If it ain’t broke, break it.
Science fiction has long explored the morality of creating AI. Break The Game takes this well-worn quandary and injects it with a healthy dose of wackiness and humour. You play as a small AI cube with googly eyes called Kevin, in a system ruled by a megalomaniac. This creator has programmed countless AIs, but in his rabid pursuit of perfectionism, isn’t satisfied with any of them. So he’s destroying every last one.
You and the other AIs you meet on your journey are the last survivors, the final resistance in this software genocide. Your only hope for survival is to – get this – break the game by damaging its core systems, and escape out of there.
Break The Game is primarily a platformer, with simple, blocky levels that undergo palette and theme changes but otherwise are fairly samey. It does its best to mix up the mechanics within them, however, with light puzzles, the occasional on-rails section and some levels with a top-down, twin-stick shooter format – I’d have liked to have seen more of these sections, as they work really well.
Sentry bots patrol the levels and swarm towards you on sight and open fire, dropping pixels – the game’s currency – on death. There’s a variety of weapons to buy with these, some of which are quite unusual, like a gun with time-delayed bullets and a chain hammer you can shoot out and retract for a double hit. Unfortunately, there’s not much incentive to dabble with these more interesting and unwieldy armaments, as the standard shotgun and machine gun are the most reliable and effective choices.
Combat, on the whole, is pretty easy. Enemies don’t put up much of a fight, you can take several hits before you die and most incoming fire can be neutralised by your own bullets. There’s a quirky system in which every death sends you to a sort of cyber-Satan and rewards you with a ‘death coins’ currency, but as I didn’t die much I wasn’t able to utilise this.
Each level holds a few secrets – albeit ones that are fairly easy to discover – which reward you with pixels, easter eggs, or sometimes simply a joke. This lightheartedness is a real highlight of Break The Game, helping to keep the player engaged even during more mundane platforming. There’s rarely a quiet moment, with Kevin, his friends and even the creator himself frequently chattering away. It’s reminiscent of how Thomas Was Alone brought rudimentary shapes to life with personalities and stories, elevating the ordinary into something more characterful.
It also tears down the fourth wall with reckless abandon, addressing you directly and making meta comments on the game. There are moments of sheer genius, like when Kevin hintingly remarks “Did you just see what I see?” about a collectible you’ve just passed, or when you walk down a long corridor to be met with a dead end and no reward, at which point he goes off on a tirade, criticising the lazy and disappointing game design.
As with other games that lean into meta, like Pony Island and The Stanley Parable, Break The Game isn’t afraid to get weird. As you progress and start to ‘break the game,’ you’ll encounter scenes that are kooky or just downright bizarre – I’ll leave you to discover the content of these for yourself. It’s best to accept this surrealism with open arms and go along for the ride.
While the writing occasionally outstays its welcome or gets a little too silly, it’s generally great, with a bunch of genuinely funny moments. It seemingly wasn’t proofread very thoroughly, however, with spelling and grammar errors undermining the writing at times.
The music is also really good. Like, surprisingly good. It massively varies in style, from bouncy chiptune to classical and jazzy tunes or more downbeat, ambient pieces. While it doesn’t always feel representative of the on-screen action and may sound a little incoherent as an overall soundtrack, hell, I enjoyed it for what it was.
I experienced a few technical issues – ironically, the game broke on my first attempt to play it, with the display behaving unpredictably, either showing in a small distorted window or full screen but with the Windows taskbar overlapping it. I managed to fix this eventually but still had the odd quirk afterwards, like coloured artifacts appearing on the sides of the screen.
Break The Game’s simplistic platforming and shooting mechanics are unremarkable and a little half-baked in isolation. But entertaining writing and a hare-brained sense of humour make it worth booting up and breaking out of again. Channelling ideas from some of the indie greats and adding a dash of its own creativity and playfulness, Break The Game is an enjoyable adventure through the googly eyes of an AI.
[Reviewed on PC]
James loves a deep action-adventure game, RPG or Metroidvania. He can often be found in The Indie Game Website’s review section casting his critical eye over the latest indie games.