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Codex Review RPG Codex Review: Broken Lines

Discussion in 'RPG Codex News & Content Comments' started by Infinitron, Mar 15, 2020.

  1. Infinitron I post news Patron

    Jan 28, 2011
    Grab the Codex by the pussy Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker
    Tags: Broken Lines; PortaPlay

    The Codex front page can be a pretty weird place. Sometimes there's a game that everybody has played but nobody feels like reviewing (*cough cough* Pathfinder: Kingmaker). Other times, you might have a game that one guy played and found really interesting. Broken Lines is that kind of game - a WW2-themed tactical RPG with Frozen Synapse-style simultaneous turn-based combat, which is something I've personally been wanting to see more of for years. In his comprehensive review, the esteemed Strange Fellow finds Broken Lines to be a fun but somewhat lightweight experience. Here's an excerpt:

    One perhaps controversial point that I want to make at this point has to do with the move away from simulationist design which has become fairly common in modern squad tactics, arguably heralded by the rebooted XCOM series. In a nutshell, games that do this will often treat guns, auxiliary items and physical abilities more like D&D spells than their real-life counterparts. This annoys me to no end when it's applied to games with more "realistic" backdrops, because in addition to throwing believability out the window, it also tends to hamper creative play across the board. Gone are the days of tossing a backup weapon from soldier to soldier when your front man’s gun jams in a tight spot, or rushing over to a fallen enemy to pick up the grenade he dropped – sacrificed for the commodification of tactical manoeuvres.

    So where does Broken Lines fall on this scale? The answer is somewhere in the middle. Like Firaxis XCOM, grenades and healing items are not singular objects, but abilities of sorts, which are assigned to your units at the start of a mission and which have a set number of uses, replenish for each battle, and cannot be redistributed or dropped in the field. What’s more disappointing is that there is also no looting of any kind, apart from the aforementioned supply caches. Enemies will not drop their items, and you will find no stashes of weapons or auxiliaries in the maps themselves. The only way to gain new stuff is to buy it from the merchant. Your own weapons can’t be dropped or swapped mid-mission either, and all guns have unlimited ammo.

    None of this gels at all with the premise of the story nor with the gameplay itself. You’re supposed to be commandeering a small group of soldiers stranded behind enemy lines, scrounging for survival, yet the resource management, which should have been a major concern, is practically non-existent. At no point will you have to think carefully about rationing supplies in the field (by which I mean actual supplies like grenades or healing items, not food), because they don’t really exist, and there are no overarching worries beyond making sure your soldiers don’t die. The best games manage to weave long-term strategic considerations into the moment-to-moment tactical decision-making; Broken Lines, despite the overall structure providing a perfect slate, doesn’t even try.

    The actual combat mechanics fare a lot better in this regard, though they haven’t been spared completely. For one, bullets that miss their target will disappear into the ether when the maximum range of the weapon that fired it is reached. Then there are some downright silly abilities, like “Drunken”, which boosts courage at the expense of accuracy for a short while (to top it off, this is also completely useless).

    However, there are a couple of cool systems that make up for it. First is the fact that bullets in Broken Lines are real game objects, which means that each one will travel until it hits something (or gets swallowed by the god of Balance if it travels too far), whether that something is an enemy, an ally, or a piece of scenery. This is good because it makes cover work like it should, which is by actually blocking the path of incoming fire rather than just conveying a flat reduction to enemy accuracy.

    Another advantage of this is that it feeds into another cool system, which is stress. The stress mechanic is central to the combat of Broken Lines, and it works like this: in addition to HP, each soldier has a stress bar which fills up when bullets pass near them. When it reaches a threshold, the soldier will panic for a few seconds. A panicking soldier will look for an escape route, and if he finds one he’ll run for it, but most of the time he’ll just cower in place. You won’t be able to issue orders to a panicking soldier until he calms down.

    Stressing out your enemies is essential to taking them down, which means that automatic weapons are going to be your new best friends. All weapons in this category fall under the "SMG" type, and in addition to the high rate of fire, they have another trick up their sleeve that make their suppressive capabilities even more powerful. Each weapon type in the game, in addition to its native properties, has a distinct special firing mode, and the special firing mode of the SMG consists simply of rattling off at full blast blanketing a specified area with heavy fire. It’s inaccurate, but guaranteed to cause any enemies within it to panic, and you can direct it at will rather than just have it target the closest enemy. This means that the primary usage of the SMG is to pin down enemies in cover and cut off any escape routes, while the rest of the squad moves in and takes them down from the flanks. This can be combined with camouflage from thick vegetation, as well as elevation bonuses, for some properly devastating manoeuvres. It's nice to see that after years of games that either ignore the potential of this mechanic or else half-ass the implementation, a game has finally been made that gets cover fire right.

    So how do missions actually play out? Well, most of the time you’ll pick out a route at the beginning that takes you to the finish point, ideally via any supply caches that may be present, and then advance along it, engaging in the suppress-and-flank dance whenever you encounter groups of hostiles. That’s pretty much it.

