Convoy is a roguelike strategy game with some RPG elements developed by Convoy Games and released on Steam April 21st. I first heard about Convoy while browsing Kickstarter way back in October or November of last year, and I immediately knew it was something I'd be interested in. I covered it shortly around this time last month when it got an official release date, and after spending a big chunk of the last few days with it, I'm ready to say how it stacks up.
In Convoy, you play as a high ranking crewman on the Mercury, a huge green spacecraft damaged in battle that temporarily becomes grounded on the planet Omek Prime. Your goal is to journey out into the blown-out wastes of Omek Prime and acquire a number of parts vital to the repair and restoration of the Mercury. To do this, you'll need to lead a convoy of vehicles to protect your MCV, or Main Convoy Vehicle. Your MCV is the only vehicle at your ship's disposal large enough to transport the parts needed by the Mercury. If the MCV is destroyed then it's game over. Seems like a clear enough task, right?
When you start the game up you'll get a short little intro of the Mercury landing hard on Omek Prime, which will segue into the main menu. From there you can start a new game, continue one where you left off, tinker with the options, or exit the game. Simple and effective. The options for the game aren't amazingly in-depth or anything, but they don't need to be. You get individual controls for Convoy's sound effects, voice-overs, and music, as well as a toggle for Vsync and vehicle visual effects. There's also a "shake multiplier" slider that I later found out controls the amount of simulated monitor shaking during explosions or collisions, which is a nice feature.
Clicking "New Game" will take you to a garage screen where you can customize your starting convoy using any unlocked vehicle combinations or MCVs. The name generators on vehicles are pretty goofy, but the developers definitely managed to capture the out-there atmosphere of both CB-radio handles and Mad Max-esque post-apocalyptic insanity in one go. My first convoy consisted of Weasel, Mad Cat, and Fat Coffin, my MCV. After you get through setting up your vehicles, it's time to roll out. You'll get a quick skippable intro dialogue (which you will annoyingly be prompted about in every subsequent playthrough), and then it's off to brave the wastelands!
The entire game sans-cutscenes will be framed by a faux-retro hardware panel complete with plugs and wires around little screens where the condition of your vehicles will sit. I thought this was going to annoy me or get in the way at first, but after a while you could almost forget it's there. When you're outside of combat, a second set of screens slide out of the frame in order to display your world map and your active quests, as well as any dialogue that takes place. None of it is overwhelmingly detailed, but it's a cool way to lay things out.
The world map is another story. While I understand that the game isn't pushing any boundaries graphically, the world map just feels sort of "off" compared to everything else in the game. It has the same color scheme as those awful exercise workbooks they gave you in elementary school to practice for standardized tests. It's not enough to really deter me from playing, but it's a pet peeve I have with the game regardless.
When you're navigating the pages of the aforementioned math workbook, you'll be dealing with a fairly typical strategy game-style hexagon grid for movement. Moving around on the map consumes fuel at a rate of 1 unit of fuel per hexagon, with the convoy traveling faster on highways than off-road. That means that even if you miss a settlement or radio signal, moving along the highway will get you to your destination faster and lead to fewer random encounters, leading to a much safer trip.
Convoy's soundtrack is very minimalist and retro, but satisfies my tastes. It's not something I'd buy as a standalone OST, but it'll still provide a good backdrop to the game. Weapons and explosions sound beefy, and the voice work sounds convincingly like something heard over a vehicle radio.
The characters and dialogue in Convoy run the pop culture gamut. There's another movie or television reference around every corner, and because of that, you'll probably be scratching your head over whether you're not getting a reference or if a character is original to the game in a couple of places. Breaking Bad, A Clockwork Orange, and not to mention the Mad Max series all make appearances in some way or another, to name a few.
The dialogue itself isn't anything to sneeze about. The storytelling isn't overtly present and the delivery via text isn't revolutionary or involving, it's just there. It's not bad, it's not good, but it does the job. You usually have a few different responses to choose from, and sometimes events will play out entirely different than you'd seen the last time when you choose the same responses, which I liked. In most random encounters you can spend a little extra fuel to avoid a confrontation if you're in a rush to get somewhere or low on health.
Once you do get into combat, though, you're given the real meat and potatoes of Convoy. Battles play out in a much less hectic manner than one might imagine due to the game's unit management system. Players can pause at any time with the spacebar and issue orders to their units or feel things out in real time, though I wouldn't recommend making that a habit. The MCV is incapable of moving from its starting place in the middle of the road, so you'll need to use your escort vehicles to prevent it from taking enemy fire. Combat works well enough, and all of the vehicle sprites look decent. There aren't a huge number of different weapons in the game, but hopefully that'll change in the future.
That brings us to upgrades and shopping. Scattered across the wasteland are settlement tiles where you can stock up on fuel, repair your convoy, or purchase new vehicles and equipment. All of this is done using parts, which serve as Convoy's currency. In addition, parts can be used to upgrade a vehicle's attributes like health, armor, or handling. When dealing with equipment, weapons go only onto red slots and utility gear only goes onto yellow slots. How many slots and what color they'll be is determined by each vehicle, with only the MCV using special green slots.
Convoy is definitely challenging. Encounters are numerous and there are several random events that can outright kill one of the vehicles in your convoy, though the devs have released a patch scaling back most of those. Getting off the ground in most runs will be made by the first few battles, and losses early on can cripple you completely. I've probably got sixteen or seventeen hours in this damn game and I've beaten it once on easy due to sheer luck. You'll see a lot of that, too. Like many other roguelikes, skill can only do so much for you if the dice don't come out in your favor, which they often won't.
You'll almost immediately have known when you started Convoy that it owes a lot to FTL, another smash-hit indie roguelike. A whole lot, to be completely honest. This is both good and bad for Convoy. It's a definite plus because it manages to implement many mechanics and concepts seen in FTL very well. On the other hand, it's already a game that seems to bring very few new ideas to the table. I don't believe it's a copycat, but I doubt it'll ever escape its position as an "FTL-like".
Convoy has its share of issues, as well. I've dealt with several annoying bugs, including one that prevented me from accepting a quest. Often, cars will have their sprites go crazy when they're moving while their hitbox changes positions, creating confusion when you need to target something. The way the game handles stats also baffles me. Many of the stat counters are archaic or outright confusing. For example, a weapon with 100 range has a range of 1 square on the invisible combat grid, so why not just use squares as a measurement unit? The dialog I mentioned earlier also irks me a bit, because the game's story is basically nonexistent outside of the intro and outro. Everything in the middle is crammed full of pop culture references and meta jokes, which would be more acceptable if they didn't make up 75% of all dialog.
Moreover, there are still features that seem like no-brainers that are nowhere to be found. You can use the 1-4 keys to select vehicles in battle, but there's no way to assign numbers to them yourself. Likewise, MCV abilities are labelled 1-4 but can't be assigned to the 1-4 keys. Your vehicles also start the battle in the same place they were at the end of the last encounter, which can be annoying. Configurable formations would help solve that problem, or even a way to change their position at the end of the battle.
Despite my gripes with the game, the developers have been working to add content and correct any bugs brought to their attention as soon as possible, and there's not any sign of them abandoning the game in the future. $15 retail might be a little steep for some right now, but Convoy is a fun few hours, and I feel like it's only going to get better with future updates.