When we first came across the Kickstarter pitch for Convoy we were instantly sold on the concept. The essence of this game is true to its influences; it's very much a mix of Mad Max and FTL: Faster Than Light. If you like the sound of that, then mark Convoy down as one to watch.
The idea is simple, but seemingly very replayable. It perhaps doesn't have the same level of variety and polish as the game that clearly acted as its inspiration, FTL, but it certainly captures a similar spirit (that said, we're making assumptions based on what we've seen after spending just a couple of hours with the game - this may not be the case at all after an extended period of time spent playing). Indeed, this neatly intersects with that same sci-fi starship fantasy, as Convoy starts off with a ship crashing through an asteroid field and landing on a nearby planet in need of repairs.
There's two parts to the wheel-based convoy that is subsequently sent out to find the parts needed to fix the ship. The MCV is the main unit and it's not armed in the same way as the escort vehicles that patrol around it. The MCV's abilities have a cool-down period, so you can fire rockets or drop mines depending on the MCV selected (they all have different abilities), but only at regular intervals during an encounter. The escorting pack, on the other hand, have upgradable weapon systems that can be fired constantly throughout a battle.
Skirmishes are easy to find on this dusty planet. Points of interest are marked on a hexagonal map that's coloured to represent the different factions in the game (the map stays the same in repeat plays, but the positions of the coloured regions shifts with each restart). Contours illustrate how easily terrain can be crossed - roads are easier to navigate than mountains, for example - and the convoy has a finite amount of fuel that they can use to get them from A to B. There's regular camps where fuel can be purchased and where you can repair your vehicles and buy relevant upgrades.
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Combat is real-time, but can be paused while you work out your plan of action. The main responsibility of the escorts is to protect the MCV from damage and destruction. While the main vehicle in the convoy follows a straight and steady line through the centre of the screen, escorts can be positioned as the player sees fit, and will engage the enemy anywhere on the screen as long as they are in weapons range. The action never stops during an encounter, and all the vehicles in the convoy continuously roll forward until it's resolved one way or another.
Not only do we like the visual style of the game, it's also very functional; it's always easy to work out what's going on and who's doing what at any given moment.
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There's environmental hazards to contend with, not just the many enemies that you'll battle en route to finding the parts needed to fix the mothership. More than once we lost escorts because we didn't move them out of the way of the obstacles that litter the world; raiders and slavers aren't the only thing to concern a player as they make their way around the planet looking for spare parts.
Because Convoy has a perma-death mechanic, units that are either destroyed by enemy fire or that stack into rocks during a battle, are lost forever. This makes the encounters all the more tense, but it also makes it a little annoying when you lose a unit because an obstacle is spotted too late. The unrelenting roll of battle makes this feel like an endless runner at times, and as such a simple oversight can ultimately be the mistake that acts as a catalyst to the end of an entire game.
The build that we got to play is still in need of some tweaking before it's fully ready for widespread public consumption, and there's a layer of polish missing that if added will go a long way to deciding whether this is a solid and enjoyable game, or an essential indie purchase.
We certainly hope that the developers take the time to really iron out the kinks and add the final level of detail that will set this apart. While adding huge amounts of content is a tempting proposition, there's always the route taken by Subset with FTL, whereby they got the game in great shape in time for release, before then taking the time to really add in the finer details and a greater level of depth for the Advanced Edition of the game, which followed much later.
Our hands-on with Convoy certainly has us looking forward to revisiting the deserts of Omek Prime once the game is completed. There's certainly the potential here for a hugely entertaining, dynamic and challenging rogue-like. We're expecting what releases in the future to be decent, but just how good it will be remains unclear. Time will tell, but we're certainly looking forward to finding out.