Most videogames set during World War II lean towards the safe binaries of good and evil - war is horrible, Nazis are worse, so logically you kill Nazis to end the war and beat said Nazis, right? But the aptly named Broken Lines is all about making things murky. It hands you control of a desperate squad of allied soldiers who find themselves deep behind enemy lines, confronting you not only with tactical conundrums, but moral ones too.
Will you do anything to survive, or will you uphold some semblance of humanity on your survival mission?
Broken Lines is part tactical wargame, part RPG from publisher Super.com. It's set in an alternative World War II landscape where much is the same as it actually was, except the Nazis have been replaced by faceless gasmask-wearing freaks. It’s a good move by plucky Danish developer PortaPlay, because removing that iconic Nazi symbology funnels the game’s focus into your squad, your actions, and your morality.
On the one hand, the game is like a faster-paced X-COM, with balls-to-the-wall small-scale battles and skirmishes that force you to make bold dashes between cover, flank your enemies, and execute special actions like covering fire, healing and grenade lobs.
A crucial difference from X-COM is that Broken Lines’ combat isn’t strictly turn-based, instead letting you queue up moves that then play out in eight-second phases at the same time as the enemy’s. It’s a smart system, giving battles a sense of pace and urgency that more conventional turn-based mechanics can lack.
But then the intense action makes way for quieter moments between battles, which let you get a feel for just who these soldiers you’re ordering around actually are. Each squad member has their own personality and backstory, which will come to the fore when you’re huddling around tenuous campfires between battles.
When your supplies start dwindling and low morale has led to two of your squadmates deserting the team, certain squad members may be tempted to ransack an old lady’s cottage for some grub, while others will be horrified at the suggestion and will do anything to stop it. You, as the driver of this emergent story, get to choose how these weighty decisions unfold, which will ultimately dictate who lives and who dies.
Broken Lines tells an underdog story against the backdrop of an original, almost sci-fi, vision of World War II. It’s a fitting game for a small but ambitious studio making the most of the modest resources available to them; the kind of studio that designed one of their in-game maps using an actual sandbox, in another awesome showcase of scarcity spawning creativity.
Broken Lines is out now on Steam, garnering a ‘Very Positive’ rating since it launched 25 February. If you’re looking for a gruelling test of tactics and ethics, then pat down your helmet, break in your boots, and descend into this all-too-human kind of hell.