Review: Conglomerate 451
Review copy provided by publisher
I always love to see unique applications of genres, like when RPGs break away from traditional fantasy or puzzle mechanics find their way into unexpected settings. The dungeon crawler genre is admittedly a small one, so its no surprise that most of its big names like Legend of Grimrock stick to familiar ground. That’s why I really look forward to titles like Conglomerate 451, which take the classic grid-crawling and party management into the bright neon of cyberpunk dystopia. It’s a mixing that works remarkably well, and with a little more variety to the missions you undertake in this grim city, it could easily be another cornerstone of the genre.
The city is known simply as the Conglomerate, a nigh-infinite sprawl of glittering office towers, crumbling apartment blocks, and shadowy passages. Corruption in inevitable in a metropolis so vast, and sector 451 is currently bearing the worst of it under the crushing grip of four unchecked corporations. The Senate has granted you the power to form a special agency focused on wresting control from these disaster capitalists, and equipped you with everything a black ops commander needs to raise hell in a cyberpunk hellhole. Your field agents are all cloned from choice DNA, your funds and tech are salvaged from the missions you undertake, and your primary means of influence is deadly force. Build your team right and pick the right missions, and you might just take down these corporate overlords for your government overlords. Ahh, progress.
There are two layers to the gameplay here, and we might as well start with agency management. To complete missions you’ll need field teams, and you make those by cloning and equipping agents. Cloning can be done freely, and takes you through the process of selecting one of ultimately eight classes, picking four active skills from their full repertoire of six to eight, adding any DNA bonuses you may have unlocked via research, and then running them through the bio-printer. Agents are automatically equipped with basic weapons and shields for their class, which you can upgrade with money and tech for basic stat increases, or with SPUs recovered from missions which add more varied bonuses. You can also train up the clone’s base stats, level up their skills, and grant them specializations when they level up from doing enough missions.
As the game progresses you’ll have a wealth of options for tricking out your clones, much of it unlocked either from research or influence. Research is the usual set of tech trees you purchase nodes in using money and tech (both earned from missions), and mainly unlocks new customization options or provides passive bonuses to things. Influence is kind of like an agency level, earned by completing missions, which grants you access to more advanced versions of just about everything. This extends to the missions themselves, which are scattered across five different areas that all must be unlocked at different influence tiers. No matter what you have unlocked, though, you’ll always be offered a selection of three or four randomly-generated missions, targeting one of the four corporations you’re taking down. You might have to find or hack a specific object, kill all enemies present, or take on more complex tasks, and victory means chipping away at the influence of your foes while gaining your own.
Once you’ve picked your mission and assembled a team of three agents, it’s time to hit the mean neon streets. For anyone unfamiliar with traditional dungeon crawlers, this means your group moves as a unit across a grid of tiles as you explore each area. Your enemies are stationary and only attack when you get close, so the rest of the time you’re free to scoot around and look for interactable items and NPCs. Missions are always split into two halves, with the first being at street level with merchants you can hit up for special performance-boosting drugs, extra loot, and programs for your drone which can do all kinds of helpful things. The second half is where you accomplish your mission, and might be set in high-rise apartments, high-tech sewers, sterile offices, and more. Again, you’ll scoot around the grid looking for your objectives and loot, stopping only for the turn-based battles your enemies engage you in.
Combat is the most interesting aspect of Conglomerate 451, because so much of the agent customization goes towards your success here. Battles are entirely turn-based RPG affairs, with initiative determining turn order, enemies moving around your stationary party to close in for melee or cover their partners, status effects like radiation and shock flying around, and some serious tactical considerations to make. Each of the four skills you give your agents is bound to be complex in the Darkest Dungeon way, meaning none of them are a simple “shoot dude” option. Everything does some status effect, gains bonuses off of circumstances, or is limited in range. Attacks can also target specific body parts, which in addition to changing the odds of hitting, affects critical chance and also grants chances for even more special effects depending on what you’re aiming at. With all this to keep track of, fights can be daunting, and quickly ramp up the challenge as you’re expected to optimize your team more and more for future encounters.
There’s a great deal of potential depth to the combat, but less so to the other parts of the game. You’ll find stashes of money and tech if you fully explore mission areas but there are no secrets or collectibles or even notes to find, leaving missions feeling a bit sterile and samey. Mission variety is also lacking, mostly sending you to steal an item or kill enemies. And the maps themselves all look the same for each of the five areas, meaning until you unlock the later ones you’re going to be spending a LOT of time in the same apartments and sewer tunnels. Progression towards that end is pretty grindy, too, with missions only taking five percent or so off of the 100% needed to conquer each of the four corporations. Also if you fail a mission, the opposing corporation gets those percentage points BACK, meaning a streak of bad runs will literally undo a fair bit of your progress.
If you’re here for engaging battles and turn-based tactics though, you’ll have plenty to keep you busy. I haven’t even touched on the mini-games like hacking (a particularly good version of hacking, too) or managing resources like battery and pain for your agents, so there’s even more numbers and dials to fiddle with as you build and grow your teams. It all looks absolutely fantastic, too, with plenty of neon glitz, dystopian squalor, and cyberpunk excess to marvel at as you explore each district. Levels and enemies are colorful and detailed, and there are some pretty bombastic visual effects to accompany your attacks. It’s yet lacking variety in a few important areas but the heart of Conglomerate 451 beats strong, a tactical cyberpunk adventure with enough depth and challenge to keep you corporate raiding for quite a while.