I always feel suspicious that I’m somehow being tricked into enjoying survival games. The fun seems to magically emerge from the act of chasing goals, regardless of what those goals are or whether the activities involved are any fun. In singleplayer space survival game Breathedge, for example, there is nothing particularly enjoyable about whacking balls of metal until they break into smaller balls of metal, and yet I can’t say I got bored of hitting metal. I’d even say that I had fun gathering metal, and that’s despite a draconian durability system that constantly breaks my tools.
In the end, I stopped playing Breathedge because I got tired of its stream of self-referential comedy bits, not because its resource gathering is tedious. (Although it is tedious, because that’s what survival games are all about, as we’ve established.)
Putting the gags aside for a moment, the setting is pretty cool. Breathedge takes place in the drifting wreck of a space liner, where globs of coolant have frozen in impact patterns against asteroids and the ship’s passengers are suspended in their last moments. With sparking cables, operable devices, and a glowing, radioactive drive core in the distance, it’s a lively sort of outer space.
Above: Collecting stuff can be quite peaceful when your suit AI isn’t trying to get a joke off.
The zero-gravity movement is simple—you don’t have to worry about conservation of momentum—and so getting around is mostly a matter of how much oxygen you can store and how much radiation you can withstand.
Those limitations provide the basis for the mining and crafting goals that give Breathedge its initial structure. You whack, drill, and grab stuff in space to get materials, and then rush back to the safety of your pressurized shuttle to craft bigger oxygen tanks, consumable oxygen candles, speed boosters, radiation-shielded space suits, and deployable oxygen refill stations that can be used as relay points on longer trips. Later, you can apparently fly a little spaceship and customize a station (it also ditches the survival structure, apparently).
You have to eat and drink, but food and water are plentiful from the start—the crafting materials are just floating around outside your shuttle—and the meters don’t deplete quickly. If anything, my problem was making too many food packets and water bottles. I started littering the floor of my shuttle with them to clear up space in my inventory.
From a design perspective, the really annoying thing about Breathedge (at least early in the game) is that its tools frequently fall apart. To break up metal balls and bust open crates and other space junk, for example, you need a Handy Scrapper, which only has a few dozen whacks in it. To replace it during a space walk, you need to have another Handy Scrapper crafted in advance. That’s true of the grabber, drill, and other tools, so I quickly learned to start every excursion with an inventory full of them. Given that a limited oxygen supply already paces progression, constantly having to remake basic tools feels like overkill.
It’s also annoying that blueprints for some important items have to be stumbled upon. I spent a long time putting around with no booster on my suit because I didn’t unlock the blueprint by finding shawarma floating among “yellow water” in the toilet wreckage near my shuttle—as if I should’ve anticipated a fart joke when trying to figure out how to move faster.
That scenario brings me back to the real reason I lost interest in Breathedge. The tedium of resource gathering and tool crafting I can handle, because as I said, completing goals for the sake of completing them is well within the bounds of what I enjoy. It was ultimately the constant striving for wackiness that got me tired of it all.
If any of the screenshots here appear forbidding or stately, erase that thought. Breathedge is all gags. Specifically, it’s self-referential gags that come too frequently, a few decent jokes, and then repeated, blunt jabs at a dated notion of political correctness. There’s a joke at the beginning about censoring cigarettes in entertainment media, for example, and later one about how touching an image of a woman might be construed as sexual harassment. It’s stuff you might find in a stand-up routine or newspaper column from 20 years ago. (You just can’t be a guy anymore, am I right?)
The bits are mostly delivered by the AI in your spacesuit, who speaks oddly fast, although the voice isn’t annoying like so many robot characters (such as Claptrap, though he’d fit in here). The self-referential stuff works in moderation. At one point, the AI suggests that the player could just solve all their problems by quitting instead of navigating the latticework of crafting milestones ahead, and it’s endearing whenever a game pokes fun at its own conventions. But the repetition—at one point early on I had to craft something called “Crap Imposed By The Developers”—just made me want to actually quit.
Otherwise, it’s a lot of hit-or-miss stuff in the vein of Family Guy, Leisure Suit Larry, and Portal: The repeated suggestion that, instead of seeking rescue, you should become depressed. A pair of corpses found playing “Mortal Wombat.” An anti-meat-eating terrorist organization called Green Universe. A character named “Babe” who sends you seductive messages to try to get you to sacrifice yourself. Male potency tablets designed for people “experiencing an unreasonable fear of intimacy even with themselves.” Using condoms as oxygen tanks. An instructional video about piss. An immortal chicken to abuse (one of the first things you do is try to plug an air leak with its head, which causes air to come out of its butt, which, alright, is sorta funny).
Parts of Breathedge’s premise are actually weird in an interesting way, like how the destroyed space liner was a funerary ship full of coffins. It’s not at all clear why such a giant ship would be needed to transport coffins, and I like that there’s no apparent explanation for that. (Update: A reader pointed out to me that I missed some early exploration dialogue that does explain this—oh well!) But based on the number of gags in the first few hours, there’s clearly a thick field of lower-grade material ahead. My will to keep whacking metal with breakable tools just isn’t strong enough to move through that much resistance.
I guess I do need some motivation in survival games beyond completing goals for the sake of it, then—at least something more than the hope that my spacesuit won’t tell anymore jokes. And according to a few accounts (here’s IGN’s), Breathedge eventually ditches the survival stuff and goes all in on linear storytelling, which I can’t see helping it. If you’re not finding it funny after 30 minutes, I doubt you’ll change your mind.