Thursday, 26 March 2020 16:43

Conglomerate 451 Review

Written by

Edited by: Jade Swann

Welcome to the Dystopia

Conglomerate 451, developed by RuneHeads and published by 1C Entertainment, is a procedurally generated first-person sci-fi dungeon crawler. You play as the director of a MegaCorp tasked with clearing Sector 451 of gang activity and bringing it back under governmental control. To do this, you're given a suite of cloning technologies and a handful of resources to produce disposable soldiers in your war for Sector 451. Along the way, you will gather more resources, research new technologies, and fight your way across the city.

Human Resources

The core conceit of Conglomerate 451 is the use of clones to scour dungeons for loot and experience. Despite the name, each clone is unique or at least has the chance to be. Each clone represents a specific class ranging from your standard tanks and DPSes to more unique niches like the drug-addled Juicer and the hacking-focused Techie. Each also has a suite of eight skills to choose from at the time of cloning and various DNA permutations to add tailored benefits to a given clone. There is also a chance that your clone gains a special perk upon creation, usually triggered when they score a critical hit in combat.

Further complementing the versatility of your roster are SPUs. These are items found in the world that you can slot into weapons, armor, and cybernetic upgrades to varying effects. Now, this seems all well and good, but the enhancements are predominantly static statistical increases, with very few being conditional effects that might change up how you play. What might have added some variety is the ability for your agents to hack their opponents. These hacks run off of chips found in the world, but these predominantly are also either straight statistical buffs or debuffs.

The combat skills could also add variety were the combat not so rudimentary. As it stands, skills fall into five categories: healing, buff, damage, damage with a debuff, and AOE damage. Now, you can move about the battlefield during combat at the cost of all of your agents' turns, but the skills don't ever play with things like spacing, flanking, or anything more strategic than "does more damage when the target has X debuff." Further, the high cost of moving drastically weakens your action economy. That's a whole round where you won't damage your opponent, but they get free hits on you. To make matters even worse, your agents are all stuck in a single grid-based square. Your opponents, however, are free to move about the battlefield unimpeded. This means your opponents can flank you, meaning you will have to constantly turn your facing to see what they're up to. While flanking confers no bonuses and turning is free, it is annoying and disrupts your AOE attacks.


Now, there is a whole meta-layer to consider as well. Running a MegaCorporation is not cheap and will need all the resources your agents can pull in from the field. After fights, enemies have a chance to drop loot orbs that contain varying amounts of the game's three currencies, as well as SPU's and hacking chips. Credits and tech are your two major chokepoints. Almost everything costs some amount of those two resources. Personally, I found myself more hurting for tech than credits. For example, new research and agent upgrades cost both. Healing your agents from physical trauma, measured by a stat called Pain, and mental illness, measured by a stat called Intoxication, requires only credits. The third resource, Lifine, doesn't seem to be used much at all and shows up the least. In my five and a half hour run of the game, which admittedly made it nowhere near to the end, I used Lifine once for a special event.

Every time you send your agents into the city, it takes a week. During this week, if you assigned any research projects, they will complete, and any agents you assigned to be healed will come back at least partially so. You will also have the chance to see special events. These can be small blurbs of news to push the narrative forward to small decisions to expend resources or not for various benefits or detriments. The missions themselves take place within the city. Generally, they amount to "search the map for a given item to click on," or "search the map for a specific enemy to kill," with little variation. When starting a mission, you can either choose to start in the city proper, which serves as an opening map where you can buy and sell items and gain resources from fights or start right in the mission sector, skipping all that. During my time, I never saw a reason to skip the opening map, as I always found myself hurting for resources.

The Blunt Edge

Now, all this is well and good, if a bit bland, but where Conglomerate 451 really falls apart is in the execution. The game reeks of lack of polish. While visually the maps, characters, and world can be easy to look at, it's when they start moving that things get uncanny. In their quarters, your agents will stare off blindly into the middle distance in various poses, rocking back and forth as if anxious to be anywhere else. Enemies will sidestep awkwardly into the frame, never really moving their weapons and never taking their eyes off of your agents. Attacks, in general, lack a sense of weight and the sound design does nothing to help this. Blows connect with a sound somewhere between a crashing modem and a dying cat, and enemies and agents alike cycle between perhaps three different pained grunts. Worse yet is your AI drone companion, Ego. She's with you always, and in-universe is how you watch over your agents in the field. She is also relentlessly annoying. Half of her interjections are far too long, and they play at the open and close of any fight. Considering ninety percent of the gameplay is fighting, you will hear Ego mention her Tetris high score, complain about how your agents' neon suits are an eyesore, and quip about how she doesn't want to quip more times than you'll like. Worse, she'll chime in mid-battle if you haven't been using your hacking abilities enough for her taste, while you're walking around if you have low shields, or sometimes just randomly. Mercifully, the developers added an audio slider specifically for her, so while her comments will still appear in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, you won't have to hear them dictated.

This doesn't even account for the few common bugs that I encountered during gameplay. During an enemy turn, it would sometimes take upwards of half a minute for the AI to decide what it actually wanted to do and execute its move. Occasionally, the sound would glitch out and not play the door opening sound on particular doors. Sometimes this would be from both directions, and sometimes it would be from only one. Other times, when the AI was repositioning, it would get stuck on the level geometry, constantly trying to sidle into place until some invisible turn timer clicked over, and it gave up. While none of these are really game-breaking, I found myself bored enough traversing the halls that they all started to stand out. Really, they don't hold a candle to my biggest bugbear. While it may not be a bug, it certainly seems outside the game's usual parameters. Now, usually encounters are with one to three enemies. In one circumstance, two groups of enemies spawned close enough together to attack at once. It was my soon-to-be-doomed three agents versus five enemies. I lost a whole squad, my highest level agents, to something that I could neither predict nor prepare for. There is no fleeing in Sector 451, there is only inevitability and death.


The Verdict: Flawed

If you're dying for a new dungeon crawler or just want one with a sci-fi twist, Conglomerate 451 is serviceable. However, if you aren't a big fan of the genre or want something with tactical depth, you would do better to look elsewhere.

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John Gerritzen

John Gerritzen is a programmer by education, author by hobby, and game critic by occupation. While he usually favors RPGs, he will play anything that engages him narratively or mechanically. When he's not playing games for fun or profit, he's usually reading or watching anime.


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