By Terris Harned (NWOrpheus)
I’ve been a pretty big fan of the cyberpunk genre since my first exposure to it when I was about 13 or 14 years old. Some friends had gotten hold of the Cyberpunk 2020 tabletop game, and I fell in love with the style. Neon lights and chrome cybernetics, sheathed in studded synth-leather jackets. This segued into my love of William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Philip K. Dick, and others. Cyberpunk is a very niche genre, though, and so whenever a game that’s even remotely fitting the moniker appears, I tend to sit up and notice.
Enter Re-Legion, an RTS cyberpunk game by Ice Code Games, where you play as The Prophet, Elion. Elion was just a normal guy with a plan. The Ones, as the super elite CEOs of corporations are called in Re-Legion, have instituted a citywide Thought Injection System, which affects the brains of everyone in the city, presumably via some sort of cybernetic implants which all citizens have.
The T.I.S., as it’s called in the game, keeps people complacent by making everyone have a low level pleasure sense going on full time. It seems as though automation handles most production functions, leaving humanity at loose ends. Idle humans normally get a bit fidgety, and that’s where the T.I.S. comes into play.
Hacking brains for fun and profit.
So, of course, Elion wants to blow up the T.I.S. and free the minds of the people. To do this he recruits a few allies, and proceeds to stand up to the corporate super powers. He ends up caught up in the tide of his own plans, and is named The Prophet by his allies, who encourage a cult to form up around him. The first mission has you running around with a disc that you obtained from the T.I.S. in the tutorial, trying to find out what’s on it. When this is done, Elion finds other cults emerging into the chaos as people awaken from the control of the Corporations That Be.
At one early stage in the game, you actually get to choose which of three different structures you wish your cult to follow. Each structure, or creed as the case may be, has its own set of dogmas. Some of the dogmas repeat from creed to creed, mostly passive sorts of bonuses like resistance to being converted, but many of them are active ability unlocks for The Prophet that are unique to that creed.
All hail the Omnissiah… oh wait, wrong game.
One of my favorite parts of Re-Legion is the backdrop. I love the visual style of the game. There are signs of the most desperate and degenerate aspects of humanity. Flagrant sexuality displayed on the streets, drug use, and subways. It’s no wonder that Elion wants to see the city improved. The neon lights pulse and throb in a foggy night where people congregate in various places.
People are your most important resource in Re-Legion, and make no mistake that ‘resource’ is exactly how The Prophet treats them: they’re the means to an end. Regular citizens standing around the city may be converted into followers, either by The Prophet, or by special seductive units called Preachers. Preachers will in fact wander around in search of lost sheep to bring into your fold, and are a great way to recruit followers, which will wander to your Sanctuary to await further orders. You can also place them in front of certain citizen “spawn points” which pretty much amount to the subways I mentioned earlier. Because we’ve all come out of an airport, bus or train depot, or subway, and been handed a pamphlet about how to find salvation.
Turning religion into an STD. Awww yeah.
The number of people you can have in your cult is capped, but can be raised by capturing buildings. There are gun shops, martial arts dojos, temples, cyberbanks, and statuary seraphs. Some of these will have various upgrades for your troops, such as gun shops having the blessed bullet upgrade for your Purifiers (your primary ranged unit) or the dojo allowing you to unlock the fearsome stealth unit, the Confessors.
Temples and cyberbanks, on the other hand, are the structures by which you can increase the gain of your other two resources, faith and crypto[currency], respectively. These resources are necessary for converting followers into other units. Just possessing the structures will raise your follower cap, and the cap for the respective resources, but you can also allocate a number of your faithful to actively increase your resources. For example, worshippers assigned to a temple will pray, increasing faith. Hackers at a cyberbank will hack the streams and increase your rate of accumulating crypto. There are also upgrades at these structures for their respective troop types, as well as upgrades to the buildings themselves, which increases caps further, and opens up additional active slots (for worshiping or hacking).
The gameplay in Re-Legion has a lot going on. You have to balance your troop types, defend your sanctuary, assault the enemy’s positions, and choose how to spend resources, meanwhile making sure you have a steady influx of followers to replace soldier units lost in battle. Which, regardless of how many worshipers you have in your army, with their automagic heal skills, you will have. Which is fine, I like the attrition part, and there are an endless supply of citizens to convince to die for you.
Where my problems come in are with things like the controls. Selecting individual units isn’t always easy. One thing you’re going to want to do immediately is assign each of your hero units a numeric hotkey. This is done, by default, by clicking them then pressing ctrl+# on your keyboard. IE ctrl+1 to assign hotkey 1 to Elion. Secondly you’re going to want to assign a hotkey to your entire army, and you’re going to want to reassign that hotkey each time you add troops to your army, otherwise they tend to get easily lost.
Another issue I have is with the fact that new followers always wander to your sanctuary. Your sanctuary is your primary base, and an important facet of gameplay, so you want to keep it defended, but followers will sometimes walk there through enemy units and get killed on the way, or sometimes you want a forward base as you stage that final push at an enemy’s sanctuary, to finish a mission. Most RTS games have the ability to assign a rally point when new units are developed, and I really feel this is a lacking feature in Re-Legion.
All in all, I’d say that I like Re-Legion quite a bit. We don’t see many good, solid RTS games come out, and even fewer games of the cyberpunk genre, so it’s possible I’m in the realm of easy to please with this one. There are definitely some issues I have with it: the AI’s pathing can be horrible for example, and it’s really easy to lose followers because they got stuck somewhere. That being said, the core mechanics for a decent RTS game are there. There are also some decent RPG elements requiring decisions to make (which help plug you into the replayability, especially if you’re an achievement hunter).
Beneficent leader, or tyrannical madman?
People often think of cyberpunk being associated with having a matrix and computers, and cybernetic implants, and neon lights. All those things are certainly factors, but ultimately if the story isn’t there, I find a hard time calling something truly cyberpunk. On the simple side though it may be, Elion’s story is definitely one of classic cyberpunk, and for that, I give Re-Legion a 3.5 out of 5.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.