Describing Convoy as “Faster Than Light meets Mad Max”, the way Convoy Games has done, is undeniably tantalising but only half the truth. Modesty is a virtue, but Convoy might be more aptly described as “Faster Than Light meets Mad Max meets Fallout”.
Convoy is a feat, combining the rogue-like gameplay and progression of FTL with the dust filled vehicular mayhem of Mad Max. But what Convoy Games fails to highlight is the inclusion of an expertly executed post-apocalyptic narrative and its accompanying themes. Not since Fallout has a post-apocalyptic world been as thoughtfully conceived and executed. The whole combination is even more appealing than even the marketing suggests - and when has that ever happened?
Convoy places you in charge of a convoy of vehicles that must explore the lawless planet of Ormek Prime in search of replacement parts for your damaged spaceship. As you venture out you need to constantly strive to upgrade your convoy if you hope to survive the numerous encounters with the many vicious factions of raiders and mercenaries on the planet. You have free rein over how you explore, or which quest or side quest you attempt. Though your ultimate goal is to fix your ship and escape the planet, you will encounter many side-narratives that you can choose to engage or ignore as you please.
Though you meet some interesting characters and have some particularly challenging battles in pursuit of the primary objectives, it becomes clear early on in Convoy that the game isn’t as much about winning as it experiencing the world and enjoying the gameplay. It's a wise move considering the game is a rogue-like and will kill you and your progress with little warning if you aren’t careful. The game's emphasis on enjoying the journey so works well because the journey is as satisfying as the destination.
Much of Convoy’s satisfaction comes from its randomly generated quests and encounters. As you ride around the world you often stumble upon points of interest or encounters. Much of these result in combat, some offer opportunities, others have disastrous results. Many offer all three. Perhaps you see a man in a stand-off with some bandits in the distance. You could join in, watch or leave. Let’s say you decide to engage the raiders, saving the man. Maybe he'll offer you a reward, or maybe he's insane and blows you up for the fun of it.
The world is often as unpredictable as this, but what my description is missing is the flavour and nuance in the text and characters that gives hints as to the result of any given action. If you pay attention, most of the time you can figure out the most successful action. I say most of the time because the results of many of these random encounters change in subsequent play-throughs. For instance, in one play-through this man you saved may offer to join your convoy, in others he may thank you for your help and offer no reward or assistance at all. It’s difficult to tell if these different results are randomly generated or if they are dependent on certain criteria being achieved, such as having finished a certain quest. But all that we can know is that it makes every play-through equally rewarding and tense.
The flipside of this unpredictability, however, is that sometimes the consequences can feel a little out of sync with the risk of an action. For instance, the choice of exploring a tower in the desert may result in all of your vehicles disappearing, essentially ending your play-through. Consequences like these are rare, but incredibly frustrating when they do occur.
It’s hard to talk about the gameplay of Convoy without mentioning Subset Games' 2012 game Faster Than Light, because though Convoy shares similarities with Mad Max and Fallout, the game is undeniably and unabashedly inspired by FTL. After all, the risk and reward system of the narrative and the text screens through which they are delivered are directly borrowed from FTL.
The combat however is a less loyal adaptation, borrowing many of FTL’s more successful mechanics while still adding enough difference and innovation to make it feel unique. Convoy’s combat is real-time strategy with the ability to pause time to make strategic decisions. In this strategic combat you must pit your vehicles against enemy vehicles as you all hurtle across an obstacle-strewn landscape. Success and failure rely heavily on how aware you are of many different factors such as positioning, targeting and maneuvering. The combat is intense and very fast-paced which makes encounters very exciting. The flipside of this action focus, however, is that Convoy’s combat feels a little less complex and nuanced than FTL’s, lacking any of the added factors such as poison or airlocks to deal with. But this faster, more action-heavy combat could easily be seen as just different rather than worse than what FTL offers.
A huge draw of combat is the reward of parts that can be traded at stores throughout the map for upgraded weapons and utilities. The upgrade system is totally addictive with the constant allure of more powerful weapons, shields and bombs always niggling at your brain. I often found myself ignoring questing completely so as to grind for upgrades instead. Not only do upgraded vehicles make combat exponentially easier, but exponentially more fun as well.
It’s understandable why Convoy would want to associate itself so closely with FTL. After all it is an incredibly well regarded and innovative game. But Convoy has improved, added and altered enough aspects to create not only an experience that equals FTL, but also one that could easily be argued to be better. Every aspect of the game from its complex and engaging world and story to its ever-changing gameplay and narrative are superbly conceived and just as well executed. It shouldn't be long until games are marketing themselves as “Convoy meets…”