Conglomerate 451 Preview

If you simply shrug at the idea of another grid-based roguelike dungeon crawler, you might want to check out Conglomerate 451, now in early access. If the number in the title suggests an oblique nod to Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel, it’s probably not coincidental. Conglomerate 451 is set in a cyberpunk future, and welds the mechanics of games like Darkest Dungeon or Legend of Grimrock to Blade Runner’s aesthetics.

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Like a number of games, Conglomerate 451’s story is pretty bare bones and lacks a compelling narrative beyond the game’s premise: you have the ability to manipulate clones and create teams of essentially disposable agents to fight the minions of various corrupt corporations that have taken control over the city. Of course, your clones have all manner of weapons, special abilities, cybernetic augmentations and biomechanical implants to make them more powerful. Successful completions of missions earns credits which can be applied across a number of skill trees. Unlike some of its brethren in the genre, there are not many collectibles along the way. This is not a loot-heavy game, all the more disappointing considering that Conglomerate 451 requires multiple runs though previously explored areas simply to grind for credits/XP.

Although there is a degree of depth in the way agents can be upgraded, mission structure is simplistic: your team must explore a series of bland corporate spaces — i.e. dungeons — kill the enemies and collect the reward at the end. Movement is grid-based and more than a little frustrating. Conglomerate 451 is colorful in a futuristic sort of way but graphics are relatively rudimentary by contemporary standards for the genre. Individual enemies are interestingly animated but like the environments, they aren’t very imaginative.

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Conglomerate 451s combat is turn-based and obviously the core of the game. Unfortunately, it is also slow and buggy, and not yet well balanced. Pulling ideas from other games, such as Fallout’s VATS, enemy body parts can be targeted, which adds a little tactical interest to the encounters. Your team and enemy squads take turns firing conventional and futuristic weapons at each other, healing, buffing and occasionally taking swings with primitive melee weapons. If a clone dies in combat, they’re dead and you must add a new and undeveloped clone to the team, a la X-Com. Because combat is from a first-person view, you never actually see your team in action (outside of their generic-looking portraits), so all their cool toys and upgrades only exist as effects during combat. It should also be noted that every combat situation is underscored by the same kind of hyperactive, grating techno music that only goes to highlight how plodding encounters can be.

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What Conglomerate 451 lacks right now is a really strong hook that will pull the player into the game and through its rougher patches. Given its early access state, we can expect that bug fixes and balancing will be addressed. What is less certain is whether Conglomerate 451’s narrative will ever come into focus, or missions will be less grindy and more varied. We need more games in the Cyberpunk space, but we also need them to take a few more chances and not cling to quite so many mechanics that have been done better in other games.