They Breathe is an interesting horror indie game about a frog diving underwater, as he discovers some horrifying secrets in the depths.
|Console||PC, Xbox 360|
|Developer||The Working Parts|
|Publisher||The Working Parts|
|Purchase||Download from Steam.|
They Breathe is a unique indie game from Swedish developer The Working Parts. The game is based on a school project with a group of friends, with Hugo Bille at the helm.
I recommend that you go play this game right away if you have it. Play it from beginning to end, because it’s very short (15 – 30 minutes).
But if you’re still somehow not sold on the game and want to know what’s in it, then keep reading on. Of course, I’ll also give an analysis on where this game succeeded and failed as usual.
The Horrors of the Underwater Forest
They Breathe follows the adventure of a frog named Glenn, who decides to dive underwater for a certain purpose. Right away, the game starts you off with minimal information as you go along. But for the purpose of pure visual storytelling, it’s best that I don’t divulge the details of what happens next.
The gameplay works like this. The whole setting is underwater, meaning you can swim in any direction and even use a breast stroke to speed up. Oxygen means everything in They Breathe. So you must collect as many air bubbles as you can so you don’t drown. After all, frogs lose their gills during metamorphosis and require dry air to survive.
The cool thing about this mechanic is your actual health meter. They Breathe does not feature a user interface. Instead, your health is indicated through Glenn’s body color. If he is a bright green color, he’s healthy. But if he’s a dark brown, it mean he’s close to dying. The actual color change is progressive but subtle.
The game is divided into numerous screens called “waves.” In each wave, you may find other frogs struggling to breath and strange creatures following you around. To help your froggie friends, you must push them into air bubbles until their skin turns into a healthy green before swimming up to the water’s surface.
As for the hostile creatures waiting to ambush you, all of them react to air bubbles differently. Some require air to survive, so it becomes a game of cat and mouse until one of you drowns first. Others actually die from air bubbles. So not only are air bubbles your lifeline, they’re also your main method of attack.
Some of these creatures, called Moose by the developer (though they looked like cows to me), seem like odd predators at first. But as you play the game further in, you will discover that things are not as they seem. The twists the game throws at you are both creative and horrifying.
They Breathe does an excellent job in setting an eerie and tense atmosphere that gradually becomes darker as you descend further underwater. While the animations are minimal, there’s enough going on in the background to see that there’s life dwelling in the underwater forest.
Alas, I do have one major complaint about the game. Let me begin with what kind of in-game goals there are.
Firstly, there are no real “collectibles” in They Breathe. Instead, there are a total of eight achievements, most of them easy to obtain. The hardest one is called “It’s the Frogs!”, where you are required to save all 12 frogs during one playthrough.
Here’s the actual problem: the AI is terrible.
Whenever your froggie friends appear on the screen, they slowly follow you to your current position. It’s as simple as can be. While you can push them away whenever necessary, this is not always feasible.
The thing is that your enemies also follow you. Guess what’s going to happen? The frogs are going to run into the enemies, forcing them to take damage. And when a frog dies, it’s too late. If you want to get that one achievement, you’d have to restart the current wave you’re on.
This is easily the most frustrating aspect of They Breathe. The other frogs always follow you no matter what, even into harm’s way. Just this one trait of the simplistic AI represents the frustration one gets from escort missions in video games. A lot of people don’t like escort missions because they’re tedious to perform and because it’s often easy for the escort to die in your care.
So this turns the task of saving the other frogs into one that requires a great amount of luck. It’s very easy for them to die and it takes awhile to defeat your enemies. As far as I know, there is no “easy way” to go about it. You just have to go through a lot of trial and error.
Despite that major flaw, I consider They Breathe to be a well-made indie game. It’s very short in length but manages to tell an interesting and disturbing story through its visuals alone. I recommend you go check it out if you’re looking for something to kill time real quick.
- Straightforward gameplay.
- Minimal but well-made visuals.
- A well executed visual story with some disturbing twists.
- A good ambient score and a morose theme song to accompany the dark and strange nature of the game.
- The AI for the drowning frogs is only designed to follow you wherever you go, meaning it's very easy for enemies to kill them as they try to attack you.