The Early Access survival/base building genre seems to have a pretty well trodden path these days. You start off with the base game and then release chapters/technology tiers/any other progression mechanic on a semi-regular drip until you get to the point where you call it feature complete. This development method does have some drawbacks though, namely for those of us who like to come into games when they’re fully formed there’s a lot of convention and understanding built up between the game’s early backers and the developers. This means some things get missed, “obvious” things aren’t really so and the game itself focuses heavily on pleasing its current player base more than it does on realising the dev’s creative vision. In some cases this is great and in others you get 1.0 releases which aren’t much more than a base game with dozens of DLCs duct taped onto the side of it. Breathedge, whilst being exceptionally polished, suffers from some of these Early Access foibles; enough of which to make me enjoy the game for a good solid while but simply give up on it once the resource grind became too much.
You are a Man, or the Man (it’s not made clear if you’re one or the other), who’s attempting to fulfill his grandpa’s wishes by taking his ashes to a galactic funeral. However the giant hearse craft that you were travelling on suddenly explodes, breaking apart and sending all manner of debris, resources and, of course, corpses floating throughout space. As it seems that you’re the only survivor of this catastrophe it’s up to you to figure out what happened and hopefully figure out a way to get yourself back home, all with the help of your grandpa’s immortal chicken which he passed down onto you.
The graphics (and indeed much of the game) feels quite reminiscent of Subnautica, using a similar semi-stylized art style albeit with a slightly larger bent towards the absurd and surreal in keeping with the game’s overall satirical theme. The game also does well with its extremely large draw distance by default, something that’s key to immersing you in the expansive space environment that they want you to explore. There’s been some shortcuts taken of course, objects in space only really act like they’re in space for a short while before freezing in place and there’s limited objects that need to be simulated when you’re not near them. It seems those 2 and a bit years spent in Early Access weren’t all for naught.
Breathedge follows the survival/base building tropes pretty closely whilst also ridiculing them endlessly as you try to meet the various objectives it throws at you. In the beginning your exploration is severely limited by your amount of oxygen, giving you barely a minute per run away from your base before you’ll have to return to recharge again. As you progress though you’ll begin to unlock various things to make exploration easier and quicker, tools for gathering more wide and varied resources, and you’ll start to uncover locations with their own oxygen supply which makes exploration infinitely better. Of course all of this comes back down to crafting the various bits and bobs you’ll need to keep on exploring, ranging from the items that you’ll inevitably wear out to better gear, upgrades and, of course, vehicles. You’ll also begin building your own base at some point, although it’ll start off quite useless until you’re able to unlock some of the more useful modules so you can actually make it a proper base of operations. All of this is revealed to you steadily as you follow the main story, ensuring that you’ve got a good grasp of the basics as you stumble your way forward.
I have to admit I found the first few hours with the game pretty frustrating. The short trips between your initial base and the areas nearby are frustratingly brief, giving you little wiggle room with exploration. Of course it doesn’t take long to unlock a few things that makes the trip easier, but then you’re still quite constrained due to your slow maximum movement speed. Once you make it through to chapter 2 though the pace picks up a bit and you’re given a bunch more tools with which to make your exploration at lot more rewarding. This also coincides with a lot of the areas you go to explore having their own oxygen stations or wrecked craft that can refill your breath gauge although the limit then becomes your inventory.
You’ll be wanting to carry a decent set of gear no matter where you’re going and that’ll take up a good third or so of your inventory. Of course you can wing it without a few of the game’s necessities like water and food (they seem to be plentiful enough) but you’ll definitely need one of every tool, likely 2 for the scrapper and any that are low durability, an oxygen candle just in case and probably an item or two that’s required for your current objective. This leaves you with precious little space to pack rat away all the juicy resources you keep coming across, something which becomes a real bother when you start to need quite a lot of…well everything in order to make some of the game’s more complex items.
For some resources there are distinct places where you can search for them which makes tracking them down not a terrible prospect. Giant balls of metal, ice and random containers dot the landscape and early on you’ll be able to get most of what you need from these places. Later on though you’ll need to zip around asteroids to find mineral deposits, look closely at debris fields to find things like wire and, if you’re lucky like me you’ll have to spend a great deal of time at the initial base using the toilet for 15 minutes straight so I could get enough rubber (look it up, toilet farming for rubber is legit) for whatever it was I was making at the time. Couple this with your drastically undersized inventory and resource gathering becomes quite the chore, taking up the majority of your play time.
This is where Breathedge started to lose its shine for me. Once I got past the initial humps of low amounts of oxygen, limited travel speed and having enough basic resources stockpiled so I didn’t have to actively hunt all the time I was feeling pretty good about how things were going. Then the resource costs for everything really started to tick up and the immediate area around my base was bone dry very quickly. Even after I’d setup a lot of storage on my main base I would still have to travel back and forth to it constantly, building some random item for the next objective that the game had sent me on. I’d be ok with this happening every so often but it was basically for every single quest that I’d have to go to the place, get the blueprint for said item, go back to base, find out I didn’t have materials, farm said materials, build thing, then truck back out there again. That loop is just not fun, and once I was again staring down the barrel of another resource run I just simply gave up.
The story and general irreverent nature of the game wasn’t a hinder or help in this regard. To be sure the suit’s running dialogue of the events happening on screen can be pretty hilarious at times whilst at others it definitely feels like it’s trying to hard like with the messages from babe which are 100% an alien trying to get you killed. The game pokes fun at a lot of the things I think a lot of people aren’t terribly pleased about in this genre of games but then goes on to make you do those things anyway which seems like some weird Kafkaesque fever dream to try and make you laugh at the frivolity of these pointless tasks whilst still commanding you to do them. After a while the levity granted by those moments just isn’t enough to cover for the resource grind and unless you’re super into this base building thing I think you’ll run out of puff around the same time I did.
All this being said I do still feel that Breathedge is worthy of the title of “Subnautica in Space” as it hits many of the same notes that it’s spiritual predecessor had. The large environments with numerous places to explore makes for some challenging gameplay to start but quickly becomes a joy once you’ve removed some of your more laborious restrictions. The general light-heartedness does go some way to alleviating the game’s more heinous sins, although it unfortunately can’t make up for the intensely boring and over the top resource grind that you’ll hit towards the end of chapter 2. Still for those of us who enjoyed Subnautica there’s still some goodness in here and who knows, maybe you won’t find the quest for materials as annoying as I did.
Breathedge is available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch right now for $35.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 10.1 hours of total playtime with 20% of the achievements unlocked.