Review – Convoy (PS4)

From the aptly named Convoy Games comes Convoy, an 8-bit randomly generated adventure. Convoy Games launched a crowdfunding campaign back in 2014 which was successfully funded that November. One year later, on April 21st, 2015, Convoy in its finished form released on Steam for PC and Mac operating systems. Five years later, Convoy has released on consoles so the rest of us can enjoy the missile-driven road rage.

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The first thing I noticed was how perfectly nostalgic Convoy felt. Chunky 8-bit graphic, boxy menu fonts, and smarmy “just let me play” self awareness immediately reminded me of an old Sim City. It was a warm an welcoming invitation that very quickly outstayed its welcome. The challenge with older UIs is visually noisy they can be.

Large portions of the display are consumed by over-sized menus that reduced the action space to what’s very nearly a 4:3 aspect ratio. While it’s a staple of an older generation of games, it’s also outdated and does leave Convoy‘s visual elements feeling unnecessarily cramped. It’s an odd thing to admit, but couldn’t stop noticing how large visual elements were and how cramped all of the text was. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but it made reading details on vehicles mods unpleasant.

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Visual elements and scaling aside, Convoy offers some decent fun. Your ship, the Mercury, has crash landed and is in desperate need of repair if your crew plans on leaving any time soon.  It’s your job to form a convoy and search the area for parts, but this barren planet is filled with madmen and raiders. If you want to make it off this desert rock, you’re going to need all of the fire power you can possibly get.

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From there, anyone familiar with FTL will be immediately familiar with Convoy‘s format. The topographical world map gives players a large area to explore as they seek out repair components and possibly even new allies. The bulky side bar on the right will allow you to see all of your open quests and select which one you want to make active and track. A small arrow will appear in front of your MCV icon and guide you to your next goal, should you survive long enough.

As you roam around the open world, you’ll encounter multiple forms of terrain that will put a strain on your vehicle depleting fuel and varying rates. Keeping to the black road will allow your convoy to cruise along at top speeds while slowly using fuel. But the safety of the road offers few adventures and you’ll need to head off road if you’re to find anything of value. The lighter the color the terrain the higher the elevation and the faster your engine will go through fuel. Before leaving the road, you’ll want to take a good look at the land and plot a way around the highest elevations because if you run out of fuel, your convoy will stop immediately and be an open target for raiders and privateers.

One of two things will happen when you run out of fuel. You’ll either be incredibly fortunate and be found by a random stranger who offers you some relief in exchange for parts or a ride (side-mission), or you’ll be attacked in your vulnerable state.

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Upon entering the combat screen, players will find their MCV (Main Convoy Vehicle) surrounded by combat vehicles that will act as your main line of defense. Players control all of the units in their convoy simultaneously. The smaller combat vehicles are controlled by highlighting them and then selecting either a space for them to move to (and empty space) or an enemy for them to target (an enemy occupied space). If a combat vehicle has an equipped weapon, they’ll immediately begin firing at the enemy they are instructed to attack, but not until the player gives them the instructions. However, each vehicle has a limited range displayed by a green circle and if their target is outside that range, the player will need to instruct that vehicle to move closer.

While it is technically invisible, the combat screen operates on a grid that the player’s cursor will highlight by snapping the next next space with each cursor move. Ultimately this makes it easier to identify the exact spaces that enemies and hazards occupy, but it can sometimes be difficult to identify if an enemy will be targeted when they sit just at the edge of a vehicle’s range. There were more than a few times where in the heat of the moment I moved a vehicle not quite close enough to an enemy assuming they’d deal with it while I moved my focus to other matters. I usually wouldn’t notice until after my MCV took an unnecessary amount of damage forcing me to spend my earnings on repairs rather than upgrades.

In addition to the combat vehicles, players will also control the MCV by using the D-pad to activate special abilities. The early game MCV comes equipped with an EMP that players can activate by hitting up on the D-pad and targeting an enemy vehicle to temporarily disable any shields or weapons they have equipped. It’s an incredibly useful tool, especially in the early sections of the game where players haven’t had the chance to invest in upgrading their armor and could benefit most from a brief cease fire.

Upon completion of each showdown, players will be rewarded with fuel, mods, or spare parts that can be used to purchase upgrades. Each vehicle has its own armor, health, range, handling, and mine resistance stats that can be improved by investing spare parts while resting at a camp. Similarly, each vehicle has ability slots that can be swapped out for better weapons.

