Into the Breach takes infrastructure seriously. Appropriately, the importance of infrastructure is shown by its incorporation into the game’s mechanics. It’s the sustaining condition of entire timelines, and while it might not lead directly to victory, its absence results in failure.
Infrastructure is always of interest to me in the way that it ties mechanics and world together. In Into the Breach, it is the ultimate, most valuable thing in any timeline. It’s more important than pilots, mechs, reputation, or killing alien/kaiju insects (Into the Breach’s variety are called the Vek, for those out of the loop). The worst thing that can happen to a timeline in Into the Breach is that you lose all of the power of the grid. If that happens, you lose the power that sustains your mechs, monsters rise out of the ground, and you abandon a timeline to its fate, teleporting one pilot back out and shifting the clock back to the beginning of the Vek catastrophe. Even the number of human lives that you save are secondary to the grid. They count towards your score, but the number of humans saved is a side effect of preserving the buildings in which they reside. Those numbers are less important than keeping the Vek from rampaging through the buildings themselves, as each building destroyed lowers your connection to the grid.
Infrastructure isn’t only tied together to the mechanics, but to the themed ecology of the four islands that make up the game’s world. For example, the island nation of R.S.T. has terraformed their land into an arid wasteland in an effort to deprive the tunneling Vek. Some missions from R.S.T.’s leadership involve destroying their landscape further, blasting open mountains to limit their potential use as hives. This is infrastructure of a different sort, more grounded in the individual landscapes of the world.
Taken together, the landscape and the grid both subvert the ostensible protagonists of the game, and of the mech/kaiju genre more broadly. They call attention to the work that sustains our giant machines and the lengths to which the societies of Into the Breach were willing to alter their world in the face of obliteration. They also call attention, through a small leap of imagination, to the workers in the background of mech combat. Running power lines to giant robots is, ultimately, more important than rocket punching a giant firefly.
But, impactful as it is on failure conditions to a timeline, the player doesn’t actually run those lines. Moment-to-moment gameplay is about shuffling mechs around the battlefield. Yes, the point of those moments is to squash the Vek, or at least shift them around so that their attacks don’t land on buildings or important features of the environment. Maybe someday we’ll get a Hideaki Anno-style game where the bureaucrats, repair crews, researchers, and scutworkers will really get their due. Until then, though, I’ll keep hopping timelines and chasing more elegant, fully-powered victories over the Vek.