Review: Consortium (PC)

consortium_castConsortium
Publisher: Interdimensional Games, Inc.
Developer: Interdimensional Games, Inc.
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 01/08/2014

Interdimensional Games is doing something a little different with the game within a game motif and applying it to the action RPG much the same way Ubisoft has done with the Assassin’s Creed titles, only applying it to their own world and putting the player in control of a future person instead of someone from history and giving you far more control over what happens in the game simply through interaction than running through and killing a target here or there. This game plays a bit more like Mass Effect within a future plane but at the same time very much forges its own path. It’s an interesting murder mystery with a healthy dose of political intrigue but with a few rough spots and a cliffhanger ending that might rub a few people the wrong way.

The story of Consortium is really its selling point as this RPG hybrid really lets you play any way you want which includes talking your way out of a fight rather than getting into one. They manage to paint a pretty clear picture of the world using dialogue and different things you can interact with around the plane that manages to really open up the world to you despite the limited setting. The idea is that you’re playing a game and getting dumped into a future reality, one of millions of possibilities within the same future and person so that when you die from making the wrong choice, it means you get sent to another reality to the point just before you’ve made the terrible choice that got you killed so you can try again. Basically a fancy way of hitting the reload button without having to and giving you a semi-realistic and in game explanation of doing so in the process You’re on board a Consortium plane, a highly advanced airplane that is being run by a group charged with being the peace-keepers of the world, making sure that the next world war doesn’t break out after the devastating resource wars.

ss_7e1c041e2a98a0ade28808500e376747912795ef.1920x1080Set up in a command structure based off a chessboard with pawns, rooks, bishops and a knight, you’re playing a bishop who basically acts as second in command or security, or both. You’re given access to a futuristic weapons suit and weaponry and are tasked with taking care of things, but your first day doesn’t go well. The plane ends up being surrounded by older aircraft run by a Merc group the Knight in charge tangled with previously and he’s pissed about the whole thing enough to try and kill you unless you can talk them out of it. On top of the Merc’s there’s been a murder on board, and that means only one thing, a traitor has killed a member of the crew and is more than likely still on board. You’ve got your work cut out for you.

The game itself uses the Source engine, but is leaning more towards Team Fortress 2 for a stylized look than the more realistic look for Left 4 Dead. It does end up making the game look a bit dated and the animations aren’t always up to snuff along with some really jagged shadows, but I do like the overall design to everything. It reminds me of a late 80’s or early 90s sci-fi flick with the whole bright future thing going on. While what you get works, and the UI isn’t all that flashy, but functional, for the most part, but you won’t be buying this one for cutting edge visuals. This one is definitely reliant on the story and your options and role-playing as opposed to looking flashy. The voice actors do a decent enough job with this, some you really begin to detest, and not for their skills but because the characters they’re bringing to life are so detestable. The music is well done but that’s expected given that they got Jeremy Soule from Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, Skyrim, Oblivion and many others. Effects wise it’s pretty standard.

ss_5d52101c47124962537c39f214278f901163a6c2.1920x1080Controls haven’t quite been fine-tuned yet if you want to play with a controller. Specifically the 360 controller. It’s listed as an option but it’s not actually implemented yet. So be prepared to play with a keyboard and mouse which do work quite well and respond as normal within the game, which is a good thing. Most of the controls are standard FPS set-up with the F1-F4 keys handling your dialogue choices and the number keys being tied to weapons and abilities that you can set-up. Gameplay is all designed around choice. Many games claim this is the way things go but Consortium takes that to a new level. I’m talking to the point where you can talk yourself out of having to fight at all. Ever. Now that’s a role-playing game with some real choice if you want to go that route. Which is a good thing as the combat aspects of the game aren’t all that great.

Combat you have a few options depending on which way you want to go. You can go with a standard firearm which is designed to kill and has grenades as well, which makes no sense to me to have on a plane, but whatever. The other option is a weapon that stuns enemies and allows you to incapacitate them from there. They do get up if you don’t incapacitate them. This all ties into how you want to play your game as well. The Consortium is supposed to be a peacekeeping force, so mowing down every enemy in sight will make you seem a little blood thirsty, especially to your crew, and especially if you’ve just managed to talk them into a peaceful resolution before you blow them away. You have armor and hit points. Your armor reduces the damage you take but doesn’t negate it entirely. Repairing and healing is done through the suit controls. Combat is kind of clunky though. While the regular firearm works really well at killing, the stunning weapon takes too long to charge and enemies just seem to walk out of the way when you fire as it streaks ever so slowly at them. For a futuristic weapon, it’s really not all that convenient.

ss_44fe43fb05d1af2d008202ef092db5a8803b1a93.1920x1080Good thing there’s a way to talk your way through almost any situation. If you’ve played Mass Effect or The Walking Dead you’ll be pretty familiar with the option to choose your response or even no response at all. Your responses make who you’re talking to go up or down in your relationship with them. The main bad guy attacking your ship doesn’t like it when you ask for advice on your private comm channel when you should be talking to him. The crew get really weirded out when you make cultural reference to television and games that haven’t existed in their time for over 40 years and if you admit you’re actually in there through a game, you can expect them to think you’re insane. On the other hand, you’re still the Bishop trying to save the ship and stop the traitor or murderer on board. That’s really the main goals and everything else can change on every play through depending on how you go which is fantastic. Don’t want to get boarded and have to fight your way through waves of enemies? Talk them into thinking you’re surrendering. Talk with their leader and take him out. Or if you decide to get cocky with the invader he might just send them in packing with no choices for you to not fight. This is much closer to having total control over the way the events play out than simply having one or two options to choose from. The whole system is a lot more in depth and that’s really this game’s strength is the actual choices you really have here.

