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Vicious Circle Review

Thinking about the long history Rooster Teeth has in online entertainment, it makes perfect sense that they would finally release a game of their own under their newly founded development studio. I still remember laughing hysterically to their early episodes of Red vs. Blue when I was in high school and in love with the Halo franchise.

I’ve always enjoyed the sense of humor that Rooster Teeth brings to their content, and their debut video game is no exception. Vicious Circle puts a silly and chaotic twist on the asymmetric multiplayer genre. At this point, many gamers have experienced the structure of one player controlling a big, powerful character against a team of less powerful champions that have to work as a team to win, but they’ve never done it as a mutated space-chicken.

That, combined with the simultaneous competitive/co-op gameplay between survivors, is essentially Vicious Circle’s elevator pitch. While there are games like Dead by Daylight that have seen massive success with this gameplay, I personally remember more flops like Evolve that were fun but lacked any real depth of gameplay. While this game isn’t going to rapidly implode like Evolve did, I have concerns about it’s long term relevance to gamers.

The Vicious Gameplay Circle

The titular circle refers to the core gameplay loop that’s unique to other games in the asymmetric genre. Four survivors with varying offensive and defensive abilities scavenge a ship for “nuggets” to power the extraction zones. Once a survivor has collected 75 nuggets, extraction zones become available and a single player is able to escape. The big bad boss, a giant chicken (rooster?) with a weaponized alien tongue and an acid-loaded-egg launcher, has the simple goal of eliminating all other players before anyone escapes.

The player with the most wins after five rounds wins the match. Pretty simple, right? Well… not exactly.

The nuance in this game comes from the fact that the survivors are competing for the same nuggets, and can steal from one another. Players have to work together just enough so that they don’t get wiped out by the monster, but ultimately they have to stab each other in the back in order to take the round for themselves. They’ll do this by using items to steal nuggets away by throwing a shock grenade at another player, or locking a fellow survivor in a room with the monster as they’re both running away.

And once a survivor gets killed by the monster, it’s not game over. Upon death, survivors will respawn as a Dipper. Dippers are little squid-like creatures that can Spider-Man their way around the map to find a new host, a surviving player. Once they attach themselves to a survivor, they take over their body and can resume playing as that character, swapping roles with their victim.

Depending on how good the survivor is at escaping and hiding, this swap can happen several times in a single round, making it quite a… vicious… circle.

Moral, but boring progression

In an age where you can get good press as a games company for simply choosing not to gouge people out of their money, it’s important to note that Vicious Circle has a decent lineup of unlockable cosmetics that are not purchasable. There’s no money to be spent in Vicious Circle after you buy the game itself. That’s a relief.

However, I found the cosmetic progression to be quite unremarkable. Some of the skins are cool, but unlocking them isn’t all that fun. As far as I can tell, everything is unlocked by simply filling up an experience bar after every match. Leveling up rewards you with character skins, voice lines, and emotes. There are some decent looking cosmetics in there, but there’s absolutely no presentation around leveling up or acquiring any of the cool stuff. For the first couple hours I played, I didn’t know I was unlocking anything until I happen to fiddle around in the menus enough to stumble across the inventory.

To put it bluntly, this game moves too fast and allows too little downtime to admire cosmetics and goofy emotes, unless you count the brief starting area. There’s just not enough ebb to go along with the chaotic flow of gameplay, but that’s an issue that goes deeper than cosmetics.

Gametime is a flat circle

It didn’t take long for me to realize that after only an hour and having tried all the game’s survivors, I had experienced just about everything the game had to offer. The same could be said of many good games, but in the case of Vicious Circle, it’s not about the number of playable characters or maps, although there being only one playable monster is concerning, the problem is in the gameplay loop itself.

I was really hoping for more wild exchanges of blows with the monster, cleverly ducking corners and recovering from blows. In reality, you’re just avoiding the charge ability that can one-shot you and hoping someone else in the room chooses to attack the chicken as well. Character design is so basic and bland that there seems to be very little nuance to the combat, just a lot of noise.

Speaking of noise, playing as the constantly blabbering Dipper can be an irritating experience. They sound like a Minion that’s enthusiastically launching into a coke bender and they will not shut up and let you focus on the game.

Movement feels a bit slick, like you’re running around on ice, and I’ve never played a game that needs a mantle function so badly. The number of times that I got killed by the chicken because I couldn’t jump over a ledge that appeared to be chest height was aggravating. 

Playing as a survivor, you are essentially choosing between which weapon you like and which escape ability you like. Captain Boom was the first character that stuck with me, as his invulnerability shield seemed overpowered at times. If you can find the right loop to run and time your shield right, the monster has no chance at doing damage to you, let alone kill you.

Boom’s loadout just seems so much stronger than everyone else in the game. Blinking away as Blitz can be fun, but because the chicken sees you everywhere you go, it’s tough to escape effectively on foot. If you’re hiding the entire game, you’re probably not keeping pace with nugget collection. If you’re running too often, you’re being chased by a giant one-shot machine. The pacing of each round seems so all over the place and I really struggled to consistently have fun because of it.

5

The Verdict: Fair

Vicious Circle is a game that’s bold in the twist it’s putting on the genre, but the design of the game just doesn’t seem as clever as it’s base idea. I wouldn’t say that Vicious Circle is a bad game, but it just doesn’t do enough to stand out beyond its classic Rooster Teeth comedic flair. With some changes to the character design and overall pace of gameplay, then I could see a solid little indie title coming out of Vicious Circle. But, ultimately, this game’s hook is more shallow than I was hoping it would be.

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Adam Wheeler
Written by
Tuesday, 10 September 2019 04:32
Published in FPS

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Adam Wheeler loves his computer, his cat, and his work-from-home lifestyle. When he feels the motivation to put on pants, he tells jokes on stage. With no real distractions in his life (friends, relationships, a reason to go outdoors, etc.), he is able to provide in-depth analysis of games and the culture that surrounds them. Adam almost never has anything better to do.

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