In The Riftbreaker, you scout an alien world and prepare it for colonisation
The Riftbreaker Exor Studios
PC, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox One and Series X/S
WHEN writing this column, I try to remember that many of New Scientist‘s readers don’t play video games. With that in mind, I try to pick titles that have something to say about science or technology but don’t require knowledge of gamer terminology. This month, I have failed, but stick with me while I tell you about one of the most entertaining games I have played this year.
The Riftbreaker casts you as Ashley Nowak, an explorer sent on a one-way trip to the distant planet of Galatea 37. Really, you play as her hulking mech suit, dubbed Mr Riggs. The story is paper-thin – there is a brief mention of Earth being uninhabitable after the “Yellowstone event”, presumably a reference to the potentially apocalyptic supervolcano in Wyoming. Your job is to survey the planet, construct a “rift gate” to enable teleportation back to Earth and to prepare Galatea 37 for colonisation.
It all starts fairly simply, as you set up wind turbines and solar panels to power automated mines and gather resources. But then you come under attack from the local animals – overwhelming hordes of reptilian beasties. Mr Riggs is bristling with weapons to defend yourself. You can also set up walls and turrets to build a defensible base. Then there are the natural disasters, such as earthquakes and meteor strikes, and bad weather that interferes with your power generation.
“Before you know it, you are chasing supply bottlenecks while occasionally pausing to mow down aliens”
This loop – gather resources, improve your weapons and your base and defend yourself – propels the entire game, deftly blending two genres known as real-time strategy (RTS) and twin-stick shooters. The former usually involves building up an army and smashing it into another until one of you is wiped off the map. The latter is about controlling a character and ducking out of the way of enemies as you try to take them down.
Combining these genres is a pretty weird idea, but The Riftbreaker really makes it work, as your base and Mr Riggs work in tandem to hold back the aliens. What I particularly like about The Riftbreaker is that, unlike mission-based RTS games such as genre classics StarCraft or Command & Conquer, your base persists throughout the entire game, meaning it grows into a sprawling behemoth. I occasionally found myself stumbling across sections that I had built hours earlier and had completely forgotten about.
As you grow your base, the game introduces another concept that regular readers will know I am a big fan of: supply chains. While your initial buildings are made of easily available carbon and iron (or “carbonium” and “ironium” as the game strangely calls them), building the rift gate requires rarer materials such as uranium and cobalt that can only be found by visiting other areas of Galatea 37 and setting up outposts, which in turn need supplying. Before you know it, you are chasing the bottlenecks in your system while occasionally pausing to mow down aliens. It is as if Ellen Ripley got a side gig as a logistics manager.
While playing, I did wonder if I should feel bad about strip-mining an entire planet. This point is touched on with a few lines of dialogue, and while you can choose to use only solar, wind, biomass or geothermal power throughout the game and receive a “going green” achievement for doing so, burning your way through the biosphere is too much fun to miss.