At first glance, you might think The Riftbreaker – developed and published by EXOR Studios – is a simple hybrid of twin-stick shooter and base-building/tower-defence game. To an extent, that’s true, and a skilled player could always draw aggro away from their base and limit the need for extensive defensive structures. However, The Riftbreaker also packs unexpected depth, with hundreds of research options, dozens of building and player upgrades, and the ever-present need to expand and protect resource-generating operations. The Riftbreaker provides plenty of entertainment in short-bursts but can also feel unforgiving and tedious when you mess up and need to recover.
The narrative, outside of a flashy opening cutscene, is minimal and stretched thinly over hours of playtime. You take control of captain Ashley Nowak, a “Riftbreaker” – think scientist/commando hybrid – in an AI-powered mecha-Suit called “Mr. Riggs” as they emerge from a one-way jump to the lush world of Galatea 37. Earth is barely liveable, and humans are rift-jumping to distant planets to find resources and establish new colonies. She’s tasked with securing a foothold and building a massive “Rift Station” that will allow two-way travel between Earth and Galatea 37. Of course, things are never easy, and the native species are not happy with the intrusion. Aside from infrequent banter between Ashley and Mr. Riggs, which fleshes out Ashley’s ideologies and past a little more, this overarching objective and the need for rare resources to construct the Rift Station is all the context you’ll get to push forward.
Controlling Ashley in her mecha-suit is a breeze, with a familiar twin-stick movement and aiming setup. This makes early exploration an enjoyable foray into the unknown, but you’ll eventually have to decide on the location of your HQ and engage with the base-building, resource-generation, and horde-defence mechanics. The world is filled with finite resource pockets – some immediately apparent, several uncovered through research and scanning – and the continuous generation of these resources is essential to making progress. Carbonium is your basic building material used to craft new structures and gear. Ironium is needed for defensive structures and, most importantly, ammunition production. Cobalt, Palladium, Titanium, and Uranium are rare resources needed for advanced structures, crafting designs, and – in huge amounts – your ultimate goal, the Rift Station. Liquid resources, like water and magma, are essential to the functioning of advanced structures, which can, in turn, produce artificial resources, like coolant and plasma, for even more advanced structures.
All the basic, advanced, and defensive structures you can build require considerable power, which can be produced using solar panels and wind turbines (susceptible to environmental conditions), Carbonium powerplants, biomass generators, geothermal power, and even nuclear reactors. Of course, the ability to build advanced base structures, upgrade them for greater efficiency, or craft and equip the multitude of weapon and mech-suit upgrades, requires researching your way through three massive, multi-tier technology trees. Research speed becomes a major obstacle to progress and can feel painfully slow at times – unless you can support multiple power-guzzling Communication Hubs. Naturally, all these structures require space, and making more space means your walls and defensive network is spread thinner (an HQ location with some natural barriers is a must). You’ll quickly discover the need to run power nodes to distant resource-producing outposts, which are then more vulnerable to horde attacks. You could surround them with walls and powerful, specialised turrets but that means more power, AI cores, and resource-hungry ammunition factories.
If this is all starting to sound overwhelming, it can be. Although not as granular or deep as games like Factorio or Satisfactory, I can’t help but feel The Riftbreaker has been untruthful in its marketing campaign. Resource production and beneficiation, coupled with power generation, underpin everything you do. As a result, it’s possible to get it very wrong and find yourself struggling to recover. As an example, an early push for automated Repair Towers seemed like a great idea, until I realised they were chewing through my resources faster than I could replace destroyed structures and defences, forcing me to run about manually disabling them. This frequent need to repair and upgrade structures also highlighted the variable gamepad support. Exploration, combat, and menu navigation are solid with a gamepad, but the precision placement of structures or trying to mass select them for upgrades is problematic (and nigh-impossible under pressure). The base building feels more intuitive using a mouse and keyboard, and this is an option for console players if they have the hardware.
Having hopefully conveyed the complexity of resource production, construction, and research, you’ll be relieved to know exploration and twin-stick combat is far simpler and instantly gratifying. Movement and shooting feel great, making it easy to kite hordes, dash out the way of larger creatures, and thin the alien ranks before they break upon your walls. The mecha-suit can handle three swappable weapons per arm – ranging from swords to chain guns, flamethrowers to rocket launchers – which can be upgraded to higher tiers or modded for extra elemental damage. There are passive equipment slots and active abilities to enhance your combat skills and survivability, all of which can be crafted with the right research and sufficient resources. If you’re after a more hands-on approach to base defence, you can prioritise the weapon technology tree and create a walking tank. Many of the upgrades in the alien technology tree become essential once you’ve constructed the Orbital Scanner and begin away-missions to secure rare resources in hostile environments (think heat, radiation, volcanism, and corrosive clouds). Given the ceaseless demands of your primary base, these away-missions to explore and establish distant outposts are paradoxically stressful and relaxing.
