So many games these days release broken or have their review code held back until the very last minute because the developers and the publisher aren’t confident about the reception. It’s so refreshing when indie developers come along and are proud and confident of their work. So confident, in fact, that Exor Studios have a demo of The Riftbreaker available to play, plus the Prologue. That confidence is well-founded, though, because while The Riftbreaker does have some problems it’s also a great blending of genres, combining base-building and some good ‘ol fashioned shootin’.
The mixture could easily have felt generic, a garbage smoothie that makes you spew across the kitchen like the world’s most disgusting fire hydrant. Somehow, though, the concoction isn’t just drinkable, it’s kind of delicious. It’s a shame about the bugs in it, though. Not the bugs you’re thinking of, though. You see, there is a touch of Starship Troopers in that gloriously gloopy mix in the form of an alien planet teeming with bugs that all want to murder you. Don’t hold that against them, though, because you’ve suddenly appeared on their planet and keep building shit on it.
Here’s the lowdown: Ashley and her mechanised suit, named Mr. Riggs, arrive on an alien planet via a rift with the goal being to establish a base and harvest the resources required to build a much larger portal device so that Earth can begin colonizing the planet properly. In a cool twist to the idea, Earth is actually doing okay and there is no pressing need for Humanity to move out of their parent’s house. Instead, it’s just about Humanity reaching out to the stars and looking to infect the rest of the universe with their godawful Pop music and rappers who can’t rap. Truly, we are a plague.
If you’re seeking a powerful, compelling story, then best look elsewhere. Truthfully, there isn’t much going on. In the opening few hours, it does seem like the overarching story and theme might be about environmentalism, though. Ashley is a scientist and argues about trying to preserve the local wildlife and fauna, while Mr. Riggs reminds her that preservation is last on the list, below things such as survival and completing the mission. I can’t help but think that it was all thrown in at the last second though because the dialogue is entirely contradictory to the on-screen action. While the short-lived environmental debate is going on you’re usually burning hordes of bugs with a flamethrower, stomping through plants and even using the desecrated remains of the wildlife as bio-fuel. You could view it as being comedic, I suppose. It’s difficult to tell if that’s the case, however. Whatever the intentions, Ashley shuts up about preservation pretty quickly, which is fine by me – I’m all for preserving the planet, but when that planet has a whole lot of alien wildlife that wants to eat me, the only thing I intend on preserving is me.
First things first, you need to get settled in and start mining some of the basic resources needed to construct a proper headquarters. That means scouting out the randomized area to hopefully uncover a nice patch of resources, and ideally a few natural walls because otherwise, you have to cover 360-degrees of space with turrets. Whacking down structures on the Playstation 5 is as simple as hitting triangle and then navigating the menus using the shoulder buttons to find what you want. The right stick acts as the cursor for popping everything down, from defensive walls to communications arrays, or you can leave the cursor in one place and move your mech instead. I’ve been playing RTS games for years, and probably my favourite part of the genre is building a base. I don’t even really know why, it just speaks to me. The Riftbreaker hits the same way, and now that I know more about the game and what’s expected I’m looking forward to playing through again with a much better plan for my base.
I played The Riftbreaker on PS5 and it was fantastic, but there’s no getting around the fact that it was designed with PC in mind and that a mouse and keyboard let you build so much quicker. Because The Riftbreaker is available through Game Pass on both console and PC, I fired it up on my computer and found it to be so much slicker. On the console, for example, you have to hold down the left trigger to auto-build the most advanced versions of things, which means if you’re laying down a wall you have to move your character around instead of the right stick unless you’re willing to perform some occult symbolism with your hands. On PC, you just hold down the appropriate key. Easy. In short, The Riftbreaker is good, but it’s even better on a PC.
For a while, you only have to worry about three main resources: carbon, iron and power. Pockets of iron and carbon are scattered around, and solar and wind power can handle the electric needs for a little bit. It isn’t long before you start needing bigger and better tech, however, along with the more exotic materials needed to get the rift home operational. That means opening up the three substantial research trees and deciding what you want to focus on. Better sources of power like advanced solar panels and geothermal plans? Or maybe just better weapons for your mech? Base defences such as rocket towers, flamethrowers and mine layers? Or maybe you want to start investing in better mining tech? These trees offer a lot of choices and The Riftbreaker feels no need to condescendingly hold your hand, instead, there’s a fair amount of room to research new stuff in whatever order you deem best. The only nudges come from missions that need you to perform certain research, but many of those are locked until the relevant point anyway.
Shockingly, the local wildlife does not appreciate your plans to turn their home into the next McDonals Fly-Through and theme park and will attack on sight. Stuck on a planet infested with millions of creatures that don’t want you there means you spend just as much time gunning down the wildlife as you do building a base. The various types of defensive towers can help thin some of the impressively humungous hordes that will frequently come knocking, but throughout the game, you and your heavily armed mech suit remain the most powerful force for dealing with them. Luckily, portals are cheap to make so you can litter the map with fast-travel points, letting you jump back and forth when needed to deal with bigger attacks.
Combat is simple but enjoyable, and heavy on the spectacle. The locals are a varied bunch, ranging in size from swarms of tiny bastards to swarms of big bastards, all sporting different numbers of appendages and abilities. Many will simply run straight for you or the nearest wall/turret/buildings, but others like to hang back and lob balls of acid or fire. As you move through the game you’ll gain access to more ways to deal with them, from simple machine guns to flamethrowers to laser weapons. You also have mines, health packs and a few other goodies to help. As you can see from the images, my personal weapon of choice was the flamethrower. Who doesn’t like BBQ alien bug?
