EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Quinn Levandoski
previewed on PC
I Think I’m a Clone Now
While dungeon crawlers will rightfully conjure images of knights, wizards, and, well, actual dungeons for most, the genre does sometimes stretch out beyond those genre confinements. In Conglomerate 451, you’ll trade swords for rockets and sniper rifles, monsters for robots and androids, and castles for a neon-lit cyberpunk city desperately in need of some order. The titular city of Conglomerate is in dire straights. This dingy, dangerous city of the future is slipping out of the control of the government (when’s the last time the government has been the good guy in a cyberpunk game?) and is instead divided into districts controlled by various corporations. You, the player, are granted emergency permission to use human cloning technology to build a cyber-enhanced squad of soldiers to push out the corporations and bring the city back to order one mission at a time.
As the premise implies, managing clones is a big part of success in Conglomerate 451. While you’ll initially only have three classes to pick from, two more eventually open up, and each class has a handful of unique abilities from which you can create each soldier’s four-move loadout. Progression from there will be familiar to those experienced with games like XCOM. Abilities can be upgraded, but you’ll have to manage and fund upgrade trees that unlock offensive abilities, defensive abilities, medical procedures, and cybernetic upgrades. There are a lot of tactical possibilities there, though some trees and customization types are still locked at this stage of development. Even so, I had fun trying to maximize squad synergy as the missions became more demanding. This is complicated by the fact that each mission only yields a modest amount of currency, a hefty amount of which is required for both research and medical treatment. Ignoring upgrades to consistently treat injuries will keep your clones performing to the best of their ability, but they’ll soon find themselves too underpowered to take on new missions. Skimp too much on medical treatment, though, and injuries will become permanent, significantly hampering your troops for the rest of the game. It’s a delicate balancing act and one that I myself didn’t do too particularly well with early in my playthrough.
Navigating the Concrete Jungle
Navigating the city of conglomerate is a pretty standard grid-based affair. Each mission takes place in a procedurally generated “dungeon,” (see: city block) in which you’ll move around one grid at a time, turning only in 90-degree snaps. There’s also a free camera that lets the player look around from wherever they’re standing, but at this point it doesn’t really serve much of a purpose. With only one city sector available at this point in development there isn’t as much variety in level design and look as I’m sure there will be in the full release, but it’s still a very pretty game to look at. The environments are suitable seedy, with dingy walls, fog, and the bright shine of neon intermixing to make the environment feel like something not unlike Blade Runner. Enemies and combat effects are also already pretty good, though I would like to see some representation of my clones during gameplay. While the game is presented in first person, you’ll never actually see any part of the three clones making up your squad. Instead of seeing bullets, blasts, and effects just project out from behind the camera, it’d really help immersion to see the weapon, hands, or tools of the clones that are acting.
On your missions, combat is generally necessary at some point, but it can often be partially avoided with careful exploration. With the random generation of levels I’d sometimes have mobs waiting for me right around the first few corners, while other times I was able to find whatever I was looking for within minutes and before any foes crossed my path. Unfortunately, right now, there isn’t much to do during missions besides fight and hack (a brief minigame which lets you select a perk like increased currency in chests or a filled out map). The developers have promised a few more gameplay mechanics that’ll make their way in (right now, for example, there are drug stalls, but they can’t be interacted with). Loot is also lacking, coming only as credits or tech. I’d love to see cyber enhancements and other goodies sprinkled around, as right now I never felt compelled to explore the rest of the map after completing an objective, removing much of the drive for exploration often so crucial to dungeon crawlers.
Modern Dungeons Require Modern Solutions
Fortunately, given how central combat is to Conglomerate 451, fighting already feels really good. Unlike games such as the two semi-recent Legend of Grimrock crawlers, combat here is turn based. Anyone familiar with the modern Fallout games will feel right at home, as each player attacks enemies in what looks and feels almost identical to the VATS system. It’s a great start, and it was easy and satisfying to work through combat scenarios. I spent a good amount of time tweaking abilities based on initiative, and there’s little more satisfying than nailing a damage up-mark-killshot to take out a big bad in one hit. That being said, it isn’t perfect. Like I mentioned above, it’d be cool if I could actually see my clones during combat. First person is cool for immersion, but it pulled me out to have explosives and effect just flying in from off-screen. I’d also appreciate the ability to move as a turn. Enemies can maneuver, but the player can’t. Having the choice to forgo and attack or buff the get a melee enemy out of my line of sight to a shooter, or charging forward to get up in someone’s grill would add another layer of strategy as one would have to take into account where to fight and not just if to fight.
Early Access titles seem to fall into one of two camps. Some implement most all of their features right away, forgoing depth for breadth, while others chose to slowly add full-featured sections of the game as they become ready. Conglomerate 451 falls mostly into the second category, though there’s still plenty to play with. I like Conglomerate 451. It’s a fun game with lots of tactical possibility and engaging presentation. Whether or not enough of those things are currently available to make the game worthy of your money at this stage of development is going to depend on what you want. What’s there plays well and feels polished, though, and as long as you aren’t expecting something you can sink dozens of hours into at this point, I don’t have a problem recommending this game to those looking to scratch a dungeon crawler or cyberpunk itch.
There are no guarantees - but we'd bet our own money on this one. If you're going to take a chance with yours, odds are good this one will deliver.