There is something that video game players find ever-so-compelling about the post-apocalyptic setting. From the likes of Wasteland and its spiritual successor Fallout, all the way to modern gaming sensations like Borderlands, gamers have been enthralled by the idea of traveling into a world set after civilization has ended. It’s easy to see why, too – developers have relished the chance to give players a sandbox to explore, and a story to discover.
Following in this long line of post-apocalptic video games is Convoy, a tactical roguelike from three man development team Convoy Games. When the space ship Mercury crashes on Omek Prime, the crew must take to the planet’s Mad Max-style wastelands to find the components required to fix their vessel and escape the planet. Convoy was crowdfunded via Kickstarter, and the game has been developed for Mac and PC.
There are some obvious comparisons to make within the roguelike genre, and the developer itself admits that FTL: Faster Than Light was one of its main inspirations when creating Convoy. Putting the titles side-by-side, one could be forgiven for thinking that Convoy was a mod or sequel build. Faster Than Light’s same top-down retro graphical style is present, with similar sprites and the same science fiction-esque synth soundtrack.
The similarities are not just at surface level, either. Both Convoy and Faster Than Light play in a very similar way, utilizing familiar gameplay elements. Both games are randomly generated, with universes filled with random encounters, and they contain combat with the ability to pause and give instructions. Both Convoy and Faster Than Light give players difficult, text-based choices to make, such as choosing to save civilians from raiding attacks or to try to run from potential battles – a move that was also recently used by Out There.
Quite simply, Convoy is a modern roguelike through and through – particularly when it comes to difficulty. The game features permanent death, meaning that a failed run-through means starting from scratch. Players will have to keep an eye on their resources during a playthrough, with both scrap parts and fuel vital to the convoy’s survival in the deadly deserts and decrepit cities of Omek Prime. Safe spots are few and far between, giving players a respite from the deadly environment and allowing a chance to both refuel and buy new equipment.
Often, this means players will have to work out what is most important in a particular play through – is it worth running tight on fuel to be able to afford a new weapon? Should the convoy’s vehicles be upgraded to have higher defensive stats or is it better to trade for an additional vehicle? What makes Convoy all-the-more interesting is that some of the vital ship parts required to escape from the planet can actually be purchased; with a high enough bank balance, a player can avoid some of the difficult battles ahead.
Although this may seem a little derivative of other games from the genre, Convoy does things well enough to make players forget about any similarities. In particular, the game has a fluidity that is very different from the likes of Faster Than Light, both in the world map and in combat itself. Rather than a fixed, one-direction escape from a dangerous opposing fleet, Convoy gives gamers a desert to explore, tracking back to safe havens if required and allowing a little more leeway if mistakes are made. Traveling by road is faster than through rough terrain and therefore costs less fuel, giving players a tough choice about whether to cut corners to reach a destination.
Even better is the player mobility made available in combat itself. Although no control is given over the main MCV in the vehicular battles aside from using certain weapons, players can move supporting cars with ease, shifting around the combat screen to facilitate both attacking bandits and defending the MCV. Although this sounds like Convoy must therefore give players an easier time than its contemporaries, there are a few sticking points. Enemy craft have the same mobility, and the MCV must be defended in order to survive.
It’s an interesting contrast, with the player’s largest vehicle the most vulnerable and most in need of protection. Thankfully, there are a number of different routes to take to keep the MCV safe. Alongside the use of missiles, machine guns, and laser weapons, vehicles can ram opponents to inflict damage, and EMP blasts can knock out a enemy’s mobility and weaponry for a short while. This can be used very effectively to force raiders down blind passages, crashing them into walls and off the edge of cliffs.
It’s that active control that helps set Convoy apart from other games in the scene, a dynamism to the mechanics that makes the combat all-the-more rewarding. It also makes use of the game’s world to full effect. Desert roads are full of wrecks, canyons, and crude bridges, whilst towns have industrial buildings to avoid. Each battle is not only against a gamer’s aggressive opponents, but against the environment itself.
It all adds to Convoy’s immersion, and makes the user feel alien to the planet of Omek Prime. The world is equal parts Fallout and Borderlands, with the technophile T.O.R.V.A.K. akin to Fallout’s Brotherhood of Steel, but less concerned about the cost of human life in pursuit of technology. Raiders, meanwhile, fill the inevitable role of the cannibalistic hordes, spitting out vile phrases and hunting with particularly fast units. Finally, the Privateers act as land pirates, complete with a loose code of honor and a love of rum.
The well-rounded factions have their own territories, taking up different sections of the hexagonal map. Characters themselves, however, are few and far between, only met through investigating radio signals and hunting down the different items required to fix the player’s ship. There are no character portraits used, only text, and character models are missing in favor of the sprites of the vehicles themselves. Even the player’s own crew is only made available through brief, Command & Conquer-esque voice clips and the occasional text box.
Rather than hinder the game’s world-building, this design choice actually enhances it. Convoy’s graphics are simple, but effective, causing the focus of the player’s eye to always be on the central component of the game itself: the vehicles. On the planet of Omek Prime, most dialogue takes place over radio, and the world is built around dangerous land travel, fearsome mobile gangs, and armor-plated rigs. The only security the player finds is in their own convoy – and with it comes a sense of the vulnerability over even the most well-defended unit.
It’s a clever balancing act, and one that is performed admirably. Better yet, Convoy Games has managed to walk an even finer line with great aplomb, and one that always separates the good roguelikes from the bad. The game’s difficulty never overcomes the addictive nature of the gameplay, and the frustration of a failed playthrough never beats the desire to have one more try.
This successful creation of moreish but fiercely difficult gameplay is perhaps down to the direct control that the player has. Although the random nature of the game can sometimes throw the user a bad hand, with weaker items to purchase in friendly areas or a lack of available fuel stops, often a playthrough will end because of a player error: a poor tactic used, a wreck missed in the environment, a bad decision made in a text choice. If a user fails, it is normally their fault, in much the same way as the likes of Faster Than Light and The Binding of Isaac.
Of course, Convoy Games is not the only developer with aspirations to emulate those titles. The roguelike market has become saturated over recent years, with many independent developers picking up on the sub-genre as a way to enter the zeitgeist on a small budget. Thankfully, Convoy is a game that deserves attention. Although the title stays a little too close to its roguelike blueprint, the open-ended nature and eye-catching, fluid battlegrounds make Convoy a thoroughly enjoyable and incredibly addictive journey into a post-apocayptic wasteland.
Convoy is out April 21 for PC and Mac, with a Linux release planned for the future. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.