There’s no depth to the combat, but there is the immense satisfaction of mowing down thousands of foes in a hail of bullets, flames and acid. If you’ve been smart about planning the base will be packed with ammo storage because you’ll burn through that stockpile faster than I burn through a McWhopper. In the face of the big hordes, you’ll be swapping weapons in a hurry, backpedalling the whole way and wondering if you’ll have just enough ammo to hold out. But even if you die under the tidal wave, you respawn back at base with only a piece of lost equipment that can be retrieved as a battle scar.
That brings me to the visuals. This is a game from a small developer built on a relatively tight budget and yet in almost every way, it’s beautiful to look at. A lot of this comes down to the excellent use of colour, lighting and particle effects to create dazzling light shows, especially at night where the local fauna gets to show its love of bioluminescence.
There are plenty of resources on this alien planet but they tend to be spread out. And while you’re base might be relatively safe and cosy and has the best hot chocolate in the galaxy, at some point the initial sources of Carbon and Iron are going to begin running low, forcing you to open the gates and venture out. This is the crux of the game, judging how far to spread yourself and how fast to expand. As you go farther afield to acquire resources your mines have to become little outposts with their own power and light defences. Me, I spent too long feeling lost in about 6-hours in which resulted in some resources being drained and me fighting a battle to maintain numerous distant mines while also trying to advance the mission.
Eventually, it becomes apparent that all the resources needed to make the big momma rift work can’t be found nearby, so a little bit of travelling is going to be needed. Via the magic of rifts, you get to hop over to other parts of the planet rich in the materials needed to keep advancing your base, and that comes in the form of setting up outposts. The first visits are all about discovering what unique properties those environments have, such as quicksand that can’t be built on without special flooring or heavy sun activity which will burn your base to the ground. This typically means spending some time exploring before researching the recommended tech needed to make an outpost viable, and then from there you build a mini-base. While things like power need to be transferred via cables, resources are simply put straight into the stockpile regardless of location. That’s some proper high-tech magic.
This whole layer of the game also brings to light what feels like a moment of game design where the developers couldn’t quite figure out what to do. You see, if you aren’t actually physically at a location, it won’t come under attack or suffer from any of the natural disasters that can occur when you’re there. That’s smart because constantly bouncing back and forth between outposts would have been more tiring than a Joe Biden speech. But at the same time, it does feel like you’re cheating the game somehow because if things get rough at the main base you can simply teleport somewhere else and spend a while pumping out research and hoovering up resources, safe in the knowledge that not even a solitary foe will come knocking at the door.. And provided you don’t set up a permanent outpost, you can simply leave the area and come back to a new, randomized spot with even more resources to exploit.
I did find this portion of the game to be a slog after a while. The Riftbreaker tries to make each new randomised segment of the planet interesting via little twists – high radiation or an acid plant that grows at insane speeds, but those only mean researching a couple of specific things. Outside of that, you mostly go through the motions of building another base, albeit on a smaller scale. Sometimes it’s fun, and sometimes it’s the Tanzanite mission which quickly became of my most hated gaming experiences of the last year. It sees players trying to build up a water pipeline, plant cultivator and harvester while coming under constant assault from hordes of tiny bugs, while also dealing with consistent natural disasters. The key is to build up a heavily defended outpost at both ends before trying to lay down the pipeline, but it’s still an incredibly frustrating objective as every step of progress gets obliterated.
This makes up a big portion of the lengthy 20-30 hour campaign, and while I might have found it to be a bit repetitive after a while, I think there will be a lot of folks who love it for that exact reason. If you adore designing perfect bases, well, then The Riftbreaker has you covered.
That brings me to the way the whole game is structured, which I really like. It’s one long mission with the only fail state being the loss of your headquarters. The utter decimation of entire portions of your base is, of course, going to make you want to go on a revenge mission against every single bug that wronged you, but provided the HQ remains rebuilding is an option.
The Riftbreaker brilliantly brings together base-building and action, combing them into something that is somehow both relaxing and frantic. You have those chilled moments where all you’re doing is planning some new buildings or working on a new mining outpost, interspersed by terrifying moments where swarms of enemies are hurling themselves against your walls, ammo is running low and that one vital power connector got taken out. And I can’t overstate the satisfaction of hunkering down, peppering your walls with towers and watching a tidal wave of small bugs hurl themselves into your deathtrap. The closest thing I can compare The Riftbreaker to is They Are Billions, the survival RTS that pits you against waves of undead. But this is by far the better experience, offering surprisingly deep base-building and big fights that you get to personally wade into.
As we come screaming and cursing over the hill toward the Holidays, the release schedule becomes more and more daunting, filled with alluring triple-A titles that come with triple-A pricetags and decidedly tripe-F glitches. The Riftbreaker has managed to get ahead of the tidal wave, and the 5,000+ Steam reviews show it’s already setting up the defensive towers and walls to hold back the approaching horde of titles. In the end, it’ll likely get swarmed under. Before those fateful last moments, though, I think The Riftbreaker will find a group of folk who love it for its blend of RTS, Factorio and shooting. And I’m one of them.