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Proper grid-based dungeon crawlers are a rare breed these days while cyberpunk settings and roguelike elements are all the rage. So, when RuneHeads and 1C Entertainment announced Conglomerate 451 - a game that combines all of the above - we promptly put it on our radar. And with the game now broadly available, we made a point of taking it through its paces to see just how well it ticks each of those boxes.
Systems and Gameplay
Conglomerate 451 puts you in the cybernetically-enhanced shoes of an individual who runs an agency that uses freshly cloned soldiers to deal with corporate insubordination. More often than not, said insubordination is expressed by hiring an endless supply of cyber-thugs and trying to take over a strategically-important district of a futuristic-looking city.
In practical terms this means you and your merry band of bald one-week-olds have to gradually decrease corporate influence throughout the city by going on a series of missions in either an endless mode that lets you fight indefinitely, or a story mode where you have 75 weeks to defeat four major corporations and uncover some truths about the game’s world. Each of the game’s procedurally generated missions takes one week to complete and once you’re done with them, you get one of three endings that offer a short cutscene and serve as a convenient jumping off point for the game.
Between missions, you get to manage a home base similar to something like Darkest Dungeon or the new XCOM titles. You upgrade your squad, research new technologies and maintain medical facilities. To do all this, you have three different resources you earn by doing missions and selling excess gear.
From time to time you will also receive special assignments that allow you to level up some backup troops. On top of that, you will be tasked with decrypting a number of so-called memory echoes. These echoes serve as a bit of a money sink and in return offer some general lore.
The actual missions offer varied but always pretty basic objectives, like kill a certain target, find some item, or wipe out every enemy on the map. These missions are all procedurally-generated, and while the game features a decent number of tilesets, the basic building blocks are fairly limited, which leads to a lot of samey levels.
Before you even get to the mission itself, you’re given a choice to explore the neighborhood surrounding your target. There, you can fight some minor battles and encounter some select vendors. These vendors buy and sell upgrades, hacking software and drugs of all kinds. And while theoretically this adds some extra exploration to your plate, after a while this becomes a chore, since every time you have stuff you want to sell, you need to go and manually explore a new area, which takes time but doesn’t offer any real challenge.
Another thing you can discover during the city sections are these terminals that allow you to influence the upcoming mission in some way. There’s a number of basic options like paying to reveal the map, and some advanced ones that give you a certain bonus in exchange for some added challenge.
Once you actually get to a mission, your squad of three clones has to complete the objective while unlocking or hacking doors, fighting corporate lackeys in a turn-based fashion, looting assorted strongboxes, and scanning the area for secret stashes.
All of the above is fairly competent, but despite that, the game seems to be missing a bit of what makes dungeon crawlers so engaging in the first place. You see, Conglomerate 451 is a very straightforward game. Each of its missions consists of you going down grid-based corridors, fighting a bunch of chromed-up mooks, playing a few hacking mini games, and pressing shift from time to time to highlight all the secret loot.
What you don’t get there are any secrets or puzzles. You don’t have to deal with any traps or mysteries. And even the enemies themselves just sit in pre-determined spots without ever moving, which makes a stealthy approach not exactly viable. All of Conglomerate 451’s roguelike elements also seem limited to procedural generation of levels and perma-death mechanics for your clone troopers.
The game’s loot also deserves a separate mention since as opposed to new gear, you actually loot what is essentially attachments for your existing stuff. You upgrade the gear itself by researching new tech between missions. As a result of this approach, instead of legendary guns, cool item sets, and unique prototype equipment, you simply go around picking up all sorts of color-coded doodads that merely boost your crit chance or damage.
When it comes to combat, on the surface, Conglomerate 451 offers a deep system of cross-class synergies and careful tactical choice where you have to consider your party composition and loadout. In reality, what you have to do is get some tough characters and start spamming their strongest attacks. Provided your gear is half-decent, this will carry you to victory ten times out of ten on the normal difficulty. On hard, you may consider using some drugs or hacking your enemies to boost your squad’s efficiency, but at the end of the day, each fight will still essentially boil down to a gear check.
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