The Riftbreaker – developed and published by EXOR Studios – presents itself as a curious hybrid of twin-stick shooter, supply chain-focused sim, and horde survival game. It’s also packed to the brim with unexpectedly deep RPG-lite upgrade systems and robust crafting. It’s a busy game – in which you never stop moving, building, or shooting – and it mostly works with a gamepad. That said, some tweaks are in order before launch.
The “Prologue” demo – framed as a simulation – puts you in the boots of Ashley Nowak, working on improving her combat abilities prior to the story campaign. She’s a “Riftbreaker”, a combination of scientist and military commando, strapped inside a mecha-suit known as “Mr Riggs”. She’s preparing for a solo rift jump to the distant planet Galatea 37, tasked with establishing a foothold and building up a base that will provide the power and resources needed for a two-way rift gate back to Earth.
Between her suit and a seemingly endless supply of automated construction bots, she must traverse hostile environmental conditions, find a suitable (and defensible) HQ site, extract resources, gather biological specimens, upgrade her gear, and engage in combat against hordes of hostile aliens. It’s a great premise, mixing classic twin-stick shooting of aliens (e.g. Alien Breed Trilogy or Helldivers), with base-building, supply chain management, and horde defence (e.g. They Are Billions or Conan Unconquered).
Controlling Ashley in her mecha-suit is a breeze, with gunplay that rewards precise shots and skillful kiting of enemies to maximise damage. There’s a lot to think about when constructing a base: positioning, managing the flow of basic and advanced construction material, ammunition production for Ashley and turrets, and – perhaps most importantly – balancing energy production and demand to ensure your defences never go offline at a critical moment.
The demo eases you into things but if you spend a few minutes pouring over the menu screens, you discover how much number-crunching is going on in the background, and just how granular you can get with weapon crafting and gear upgrades.
This makes for an intense but engaging experience, but one that often feels like it was made for mouse-and-keyboard first and foremost. Twin-stick shooting, of course, feels fantastic with a gamepad and this makes handling hordes of aliens enjoyable, whether out in the open or while manning the perimeter of your base. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about structure placement or navigating upgrade- and crafting-menus.
The menu navigation I can deal with as the game is paused during these actions. However, building selection, placement, and contextual actions (like repairing or selling structures) are handled in real-time. Entering and exiting the construction mode, handling precise placement with the right analog stick, trying not to accidentally bring up a contextual menu instead of opening a building sub-menu – these are ongoing challenges, even when not in the heat of battle.
The demo deliberately ramps up the action to 11 by the end, but even if the main game is more evenly paced, the devs need to consider a pause-and-command system as seen in They Are Billions to give gamepad users a fighting chance.
Returning to the positives, The Riftbreaker looks and runs great on the Xbox Series consoles. The action is fluid and seems to hold 60fps most of the time, though dips were noticeable in the final battle of the demo against hundreds of aliens. The world feels reactive: vegetation sways as creatures move through it, disintegrates in a hail of bullets (sometimes explosively, depending on the species), while your flamethrower can set alight swathes of grass and larger trees. Ashley’s mecha-suit, buildings, alien lifeforms, and weather all animate beautifully. The music swells during combat and every weapon sounds impactful, as roaring aliens are torn apart under fire in a shower of gore. Some cringe worthy dialogue and cliched archetypes were the weak part of the presentation.
Ultimately, I had a lot of fun with The Riftbreaker: Prologue demo. Unlike many horde defence games, player-skill plays just as big a part in surviving encounters as your defences and supply chain. I went back for several rounds, picking new starting locations, optimizing my build order, and trying to survive ever longer during the finale. If EXOR Studios can tweak the gamepad controls for construction – and preferably add in a pause-and-command option – this could be a great fit on a console.