REVIEW / Convoy (PC)

 

Post-apocalyptic driving seems to be pretty popular at the moment, what with Mad Max blowing up at the box office. So a Mad Max styled homage to one of the most popular roguelikes, FTL, seems like the best combination since Tina Turner and Mel Gibson got together, right? In Convoy, your spaceship crashes and needs parts to get you back to your home planet. So you head off in your Main Convoy Vehicle (MCV) over a hex grid world to collect parts to fix her up. As you would expect, there are various factions on the planet that would rather rob you than help you.

 

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We don’t need another hero…

The main game is mainly split between two interfaces – the hex map world you travel around to complete missions and the tactical combat screen where you control your vehicles and battle enemies. The latter is also similar when you stop at a camp and repair/upgrade your vehicles. You start with a vehicle or two to protect your MCV and you can add more to the convoy, upgrade weapons, armor, equipment and so forth. Although it’s a very small part of the game, Convoy is fun here in the same way most games are fun when you spend your credits, check your loot and upgrade your gear. Having more control over upgrading armor or shields would help (rather than both or none), but otherwise it works well to reward.

Stating your game is inspired by Mad Max is fine, if not coincidentally timed. Stating your game is inspired by FTL is also fine, but such a statement will inevitably draw comparison, and in this case, criticism. In reality the similarities are mostly superficial. Whilst the art style is recognizably similar, the strategic elements, story writing, events and fundamental gameplay choices are very different – and not in a good way. Convoy masquerades as FTL. It’s simply not fair to say Convoy is FTL with cars and trucks – it can’t compete. The writing is really quite poor and very cliche – you feel one of the programmer’s wrote the dialogue. Plus, obscure references to contemporary science-fiction might raise a smirk for some, but Convoy’s ‘Flux Capacitor’ and ‘Sonic Screws’ are about as subtle as a truck.

 

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We don’t need to know the way home…

Roguelikes are known to be tough games, but Convoy doesn’t necessarily make your quest tough, just random. Regardless of your decision, the outcome feels arbitrary. In FTL, losing a member of your crew to an event is not fun, but you can cope with it – it just means you may not get the same level of bonus from having a member of crew. But with Convoy, losing a vehicle (that you may have spent a lot of resources on) is much, much worse – you’re losing a massive chunk of your combat ability and effectiveness. And it seems to happen too often. It changes the way you play the entire game. You invest less in any one vehicle and spread out your abilities. Convoy forces you to play the game a certain way if you want to be efficient; don’t build a cool vehicle with nice weapons, that’s expensive, build a lot of average ones and then improve them equally.

At first I thought there was a lot of tactical scope in Convoy’s battles, but I quickly realized combat was superficial. In FTL, you feel like you need to pause the game to assess your tactical options and also in Convoy I began most fights this way. However, after a dozen or so encounters, I began to pause less and less. Many enemies try and move out of range if they are being damaged, meaning new orders for your vehicles yet again. What happens is the constant need to click on-screen to direct your vehicle to follow an enemy vehicle. Therefore pausing served no purpose. There’s a serious lack of AI here and it can lead to a daft chase across the screen until the enemy vehicle is destroyed. It feel less like a tactical encounter and more like Cow Clicker.

 

 

In addition, more often than not enemy vehicles don’t return fire, they just keep plugging away at your MCV in some kind of kamikaze attack. Added to this is the fact that you may even have another more powerful vehicle pounding away at them from the other side of the screen that they also ignore. It becomes a little bit ridiculous in terms of tactics and simply ends as a DPS race.

Despite failing to match FTL, it’s not all bad. Convoy has some good elements. The idea of a ‘moving battlefield’ is great. How do you take advantage of the terrain? How can you position your vehicles to force an enemy into hitting a building? How long do you hold off using that stun weapon in order to cause an enemy to crash? You also get a lot of options in terms of choosing which weapon types to buy and which vehicles to use against specific enemies. But again, the real problem is, your choices often feel irrelevant and the outcomes arbitrary – you can lose (or gain) an entire vehicle from a choice in a random text box encounter, enemies ignore your attacks and just suicide run on your MCV, and tactical creativity never seems to be more effective than maneuvering your vehicles so that enemies crash.

 

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All we wanted was a rooooooooguelike, to play at home

Ultimately there is some original and creative potential here. If you like roguelikes it’s worth watching Convoy’s development and that of its creators to see where things go next. Right now though, you’re probably better off imagining how good it could be, then playing another game of FTL.

 

 

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