I have to applaud Convoy Games for what they have tried with Convoy: A Tactical Roguelike. Bringing together multiple ideas and running the old school route, this is unlike anything I’ve played in a very long time. Does it all come together as they had hoped? Well no, not all of the time, but when it does work there is certainly a lot of fun to be found within. It’s just that at times sheer pot luck seems to be the overriding flavour. And I’m not sure that’s going to appeal to everyone.
Convoy: A Tactical Roguelike mixes together three main gaming strands: text-based adventure, roguelike elements and vehicular-based combat and upgrades. Any one of these three ideas could quite easily see an accomplished game come to the fore, yet the combination of all elements is something Convoy attempts to excel at. It’s just, for all the good moments, there are some that don’t come off, mostly with the roguelike side of the game letting things down.
Finding yourself slapbang in the centre of a desolate wasteland, Convoy: A Tactical Roguelike requests you to take charge of your vehicle convoy, hunt down precious resources, and find a way of making it back home. After finding your spaceship crash-landed on a weird post-apocalyptic planet, from the off you need to go out on the hunt – the hunt for the parts needed in order to fix your ship and get the hell out of there. As you would expect, it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Initially your only form of travel across this land is in the form of three vehicles: your precious MCV which is the centre of your attention, and a couple of smaller satellite units that can be utilised to defend the mother base from all out attack. From the get-go you are limited to what vehicles you can use here, but as you progress and take down specific objectives, grinding out knowledge and allowing your skills to come to the fore, you’ll discover that subsequent runs will provide access to stronger, faster, harder firing, more unique vehicles.
It is this constant grind for additional knowledge and better vehicles that is the main draw of Convoy, keeping you coming back time and time again. However, any decent roguelike game has to be able to keep the tease in check, and in Convoy the requirements that need to be met in order to see the extra vehicles unlocked is just too far across the difficulty line to really draw you in. I mean, it’s all well and good providing excellent units after you’ve taken down specific bosses, but then asking for that to happen without the use of certain weaponry too? That’s just a bit too much in my books. Convoy: A Tactical Roguelike could quite easily become a much easier recommendation should the objective levels be lowered, somewhat considerably in many places, keeping gamers interested and teased with each and every run.
It is however by embarking on new runs where this game works. Working your way across a small random map in the hope you can stumble your convoy across the parts required is all well and good, but without rhyme or reason for doing it it’ll soon become a source of boredom. This is where Convoy Games have implemented a well-worked text-based narrative, much like the old-school games from decades past. I’ll be honest, it’s been pretty much 30 odd years since I found myself digesting lines and lines of text, making decisions based on what is thrust towards my eyes, before hoping for the best. But it’s been great fun to take in the pop culture-fuelled tales that this wasteland provides. The characters you meet, the enemies you go up against, and the way the story and tale unfolds, pushing you to each and every point on the map, is a good one. It’s just that, if anything, it needs to go deeper still. I mean, it’s great when you go looking for a Flux Capacitor and meet some grey-haired old fool, but I want to know more about this guy, and what exactly makes him tick. Why does he keep chatting about 1.21 gigawatts for instance. Firing off a single shot to the head, or threatening to kill him in the hope that it’ll ensure some progress, just feels slightly half-baked. It’s not helped that the random radio signals and the text within them is very often repeated too – over and over again. Just a few short runs through this roguelike and you’ll quite easily have read the same lines, and made the same decisions, several times.
Part of that decision making process will see you needing to go into battle against the locals of this planet as well. It’s here where Convoy picks up the pace with the pixel art style working really well in the battle scenes. With control over your outliers, it’ll be up to you to place them around the ever-evolving battlefield, ensuring they are kept away from mines and from crashing into structures, instead focusing their weaponry and skills on the raiders that you are going up against. Ramming, long-range shooting and utilising the likes of a buzzsaw when close up are all par for the course, and even though it’ll take you a few plays to really get the hang of moving these guys to prime positions, once you get the hang of the (frankly muddy) control system, it works well indeed. With your MCV unable to contribute too much unless you’ve already attached specified rockets or specials to its rack, keeping control of your smaller fighters is an essential part of the fight. Lose them, and you’ll leave your MCV as a sitting duck – with all progress looking likely to be lost and you needing to start afresh.
It is only by praying to the gods, crossing your fingers and throwing some salt over your shoulder will success be found in Convoy, with you constantly on edge that the next decision you make – either in seeing the text-based adventure unfold, where you move to next on the map, or how you go about taking control of a fight – could well signal the end of a long fought journey. Thankfully, stumbling upon cash reserves, picking up extra weapons, visiting travelling casinos in the hope you can strike it rich, or utilising the many camp shops with a variety of new vehicles, upgrades or weapon types can just about see you running the line between success and utter outright despair. But as previously mentioned, luck does seem to play a huge part in how Convoy plays out, with the next random battle always possibly being your last. This isn’t helped by the constant need to be keeping an eye on your fuel meter – run out of that and you’re as good as a goner.
When you do finally succumb to the raiders that roam the wasteland, Convoy refuses to mess around, giving you a score based on your number of kills, progress through the narrative scenarios, how much fuel you have spent, and how much in-game cash you’ve earnt. From there though, everything is pretty much forgotten as you are left to muster up the courage to do it all again. Of course, should you have managed to meet one of the objectives that allow access to a better rank of starting vehicle, then all is great in the world and you’ll have next to no hesitation in heading back in for more. But with those super strict objectives asking so much, having such pleasures is a rarity.
I’ve enjoyed my time with this combination of ideas, but because of how harsh it can be, Convoy: A Tactical Roguelike on Xbox One is going to be a game that will either appeal massively or frustrate hugely. In fact, whether you get on with this weird mismatch of genres will come down to one thing – whether or not you like your gaming to be luck-based. If you do, and you’re happy to let any real form of progress lay in the lap of the gods, then fill your boots because this Convoy is one you will want to join. However, if you’re one who prefers to let their gaming skills do the talking, proving the difference between success and failure, you’re going to have to suck it up and let this one roll on by.