When the environment isn’t trying to kill you – and there is an inordinate number of natural phenomena on Galatea 37, from calm moon phases to damaging hailstorms – it’s the myriad of alien species. These range from basic Zerg-style cannon fodder to lumbering organic artillery and – sticking with the StarCraft analogies – seemingly advanced, cloaked and bladed warriors. Each environment – lush jungle, scorched desert, icy tundra, or volcanic waste – has several unique lifeforms (not all hostile) but they fill similar roles when it comes to assaulting you or your base. Despite Ashley’s apparent desire to study and conserve Galatea 37’s original environment, frequent hordes and respawning alien clusters ensure she butchers hundreds of them on any given day. Combat is less stressful than resource production and base management to be sure, but it’s frequent enough that you’re rarely able to explore for more than a minute without shooting something. On the upside, it’s a great way to hoover up biomass, uncover hidden resources using a scanner, find new species for the alien technology tree, and several unique power or gear designs.
When it comes to the presentation, The Riftbreaker looks and sound great for most of the experience. The world feels ridiculously detailed, vibrant, and packed with moving and reactive parts – think foliage, liquid pools, and destructible terrain. Firefights against large hordes in forests are a particular highlight, with projectiles tearing through vegetation, while explosions send shockwaves through trees and grass. That said, it can be easy to lose track of Ashley’s mecha-suit in busier scenes. The Riftbreaker can buckle during massive horde attacks but proved scalable on PC and even performed well on the budget Xbox Series S, about 95% of the time. The audio is also a highlight, with loud and impactful combat and a catchy soundtrack that starts serenely before escalating based on nearby threats. With only two voiced characters, Ashely and Mr. Riggs have plenty of exchanges, often cheesy and overwrought. Thankfully, the voice-acting is not too bad and you don’t hear it all that often.
A lot is going on in The Riftbreaker at any given moment and you’re rarely given any downtime (even after delving into the heavily customisable difficulty settings). This ensures the world of Galatea 37 is less a mysterious space to explore, and more of a pretty canvas on which to build and murder things. On one hand, the procedural generation ensures each new location – be that a permanent outpost or once-off scouting mission – can throw up new challenges and sights. On the other hand, I wish there was a little more structure to the narrative and lore, rather than needing to read hundreds of journal entries. Maybe some handcrafted scenarios to test your construction and combat skills, as in the They Are Billions campaign. Other irritations include the aforementioned gamepad support and the need to manually upgrade structures once you’ve researched new tiers (a thousand wall segments being a prime example).
Considering each mechanic in isolation, The Riftbreaker is packed with interesting systems but the learning curve, balance, and pacing often feel off. It’s a game in which you’re constantly hitting roadblocks – some of which present an engaging challenge, while others simply require you to sit around until you have enough resources or research completes. It’s possible to find yourself desperately reconfiguring your base to balance power supply, resource production, and resource consumption, while constantly stopping to fend off hordes and likely racking up more damages. There is an audience for this sort of challenge and, despite pointing out these challenges, I could not stop playing. However, I think there’s an even larger audience who’ll pick up The Riftbreaker looking for a twin-stick shooter with streamlined base-building elements, only to find themselves bogged down in base micromanagement and making little progress. That said, The Riftbreaker can be a ton of stressful fun – just so long as you know what you’re getting into.
A review code for The Riftbreaker (PC) was provided to Gameblur by the Publisher. The Xbox Series S version was accessed using an Xbox Game Pass subscription.
The Riftbreaker (PC and Xbox Series S) ReviewThe Riftbreaker (PC and Xbox Series S) Review
Story6/10 NormalIt's an enjoyable but generic sci-fi premise, with the storytelling kept to a minimum and mostly reliant on banter between Ashley and her AI.
Gameplay8/10 Very GoodSlick twin-stick combat is paired with unexpectedly deep and stressful resource-gathering, research, and base-building mechanics. Unfortunately, variable gamepad support and the lack of several quality-of-life features can frustrate.
Visuals8/10 Very GoodWith a visually spectacular and reactive world, The Riftbreaker can sometimes buckle under pressure but provided a smooth experience - on PC and console - most of the time.
Audio7/10 GoodLoud and impactful combat is backed up by excellent, dynamic music. The voice acting leaves a bit to be desired but it's infrequent enough not to grate.
- Fluid and responsive twin-stick shooting
- Tons of research, buildings, gear, and upgrades to unlock
- A lengthy, involved campaign across a procedurally-generated world
- Visually stunning with decent performance on PC and Xbox Series consoles
- Variable gamepad support
- Waiting around for research to complete
- Exploration = incessant combat