 minutes so it can send waves of enemies at your base. Even one of my more recent favourites, Valheim is guilty of this.
So now I have a game where I can base-build in peace, while still having to make considerations for the health of my character. I have a game where I can experience the struggles of surviving in a cold, unforgiving vacuum, while also being literally memed by the developer into crafting a helmet that has zero visibility, or a phallus shaped out of scrap metal.
Perhaps I have a leaning preference towards games which don’t take themselves too seriously. I definitely have a bias against those which do. My recent review of OUTRIDERS might reveal some of those sentiments. Too many (especially “AAA”) games these days focus so hard on flashy visuals, and confusing, world-bending narratives, they forget to just let the player have fun.
In today’s ever advancing graphics engines and competitive push to sell VR hardware to the masses, it’s important to remember that games don’t need to emulate hardcore realism to be immersive, and I think Breathedge is more than capable of selling an immersive experience while reminding the player, and perhaps the industry as a whole, to have fun.