by Dr. Marker
Set in a dark, seedy, Cyberpunk future Conglomerate 451 is a turned based rogue-like RPG that on it’s face feels like someone putting XCOM and Shadowrun into a Blender and hitting the puree switch.
You assume the role of the ‘Director’ of a newly established agency who’s main task is to….er…well, world building is definitely not this game’s strong suit and the first of many issues that in all honesty made playing enough of this game to be able to give a fair review of it feel like an endurance test.
Many of these sorts of games will typically start you off with a very clear long term goal or a strong motivation to begin your adventure and manage your group, Xcom sets up very clearly that the future of humanity is in your hands, Mordheim lures you in with the promises of wealth, power and glory if you can brave the deepest reaches of the city, Darkest Dungeon sets you up with the looming threat and mystery of a Lovecraftian horror on the horizon.
I could go on.
The point being that one of the most important things that a game needs to do if it expects you to get engrossed and sink a lot of time into learning and mastering it’s mechanics is sell you on that initial premise and Conglomerate falls very flat in this regard, after your initial training mission (which fails regardless of what you do, it’s intended to be impossible) you’re brought into the office of your superior and congratulated on failing the mission, told it was a ‘Kobayashi Maru’ (for those not familiar with Star Trek, a training mission that is intended to see how prospective captains deal with ‘no win’ scenarios, the idea being that many will try to figure out ways to cheat the system and turn the impossible situation into a success) and are awarded with the title of Director and given command of your own secret agency, a cloning lab with which to create field agents and various staff under your command (quite the impressive haul for someone who’s only notable accomplishment so far is failing a training exercise).
After going through the basic tutorials explaining things like cloning (basically soldier recruitment, more on this in a bit), research and general base management you’ll be sent off on your first proper mission for which the outcome actually matters, giving you the option of either dropping off a small distance away from the objective to allow you to acquire more resources for your agency, mostly credits, tech points and items that can be looted from mobs or bought from vendors provided you have the funds and reputation level.
This is actually an area of the game I quite like, the idea that you can choose to add an extra area to the mission for the sake of gathering more resources or allowing you some extra room to experiment with different characters, learning combos of skills and classes that work well before you have to commit yourself to the real mission, it’s a bit bare bones at present (like I said, just vendors and basic enemy mobs) but a decent concept that’s ripe for expansion (especially in a Cyberpunk setting where you could add in things like navigation, investigation, side jobs, hiring mercs and backup, setting up gang wars etc.).
For people who only care about the dungeon delving and mechanics, they are solid for the most part, standard turn based RPG fare that will be familiar to most fans of the genre although even here there are sadly cracks that show through, the idea of your different characters having different ranges makes sense and in theory adds an extra tactical depth to class combinations and the way encounters play out but this is something severely kneecapped by the fact that your units all have to move together as a single squad occupying one square on the grid (due to the game’s first person perspective), resulting in a situation where you either need to spend your first turn rushing into the enemy’s face to make sure all of your characters can attack (defeating the point of any bonus you might have gotten from ambushing the enemy or any benefit that sniper skills might offer) or you can stand at a distance to take advantage of the sniper skills…only for two thirds of your party who all have short range abilities to be left with nothing to do but twiddle their thumbs until the enemy run up to brain them with a neon baseball bat.
Combat also felt very protracted and drawn out, attack damage felt like a roulette wheel at times with lowly snap shots from my hacker’s pistol sometimes getting lucky and disintegrating an opponent and at other times a critical head-shot with a sniper against an enemy who’s been set up with marks and a radiation debuff would barely take scratch damage, followed by the tendency of almost every basic enemy you don’t engage in gross overkill on to enter a ‘dying’ state when killed, forcing you to commit an extra attack to finish them off or risk them getting back up again with a small bit of health, an occurrence that rarely added much in the way of difficulty but left me with a distinct feeling of a game that doesn’t respect my time and is inclined to try and waste it in the name of padding out mission length.
In the middle of missions you will also encounter interactive elements that can be hacked by your agents in order to open doors without keycards (and thus skip huge chunks of levels) or obtain extra gear and loot, in theory I like this idea, it’s very fitting with the Cyberpunk theme and allows certain classes to have utility on missions not directly tied to combat but in practice the mini-games for hacking are either laughably simple (doors basically offer no resistance whatsoever), frustratingly hard (the wire cutting game didn’t make sense when I first read the tutorial and it still felt like arbitrary failure when I put the game down for the last time) or have good ideas marred by questionable execution (code extraction being a tale of frustration familiar to anyone who’s mis-clicked a link on their web browser), overall, I only pushed myself to try and experiment with these elements for the sake of review, they didn’t add anything significant to the mission structure or layout and the fault lays entirely with the execution.
For people who prefer more of the Xcom style base construction/management side of things I’m afraid the bad news doesn’t end there, there is no base building element, your agency begins already pre-established with the only advancements or developments being unlocked via spending money and points via a tech tree.
I am a sucker for a good tech tree in games but this enthusiasm was dampened somewhat when I learned that tech points, the second currency with which you need to unlock research and base upgrades is also used for upgrading pretty much everything in the entire game from giving your troops slightly bigger guns (with a fresh blue paint job) to injecting some custom researched DNA into your new agents in order to make them suck slightly less and as such I found myself suddenly mentally queuing up a list of things that could be fun or useful but I evidently wouldn’t be allowed until I’d done my homework, eaten my vegetables and mowed the lawn for Mr. Rogers down the street.
Now Xcom also had a certain level of legwork needed before you got all the big, shiny toys but the payoff felt a lot more proportional to the work invested, finally being able to outfit your otherwise outclassed and hapless troopers with laser rifles that could actually put them on somewhat even ground with the aliens felt like a major turning point, like the war had suddenly gone from a slow, inevitable defeat to something you could actually win, it was a memorable moment…Conglomerate gave my soldier’s minigun a blue paint job and +3% base damage and accuracy, I don’t think I need to elaborate much more on why that’s disappointing.
The researchable DNA profiles you can give your agents in order to better mould them for certain roles is an interesting idea on paper, you could modify your snipers to make them the perfect marksmen, make your soldiers inherently armoured and resistant to the various elements and statuses that would debilitate their allies, give your hackers and specialists more mental focus with which to better concentrate and push their abilities to the limits…except you can only ever pick one for each clone and the bonuses are honestly nothing special on top of costing tech points (refer to what I was talking about earlier) several thousand tech points for a measly +10 to aim that will likely become completely irrelevant by the time they’ve gone up a couple of levels and got a bit of gear just feels like another hole to throw money down in order to push you into more and more grinding rather than an enticing use of this otherwise fascinating concept.
I could likely go on a ranting tirade for many, many more pages (don’t get me started about your AI companion who just will not shut up for love nor money and will remind you for the 37th time in the last 5 minutes that they want to be back home in time for the Chronoball finals) but overall my point could be surmised as Conglomerate 451 is a game that has an inherently great concept that I should love but misses the mark hard on execution, I cannot in good conscience recommend this game in it’s current state.
Overall Score – 4/10
TL;DR: A game with some interesting ideas that fails to capitalise on them, making for a sadly frustrating experience.