Cyberpunk games are one of my favorite genres of video games, and I spent a lot of time playing Syndicate back in the ’90s. Conglomerate 451, an early Access cyberpunk-themed title from developer Runeheads and inspired by both old-school dungeon crawlers and roguelike games, reminds me of those experiences. Conglomerate 451 takes place in a near future world where corrupt corporations threaten section 451 of Conglomerate city. Players act as the new director of a secretive agency that uses clone soldiers to carry out missions. The game incorporates elements of espionage and some resource management as the player builds the clone soldiers and approves research in order to upgrade them.
When a player starts Conglomerate 451 they’re greeted by some great techno music and a robot assistant who introduces the player to the agency. The player can name their agency whatever they want to so I named my agency the Tyrell Corporation. The agency encompasses different departments such as cloning, research and health, and overall gameplay is divided between espionage and resource management. As the director, the player deals with several different currencies such as credits: tech, and lifeine. The most valuable currency to earn in the game seems to be tech since it is used to pay for most of the research and cloning. I found that credits didn’t have much value since nothing could be bought with credits alone. I am not sure what lifeine is for as I never was able to earn any. I hope the final game makes a change to currency system because the current one seems one sided.
Players get three clone types at the beginning: soldier, infiltrator, and drifter. Once the player builds up a large enough reputation they unlock additional classes and can send clones out on solo, two-person, or eventually three-person teams. Each mission targets a different corporation, taking away their influence on the city. These missions can be very rewarding, but aren’t interactive and lack variety. I felt like I was doing the same thing over and over again, just with different backgrounds.
When the clone teams hits the ground the player can direct where they move and how they fight. The game reminded me of the Might and Magic games which consist of a first-person view with portraits of the characters along the bottom of the screen. I believe this is what RuneHeads means when they talk about dungeon crawler games. Players move the clone team in a grid pattern, and the clone’s jerky movement makes the game feel slow, especially since the characters turn at right angles only. While the city itself looks great, it feels empty and lifeless, as the only other people on the streets beside enemies are drug dealers and black marketeers.
Battling enemies is performed through turn-based combat. Clones possess four skills that can be used on their turn; these skills include both support and attack abilities, and all of them can be chosen when the clone is created. Some skills work on any enemy while others work only on either cyborgs or robots, so it’s important to read the flavor text when choosing skills. I found that building teams with different classes is the best strategy since some classes can lower defenses while the other classes use the advantage to score a better hit. The mixed teams can also buff and heal each other more easily.
My biggest complaint with the combat comes from a feeling that the results are too random. I used a clone team for a couple missions which built up their experience and upgrades. They were a pretty good team, but after one freak battle they were all dead. I built up another team but they got killed almost instantaneously. I am not sure where the problem could be, but even when I was winning a battle I sometimes ended up losing everyone because of a freak hit or critical. I don’t attribute the loss to bad decisions, because it just seemed like some enemies scored absurd hits on my clones.
Finally, the game also provides you with hacking abilities. While I won’t go into much detail about this mechanic, it’s worth noting that it feels shallow, as you are limited to hacking into computers. It works fine as is, but I wish the game would allow me to hack into a wider array of technology.
Conglomerate 451 has some great ideas, but it’s definitely a work in progress, which is naturally to be expected in an early access game. Its currency, combat, and hacking mechanics all need polishing, and the city, while beautiful, is in desperate need of more inhabitants. I love the game’s music, though, with its bass blasting beat. All in all, I look forward to seeing the finished product.