There are three types of weapon mods identified by color coding; red mods are weapons, yellow mods are passive abilities like shields and range boosters, and grey mods are special powers can only be equipped and activated by the MCV. When resting at a camp, any mods awarded for defeating incoming enemies can be equipped onto a vehicle with a slot matching the same color as the mod. Should players not have any mods, there are shops available at camps that might have some valuable mods for sale but they won’t come cheap. With the amount of repairs you’ll have to make on your convoy, spare parts are all too precious a resource to just throw around. Players will want to make sure they spend cautiously, otherwise they may find themselves broke and in dire need of repairs.

What I like most about Convoy is how inconsequential the NPC interactions can be. NPCs only interact with players in the form of text boxes without any semblance of a character portrait and as a result, I found myself feeling absolutely nothing toward them. In most cases, I would consider this a pretty hefty negative, but Convoy makes shameless play easy. More often than not, I found myself gathering whatever information or resources that I could from an NPC and then leave them to die in the wastes or blatantly open fire on them. Convoy certainly doesn’t reward that sort of behavior, but it also doesn’t punish it so there’s nothing stopping players from being as savage as enemy raiders. But if you’re not as much of a monster as I am, you’re awarded with honor points that will influence how NPCs and factions interact with you. But where’s the fun in diplomacy?

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As much as I enjoyed my time with Convoy, my biggest complaint are the controls. Convoy was originally designed to be played on the computer, and its mechanics make that apparent pretty quickly. The speed required to effectively issue commands to your vehicles is better suited to the fast and free movement of a mouse. Snapping across the grid one section at a time is a slow process that makes it difficult to keep up with the multitude of enemies at the door, especially when you have a full convoy. One or two vehicles can be challenging at times, but a full convoy of four combat vehicles and the MCV is just insanity, and not the good kind.

There are multiple forms of hazards that are found on the road. The easiest are just pieces of debris that chip away small portions of health, but others are far more deadly. Mines on the road damage a vehicle’s armor leaving your convoy more vulnerable to even the most basic attacks. But the worst hazards of all are the ruined buildings and rock formations. If any vehicle, yours or the enemy’s, hits one of these large structures, it gets instantly destroyed. I pulled through a number of losing battles at the last minute by ramming attacking cars into a telephone pole. As much as I relied on these hazards to save me, they were also the most frustrating version of the game.

I realize I trailed off about hazards but hear me out. When players need to keep their eyes on enemies, road hazards, and controlling four of your own convoy vehicles at once by scrolling through the map one grid space at a time, it’s incredibly difficult to keep your convoy intact. I would frequently lose three out of four of my combat vehicles at once because I couldn’t scroll across the screen to move them out of harm’s way fast enough. Not long after losing the majority of my convoy’s offensive strength, my MCV would slowly fall prey to a lone raider as I watched helplessly. It’s simply too difficult to manage a proper convoy.

I’m not one to decry a game for being difficult. In fact, I quite like difficult games. Any From Software title is a day one buy. I play games on easy or normal for the story and then replay them on the hardest difficulty available for the challenge. But a game’s difficulty level should be defined by intention, not hardware limitations.

To be clear, I quite enjoyed Convoy but I enjoyed the PC version far more. I purchased Convoy on Steam after playing the review copy from the publisher and had a much better experience. Convoy still presents a challenge in its PC form, but it’s the challenge that Convoy Games intended players to experience. I recommend Convoy for fans of FTL and Into the Breach but if it can be helped, stick with Steam version of Convoy so you can enjoy the game to the fullest extent.

Graphics: 8.0

A welcome return to old school 8-bit graphics. Over cluttered UI and hard to read fonts take away from the otherwise enjoyable visuals.

Gameplay: 8.0

Convoy‘s core gameplay is great and wonderfully emulates its inspiration while offering something fresh.

Sound: 7.5

The MIDI style soundtrack is fun and bouncy, but a bit repetitive.

Fun Factor: 7.0

The limitations of console controls really hinder the overall experience of an otherwise strong game. Interested players should prioritize the original edition of Convoy.

Final Verdict: 7.5

Convoy is available now on Playstation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and Steam.
Reviewed on Playstation 4.
A copy of Convoy was provided by the publisher.