    And you know what? It’s a lot of fun. There are a few key things that make it work. First of all, there’s the fact that the onus is generally on you to advance while enemies wait for you to approach, meaning that there’s almost never an occasion to pull out the old “line up the firing squad and wait for the enemy to file into a bottleneck like lemmings” trick. The score system also helps here, since if you want to get a perfect score you can’t dawdle. This is thrown into relief during the few missions where you’re tasked with defending yourself against an enemy counterattack or ambush, at which point the game turns into a tower defence of sorts, which isn't nearly as much fun.

    Moreover, battles also encourage you to stay mobile as much as possible. A lot of cover is destructible and will be decimated by machine gun volleys within a single turn, and grenades and heavier artillery, should the enemy have it, will wreck your soldiers no matter what sort of cover they're hiding behind, not to mention that enemy soldiers aren’t afraid to move to better positions if you let them.

    This all combines to make battles very dynamic affairs. I’ve thought about why I’ve had more fun with this game than it feels like I should, given how basic it is. It boils down, I think, to the simple recipe of a few interlocking systems pulling in the same direction. The game wants to constantly keep you moving and moving around and behind enemies, and every facet of gameplay serves to reinforce this idea. It does this with very little variation throughout, since you'll mostly be fighting the same enemies from beginning to end, and you'll have access to all the weapon types from the get-go. And yet it works. If I might make another return to my XCOM vendetta, there’s a marked contrast here in that the tactical layer of Broken Lines seems to encourage you to explore its workings and get familiar with it, instead of covering a pedestrian foundation with an ever-increasing load of fancy toys.
    Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Broken Lines
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  2. Maxie Der Einzige Patron

    Feb 10, 2017
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  3. Strange Fellow Arcane Patron

    Strange Fellow
    Jun 21, 2018
    tldr: good for what it is
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  4. ValeVelKal Arbiter

    Aug 24, 2011
    Ah, I just finished my first run in hard [Iron-ish man] with one deserter, 2 dead and the bad ending, and I was about to post a short review.

    Game is good for what it is. It tried stuff, sometimes it worked, sometimes it did not, overall the feeling is that the game is worse than the sum of its parts as there is always a little something a little broken in each feature.

    Still, I would recommend one blind run to every lover of tactical games.
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2020
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  5. ValeVelKal Arbiter

    Aug 24, 2011
    Read the whole thing, I agree with almost all statements, in particular the fact that the last 2 or 3 levels are WAY better than the early levels (which are also visually boring : swamps, decrepit villages or corrupted industrial site).

    I did not find shotguns that terrible in general. The initial shotgun is a worse weapon than the initial SMG (the Sten) or the initial rifle, but the end game shotgun basically erases enemies at short range way and is incredibly better at this job than the end-game SMG (which is actually not a SMG since it is the Stg-44). In combination with sprint and other "assault" type of skills or perks, and with liberal use of smoke grenades you can take almost all positions.

    In general, I did not like SMG as much as you did, and I mostly relied on long range rifles to do the job, except when I had to fight uphill in which case I used smoke grenades. I did not sneak in any mission, because it is just too cumbersome to do, and this brings me to one of the key irritant for me in this game : the game should not have 8 seconds turns when out of combat, but just like in say JA2 you should be able to move freely. It would have made sneak skills way more useful.

    Another major issue I had with the game, and pushed me to rely more on rifles than on SMG, is that the game stops only for the FIRST enemy you encounter. If a new enemy (or enemies) appear while you are doing an assault, you are basically screwed. I think the game would have been more interesting with a pause every time a new enemy is spotted.

    Other minor notes :
    - I had a composure issue during my whole campaign, and one deserter,
    - There is a fourth class of main weapon : sniper rifle, with a special skill - though I did not buy any.

    I wiill probably do a second (and last) run to try to avoid the "bad ending", and be done with the game.
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  6. Tyranicon A Memory of Eternity Developer

    Oct 7, 2019
    I'll admit, you nearly got me with this one.

    Good review, well written, well supported points.
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  7. Darth Roxor Prestigious Gentleman Wielder of the Huegpenis

    Darth Roxor
    May 29, 2008
    it reminds me of one Eric Clapton & Wynton Marsalis concert, where Clapton remarks how he always wanted to play jazz, but since he couldn't do it right, he had to settle for the inferior option and did the blues instead
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  8. Strange Fellow Arcane Patron

    Strange Fellow
    Jun 21, 2018
    Goes to show there's hope for us all innit, even you.

    This is true, and in fact I originally had another paragraph in the weapons section saying the exact same thing. I cut it because making that section too long seemed superfluous to the revioo, and because it doesn't change how I feel about shotguns. You point out the problem yourself:
    As it happens I disagree that this is a bad design decision, but it does mean that rolling a shotgun is infinitely riskier than any other weppen. It's just not worth it having to rush in and potentially wake up all manner of hostiles just to get close enough to blast that one dude in the face more efficiently than with a weapon you can use at a safe distance. It's high-risk high-reward, whereas the SMG is (comparatively) low-risk with an almost equally high reward, provided that in both cases the weapons are used properly. I'll concede that shotguns may be worth using in the last two or three missions, but SMGs are worth using in all of them.

