I’ve always had a fascination with vehicular combat media. I am a die hard fan of Mad Max in all its incarnations (yes, even Beyond Thunderdome. Yes, I know everyone hates it. Ugh, shut up and keep reading), enjoyed Vigilante 8 and Twisted Metal, have muddled about with Car Wars, and have made more than a few road warriors in Deadlands: Hell on Earth. As such, it was with eager abandon that I acquired Convoy during the Steam Summer sale, hoping to experience a similarly challenging experience to Faster Than Light, but substituting muscle cars for intergalactic ships.
Convoy begins, surprisingly enough, with a spaceship. While en route to some distant interstellar conflict, your ship, the Mercury, is severely damaged while traveling through an asteroid field. Having just enough control to set the ship down rather than crash it, the ships crew puts down on Omek Prime, and immediately begins looking for repairs and replacement parts. Being the backwater motor-head cousin of Tatooine, Omek Prime lacks any sort of reasonable space port, and so you and your crew must put together a convoy and search the wastes for the proper parts.
You begin by selecting your MCV (Motorized Convoy Vehicle) along with a load out of 2 support vehicles (you initially have the choice of 2 support vehicle starter sets to choose from, but only one MCV. More options for both are unlocked through gameplay). After choosing your ride, you put pedal to metal in your search for decidedly sci-fi sounding space ship parts (and adventure). Additional vehicles will await you during certain encounters in the wastes, and all vehicles have swappable weapons, along with individual statistics such as handling, armor, and range that can be upgraded at shops across the planet.
Starting with a view of an overworld map, you and your crew make your way through the wastes looking for parts. The map is a generic-ish topographical map, lacking too much detail beyond colored elevations, veined with roads and highways, and dotted with the occasional camp, urban area, or encounter marker. Areas are also highlighted in red, green, or blue, denoting what faction controls the region, as well as how much control they have (indicated by the intensity/saturation of the color in a given region). You are free to roam in whatever fashion you might like, bearing in mind that your speed (and thus fuel efficiency) will suffer away from roads and flat lands. For those of us who are goal oriented, there is a handy menu located on the right that shows the 4 replacement parts needed (for the main quest), as well as any sidequests you may have picked up. Selecting a quest will place an arrow on your convoy indicating what direction you should go to complete it, and the menu will show you how far away the target is as well. Indicators will also show in yellow on the map as you travel, denoting distress signals or quest objectives. Driving over these will activate them.
Alright, enough about maps. Lets talk about encounters. Convoy features both random and fixed encounters. Random encounters can occur anywhere, but are more likely in certain areas (like rough terrain), and certain encounters will only occur in certain places. For instance, you will only be accosted by highwaymen on or near roads. When an encounter is triggered, a screen pops up giving you some detail on the situation, and will often give you multiple options for addressing it. For instance, you may pick up the radio signal of a band of raiders who are following you, and will be given the choice to hail them, hide, ambush, or avoid them. These choices are not necessarily fixed either; choosing the same option from encounter to encounter may not always herald the same result. Encounters can end in a number of ways, but most often they will either provide you with or cost you resources (fuel and parts, most often), or plunge you into combat.
Combat will happen frequently, as it probably should for any vehicle combat game. Replacing the overhead during these skirmishes is a top down view of your convoy, rolling headlong to the right against a background relief that makes sense for the area in which the combat started (concrete jungles for urban areas, desert roads for off-road encounters). Your MCV appears fixed in the middle of this, with your combat support vehicles arranged around it in whatever formation they were left in after your previous combat. Enemy vehicles will enter from the edges of this snapshot of Omek Prime, and more often than not will make a beeline for your command vehicle as they attempt to bring it down.
With the stage set, its time to get tactical. The rolling battle will continue until all enemies are destroyed, or your MCV is brought down. Each vehicle is able to move forward and backward (compared to the MCV which is always centered) as well as up and down. While not shown, the battlefield is basically a grid, with vehicles moving between spaces as they jockey for position. The reasons you might change position vary; you may need to close distance in order to fire a weapon at your target (ranges are based on a statistic that each vehicle has and can be upgraded), or your may place a vehicle between your MCV and an enemy, blocking line of sight (and thus damage, as most weapons require LoS). There is also some more “physical” combat maneuvers that rely upon positioning. You can ram other vehicles, and in certain instances even force opponents into roadside dangers, including wrecked vehicles, mines, and even buildings or cliff walls, resulting in damage and potentially even lethal impacts.
Taken all together, Convoy brings together an interesting mix of systems to create an experience that is unique and flavorful. The combat is fairly intelligent, requiring some forethought (and judicious use of the pause feature, mapped to the space bar) and big chrome lug-nuts. Having said all of this, however, Convoy is not a game for those weak in constitution. Most of the games encounters are quite bleak, often describing scenes rife with text-gore where the black hats often win. Additionally, the difficulty of the game sets a high bar, that only continues to increase as each game progresses. It is easy to hit walls and become frustrated, a sentiment echoed in other reviews and honestly felt by this author as well. I struggled to put together a winning playthrough on the easiest difficulty, and was only able to do so after several hours of play, in a format where I felt I had the best possible resources and tactics possible. Many victories have high cost and could be described as “skin of your teeth” at best. I personally feel that the curve might be too high, to the point where it might lock out a fair amount of content from your average user. I’ve sought data regarding what percentage of the current installed user base have achieved some of these herculean labors, and will post an update if it ever turns up (UPDATE: here are the numbers). The game also suffers from a number of bugs, ranging from application launch issues, to map rubberbanding, costing time and fuel as your vehicles “teleport” across Omek Prime.
Bottom line, if you enjoy difficult combat and procedural play-throughs against a post apoc/sci-fi backdrop, Convoy is worth a look. Anybody on the fence should likely watch a few Let’s Plays prior to purchase, and consider carefully what entertainment it might have for you.