Which bring me to another of the games strengths, replayability. This game has it in spades. As long as you don’t make the same dialogue choices every time, each time you play this game is going to play out differently. The overall end result is going to be the similar, but everything leading up to the point completely changes depending on what you pick. The achievements on Steam definitely reflect that as it’s going to take you multiple playthroughs to get them all. Even two playthroughs won’t cut it. At least three and even then you’ll need a checklist to make sure you’re hitting all your targets you missed the first few times. Really I think being able to replay it completely differently is what saves this game from being way over-priced. As far as cost versus experience, you’re getting about a three to five hour action RPG experience with this, that is unless you play it multiple times. It runs the length of about 2 episodes of The Walking Dead or any of the other piecemeal games out there. Really if you’re only going to play this once, I’d wait for a sale as you’re not going to be getting your money’s worth.

ss_b28b224483d95cfa0883474551d1c6dd7ccfccf0.1920x1080As far as being balanced, it straddles the line of being easy and difficult and a lot of that comes down to choices. If you act like a jerk and pick fights throughout you’re going to have a much harder time than the player who uses their brain to get out of the situation. That and if you’re relying on incapacitation rather than just blowing everyone away, it’s going to be harder as well. I will give them this much though, this is definitely a unique world they’ve built with this game and the meta game where you know you’re a gamer going into someone else’s brain in the future. This feels like nothing I’ve played before but at the same time is very familiar with all the references that you can drop as you play and familiar styles. The future tech seems plausible for the time frame if a bit simplified here and there. It is refreshing to be playing a game that’s not a sequel of a sequel.

I will say that I did get fairly involved with this one. When you can start a game like this and have so many different ways to interact with people it was hard to put it down just for the sheer fun of telling people you’re just playing a game and watching them trying to determine if you’re pulling their leg, telling the truth, or just absolutely insane or heading that way. Then of course whether to execute with extreme prejudice, just stun, or try and talk your way out of a situation. There was a lot going on that kept me wanting to play. On top of that the premise was intriguing and it’s interesting having to do all this political and physical maneuvering that’d you normally do in a game like Mass Effect and have it all happen on board an overly large aircraft designed to keep the peace. I think the only thing holding this one back a bit from most is the short play time versus the cost. For an action RPG it’s extremely short. For the first entry in what could be a three part game series it’s a bit more palatable, but it’s still on the higher end given that other games that go the installment route tend to aim for under $30 for 5 parts and this is looking more like $60 for 3 parts.

ss_c3cc6dcb9fe95ead2f3d5ce783fbad8341d98343.1920x1080One of the game’s issues is that even with some big fixes out there, it doesn’t feel finished. While I like the look of the actual game, the UI looks and feels clunky compared to the look of the game itself. Despite some optimization the game can really chug on my system and the load times can be really long. Even with the recent update, one that wiped my unfinished saves which I wasn’t happy about, load times can go on over long or at least seem to. My laptop is not a game system that chugs very often and usually that’s when I’ve got way more than just one thing going on. I’ve run with two MMOs at the same time and both were playable if that gives you a hint. Then there are different events that don’t trigger properly, like a training scenario I was unable to finish because the enemies stopped popping up. This has happened every time I’ve tried out the training scenario, just at different points. Most of the launch bugs seem to have been fixed, but there are a lot of them still lurking in there. If you like playing with a controller for example, that option looks like it’s available in the game with layouts and everything but the only function that worked with the controller was walking around. Granted it’s not listed on the Steam page, but it’s full blown in the menus of the game without anything saying that’s not implemented. You’ll have to check release notes and the community page for that information. On top of that the inventory system when you first get started is a bit unwieldy to the point in my first playthrough as I was gearing up for a fight, I couldn’t take any ammunition because couldn’t figure out how to get it into my weapon. Then when I figured it out on a later playthrough after the 1.1 patch, I could get ammo in but had to do it one bullet at a time which was absolutely mind-numbing before I figured out a work around. So while this is playable, this feels less finished than some of the Early Access games I’ve previewed recently, and that will turn some players off from what is shaping up to be an interesting experience. This doesn’t mean the game is terrible and unplayable, far from it. But the game still needs some tender love and the devs are working on it but it seems like it’s going to take a bit longer to get it to the version they were intending to make.

Short Attention Span Summary
Consortium takes the interesting premise of a gamer being in charge of someone from a future time and gives you options on how to handle everything and really delivering an interesting roleplaying experience. Some great dialogue options, really well done world-building given that you’re stuck on a plane the whole time, decent replay value and the promise of future entries helps this game immensely. But at the same time some strange glitches, a lack of controller support at launch, and some really weird slowdowns and other detractors bring the experience down quite a bit. While the game is getting patched up, it can be a rocky playthrough, but the short overall play time can help. If you’re interested in the premise it’s worth the look, but if you’re on the fence about the price or length, let the developers iron it out a bit more.

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