    I read another revioo that said the same, and I have a hard time envisioning the mode of play where this would be more effective. I guess it means I have to give more credit to weapon Balance and playstyle variety than I thought.

    This is surprising. Did you reload a lot? In my second playthrough I played very recklessly and lost three dudes, but still nobody deserted.

    I really, really hope you're wrong about this, because that would be a major oversight on my part. But I think you are. If you're referring to the Mosin-Nagant scoped rifle, that's still just a regular rifle.

    This didn't bother me at all, since you can just set a waypoint on the other side of the map and spam space until you reach an enemy. Once you do, having to advance carefully just makes good sense.

    Also, the space before a colon is a French thing, isn't it?

    Oh yeah, and what's with the shit ratings? I mean we all know how luj1 feels about games released after 2003 and the people who take an interest in them, but the others? ORANGE MELNORME BAD?
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2020
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  9. PorkyThePaladin Arcane

    Dec 17, 2013
    Strange Faggot Strange Fellow, my brother from another mother, I am glad to see you finally apply yourself to something other than shitposting. Keep em coming... :incline:
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  10. AwesomeButton Cut a deal with the authorities Patron

    Nov 23, 2014
    At large
    PC RPG Website of the Year, 2015 Make the Codex Great Again! Grab the Codex by the pussy Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
    I read the first sentence and thought "Oh, God, what are we shilling this time?"
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  11. CappenVarra chaotic phase-based phantasmist Patron

    Mar 14, 2011
    lost Ardamai
    Divinity: Original Sin
    looks interesting for the phase-based combat at least; thanks for the review!
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  12. Tigranes Prestigious Gentleman Arcane

    Jan 8, 2009
    Ugh no i'm out jesus christ why does anyone EVER think this is a good idea you think you're shakespeare or something

    I salute you for doing god's work, mysterious codex reviewer whose name I surely have no way of finding out
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  13. ebPD8PePfC Learned

    May 13, 2018
    I wrote this shortly after release.

    Broken Lines – real time tactics game, similar to frozen synapse. Played it on high difficulty.

    - The combat system is good, balance is wonky. Machine gun is the best, with suppress being effective at every range, and its damage is good. Shotguns don’t do enough for the risk they require, which is getting way too close. Snipers are maybe good, I’m not sure. It feels like there’s not much different in accuracy between them and machine guns, at which point you’re better off using machine guns.
    - accuracy is displayed with relation to buffs / debuffs at the time of the attack. Damage isn’t displayed unless you go digging through the log. I really have no idea who does what during combat. Sometimes my guys hit, and sometimes they spend a round hitting nothing. Why not show damage pop above the sniper’s head after he shots?
    - The art design in the 3d parts isn't good. I’m not talking about the models, but about the general colors used. It’s easy to see in screenshots, everything just blends together into a monochromatic soup.
    Show Spoiler



    The game isn’t realistic, so adding some colors to create a clear distinction between units, props, and the ground would really help.
    - I didn’t read anything non-gameplay related.
    - The game has no save system. Instead it saves mid mission, and after you finish them.
    - Retries make your team lose composure. When soldiers reach zero composure they leave the team, maybe for good (I’m not sure if they’ll return in a couple of missions). I already lost two, and the game autosaved. Loses often happen because you didn’t know enemy positions ahead of time, so punishing retires feels kinda cheap. You can disable the composure mechanic in the options menu.
    - It’s ok to punish bad play, but good play in this game means sitting in one spot with two guys spamming suppression, abusing the AI who keeps running in and out of hiding. Most games against AI have easily abusable strategies, but they don’t encourage you to play in the most boring way possible by heavily punishing anything else.
    - Unless I’m missing something, you can’t tell your guys who to attack unless it’s with specific abilities. This one is so odd that I’m sure it’s a mistake on my part.
    - You can usually pick between two or three missions. This might be cool for replays, but I prefer a polished campaign rather than choosing between three generic missions.
    - There is an economy that makes choosing missions interesting. Do you go for gold that will allow you to improve your equipment, or go for vague plot related missions?
    - The performance is horrible. I usually don’t care playing at the lowest setting, but the game has crashed my PC several times by now.

    I think it’s worth playing. The combat system is fun and works well enough. The issue I have with it, excluding the composure mechanic that can be turned off, is that combat is somewhat repetitive with generic maps that don’t have memorable encounters. Most fights feel the same. It’s not a big issue considering that most games don’t have an interesting combat system to begin with, but it does make it hard to stick with the game.

    After fixing my PC I finished the current mission (I had about 10 minutes left). I guess I did something wrong some weeks ago, because another three soldiers left. I’m not gonna replay the game, so meh. Maybe I'll come back to it after some patching, the devs seem to be rather active on that front.
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  14. Lady Error █▓▒░ ░▒▓█ Patron Literally Hitler

    Lady Error
    Oct 14, 2012
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  15. Urthor Liturgist Patron

    Mar 22, 2015
    Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
    Where's Fluent's Disco Elysium review
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  16. Magnat Arcane

    Oct 2, 2018
    Good joke.

    That being said, bataille's will forever remain the authoritative Codexian review. :obviously:
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