By Terris Harned (NWOrpheus)
Some of my favorite earliest PC gaming memories are of old dungeon crawlers such as the Pool of Radiance and Champions of Krynn games based on TSR’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. These games combined first person grid based exploration with tile-based 2D strategic combat. Games such as Eye of the Beholder later added first turn-based person combat, as did iconic series such as Bard’s Tale, Wizardry, and Might and Magic. These games were my first true experience with RPGs on PC, and hold a fond place in my heart.
The Eighth installment of the Wizardry Series, which I have in my Steam library.
If you’ve kept up with my reviews, you might also have picked up on the fact that I’m a huge fan of the cyberpunk genre, as I mention as much in my review of Re-Legion. The fusion of man and machine coupled with the neon pierced darkness of dystopian futures just does something for me. Thus when the opportunity to take a look at the early access release of Conglomerate 451, I was more than a little excited. Was it everything I’d hoped for? You’ll just have to read on to find out!
The first thing I want to say: if you’re planning to start Conglomerate 451 up for the first time, turn your speaker volume down. Like, way down. I had mine turned to the normal level I watch Netflix and play other games at, and as soon as the synthetic future-pop style music began, I thought my ears were going to bleed. It wasn’t that the music was bad, as such, it was just really… REALLY loud. So I went into the settings menu and turned the master volume down. Unfortunately, this made the first dialogue that I heard in the game completely unintelligible, so I had to go back, adjust just the music volume, and then start a new game, so I could figure out what was going on.
Now that I’ve warned you about your earballs exploding, back to the game itself. The story of Conglomerate 451 is that you are the CEO of a special agency that has been hired by the government to reduce the influence of corporations in an area called “Sector 451,” in a fictional location called Conglomerate City. Yep, the title of Conglomerate 451 has nothing at all to do with the famous novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (Potentially NSFW Link), though I can’t help but wonder if it was meant to be some sort of oblique nod to the dystopian novel.
I don’t really know if this influences anything in the game at any point, so don’t stress too hard on what you put here.
Gameplay in Conglomerate 451 is broken up into two segments. The first takes place in your headquarters. Immediately upon starting a new game, you will enter a briefing with your android personal assistant and select the name of your agency, as well as its icon. The selection of the icons is fairly limited with no color variation, so it feels kind of arbitrary and unnecessary to me, but whatever, it doesn’t exactly hurt anything either.
Next you’ll begin creating your team. When I say creating, I mean that quite literally. Your agents are vat grown clones using templates from some folks that you just had laying around? I guess? There’s not really any explanation of who these people are, or why they’re used for your templates. I feel there’s an opportunity for lore here that could flesh out the world some, but maybe by release it’ll get done. I wouldn’t hold my breath, but, maybe, right?
You initially only have three options for the class of your clones. The Soldier is your standard tanker. When you go to look at the character in the barracks, he appears to be holding a minigun. However, none of the abilities he uses are even vaguely minigun related. Not that this discordance matters overmuch, as you don’t actually see the troops in battles. Still, I feel like he should be holding a shotgun, or an assault rifle with a grenade launcher. It would just fit his ability loadout better.
Next is the Infiltrator. This seems to be your primary DPS. She can mark her targets, then follow this up with a devastating attack that takes advantage of the debuff. She also has the option to take a self buff, increasing her accuracy and damage.
Begun, the Clone Wars have.
The last of the original three classes you can unlock is the Drifter. He seems to be more of a support role in focus. Like the Infiltrator, he has the ability to mark targets. He also has a damage over time radiation attack, and a very low powered heal. The heal isn’t worth much as far as replenishing the health of your cohorts during battle, but it can serve to save them if they are brought to 0 health, if he gets a turn before they do (where they will have a chance to either get back up, or bleed out. Enemies have the same chances).
There are two additional classes that can be unlocked through research at the genetics lab. Research is another core aspect of gameplay that occurs at your base. In order to complete research you must expend resources in the form of cash, and tech. Additionally, you might need a certain amount of reputation in order to unlock certain tiers of research.
There are a variety of other things that can be researched as well, such as cybernetic enhancements or gene splicings, that can increase the combat performance of your agents. These will prove crucial, as gameplay is largely unforgiving, and death of your agents is permanent, much as in games like Darkest Dungeon or Deep Sky Derelicts (the latter of which was published by the same company as Conglomerate 451, 1C Entertainment). You will need all the enhancements you can get in order to progress through the game.
The second major aspect of gameplay, outside of your headquarters, are missions. Missions themselves are selected from the headquarters. The specific objective of missions can change from week to week (as passage of time is measured within Conglomerate 451). Sometimes you may need to exterminate a certain number of enemy forces. Other times you may need to retrieve vital information from a lockbox. Missions themselves are also created on procedurally generated maps, so there’s a near infinite variety of content available.
The overall objective, however, is to reduce the influence of the four corporations who are active in Sector 451 of Conglomerate City. Each successful mission will reduce that influence by several points, and each failed mission will increase said influence, though from what I can tell failure doesn’t seem to change influence by as many points as success does, so you’ve got some wiggle room.
The art and ambiance of the missions themselves is, I feel, one area where Conglomerate 451 shines. The falling rain, dark back alleys, and bright neon signs definitely all check the boxes of what I’m looking for in a cyberpunk game. It feels like you’re walking around in Bladerunner. Sometimes, a little too much, admittedly.
Et tu Deckard?
Unfortunately, that’s about the only redeeming aspect of the game as it stands so far. The combat to me felt clunky, at best. I also felt that, while I do like the background art, and the individual character models look pretty cool, there’s a certain discordance between them. I didn’t feel like some of the enemies really ‘belonged’ in the setting. I’m only guessing here, but it feels like two distinctly different art departments at work, and that they didn’t really coordinate or corroborate. It just didn’t mesh well for me, and this detracted a good deal from the game.
There’s a hacking mini-game during missions that you engage in by approaching a terminal, but there’s no tutorial whatsoever, and no clue as to what you’re supposed to be accomplishing. I tried getting past this a couple times by randomly clicking things, but I never did figure it out, and the consequences for failure, such as additional harder enemies, or the inability to use your map, just don’t make it even worth attempting.
What is even happening here?!
So, I’m sad to say, that this just isn’t something I’m really eager to give a thumbs up on. Maybe it’s because the methodology of a grid based RPG feels dated, or maybe it’s the discordance of the art styles, or it could be the mild case of tinnitus I think I might have setting in. Mayhaps some combination of the above. Granted, at $15.99 USD on Steam, you’re not out too much if it doesn’t end up being your thing, but if you’re looking for something to give you that cyberpunk fix until Cyberpunk 2077 is released (fingers crossed going into E3 2019 we’ll hear more on that front!), I regretfully suggest you look elsewhere.