by Preston Dozsa
reviewed on PC
So before he up and died, Leonardo Da Vinci discovered that the egg yolk from chickens can be used to create metamatter - a macguffin that can literally create anything. It can power impossible technologies, create massive spaceships that travel as fast or faster than light, and can be a versatile breakfast item when needed. The world at large promptly used this technology, after creating gigantic henhouses to harvest the yolk, colonize outer space. Old grudges die hard however, and the medieval powers of the 18th century are constantly embroiled in a state of war for control of space. And to top it off, chickens are slowly becoming aware of their servitude and turning into a sentient race that wants to free themselves of their slavery at the hands of humans.
If you’re not confused, congratulations, you exist in this bonkers reality. If you’re everyone else, welcome to the world of Conflicks: Revolutionary Space Battles, an RTS from Artifice Studio. It’s weird, unique in premise and gameplay and more than a little bit mad. But it’s not quite revolutionary.
John Locke's brain
Despite how much I adore the premise - and I absolutely love how bonkers it is - the actual story feels rote. You are guided from mission to mission across multiple characters around the chunk of space the game takes place in, with little more than three of four pages of exposition between each mission. The characters seem interesting, particularly the Spanish monk Octavio, yet they are lacking in depth and feel like caricatures by the time the credits roll. There is dialogue in the missions themselves, though it is usually reserved for a snappy quip rather than anything that could expand the setting or characters
All's not lost however. The setting and lore of Conflicks was more than enough to keep me interested in the game itself. The retro-futuristic versions of Medieval and Renaissance European Empires such as Britain, France, Spain and the Ottomans is intriguing, as are the myriad of steampunk inspired inventions that occasionally pop up in game (my favourite being a smoking pipe that also emits holographic messages). The tutorial teacher is an owl with the transplanted brain of English philosopher John Locke, or more specifically, 95% of Locke’s gray matter. Musketeers still exist in space France. One character can create clones of herself... just because. Charm is overflowing from this game and helpfully buoys the thin plot and characterization.
As an RTS, it is interesting that Conflicks manages to redefine how the genre can be played while still maintaining the tropes that have existed in the genre for decades. Base building and resource harvesting exist, with units being made from your flagship while harvesters collect yolk from giant planets specifically designed for the purpose. Yolk serves two purposes: it allows for the building of units and serves as the resource by which your units move and use abilities. And while yolk is collected at a fast rate, when you move all of your units at once and discover that you can’t build anything else, resource management becomes necessary.
Speaking of movement, in order for any unit to move around the map, you have to ‘flick’ them. In other words, dragging the ship in the opposite direction as your intended destination and letting go. The same is true for abilities such as torpedoes, though there are some that simply require you to click an area as well. Ships normally attack automatically when an enemy enters their range, so no need to worry about flicking madly to fire off shots.
What these gameplay elements result in is a slow paced game that takes a great deal of time to get used to. After spending some hours with it, I’m not sure as to whether it is a good thing or not. Combined, they make Conflicks novel, yet it is not particularly enjoyable.
There are moments where the system works. For example, if you hit a ship or asteroid at the correct angle, the ship can become caught in a planets gravity well and crash to the surface or cause the asteroid to bounce around off ships like a destructive game of pool. These moments are the highlight of the game, yet it takes a great deal of work and guesswork for those moments to actually happen. Most of the time, I attached a few ships together via tractor beams and threw them at the enemy, with autofire and torpedoes taking care of the rest. By the end of the game I was rushing through things as I tried to move past the slow combat as quickly as possible. It’s not bad, but it’s not that good either.
What is bad is the graphical presentation. The aesthetic is wonderful, yet it is blemished by how most things look in game. Zoomed out on a backdrop of generic space, it is difficult to appreciate the details on the ships and planets and so forth. Zoomed in, and the game looks unpleasant, with jagged edges and details that are not pleasing to the eye.
Conflicks: Revolutionary Space Battles is a strange game with an even stranger gameplay system. It meshes together in weird, uneven ways, yet it fundamentally functions well and has more than enough charm to carry it through its messes. I don’t know if I’ll play it again, but I don’t regret playing it in the time I did.
Premise, interesting reinvention of RTS mechanics
Lack of plot and character development, slow paced gameplay