Conglomerate 451 is a cyberpunk first-person dungeon crawler in an unhappy future

Conglomerate 451 is a first-person, turn-based dungeon crawler with an unusual twist: Instead of locking players into a fantasy-style swords-and-sorcery maze, it takes place in a futuristic cyberpunk world. It features roguelike elements, including randomized dungeons and missions, and character permadeath. And the Ghost Class battle clones sent by a shadowy government agency to crack down on sector 451 of Conglomerate City are actually the "good" guys who are doing your bidding. 

Mechanically, Conglomerate 451 sounds interesting, with turn-based combat on a grid, skills and powers that are unlocked through research, cyberspace hacking, and a "pain and trauma" system that can leave agents permanently affected by the injuries they take in battle. That—and the ever-present threat of the permanent loss of agents who get offed in the field—puts a premium on strategic use of skills and abilities. 

But the setting and story are a little off-putting. To be fair to 1C Entertainment and developer RuneHeads, sector 451 is apparently a pretty bad place, riddled with crime and corporate corruption. Even so, and without the slightest exaggeration, I got halfway through the trailer before I realized that I would not be fighting these government-controlled extrajudicial murderbots, but commanding them. And it makes no bones about what exactly that means, from the "Restore order at any cost" tagline—boldface theirs—to the visible mission briefing that's literally "kill 'em all." Choosing to set the game in sector 451 is a little on the nose, too. 

It's possible to see an element of Syndicate in all this, and in fact there's a brief bit in the trailer that's basically a straight lift from the original Syndicate intro. But that game is about corporate warfare, and you expect corporations to be evil—they are, after all. I would generally expect better (or at least less overt) behavior from government, but the Steam listing makes it clear that the good governance ship has sailed.

"You are the CEO of a Special Agency, instructed by the Senate of Conglomerate City to restore the order in sector 451, where corrupted corporations have established their turfs," it says. "Thanks to the last constitutional decree, you are allowed to create human clones. Build your own team, manipulate DNA, train your agents, equip them with high-end weapons, choose what cyberlimbs to implant, and send the squad to the field with only one goal: eradicate crime and restore order at any cost." 

Maybe I'm reading too much into all of this. The developer downplayed the state-sanctioned murder thing, saying that the story "will be more akin to pulp fiction in that the plot will serve more as a means of getting you into the game’s RPG meat," while the clones are actually created from agents who are killed in battle. I'm not sure how that materially impacts the whole "I am a tool of the oppressor" angle, but such things will no doubt become clearer as it comes closer to release. Conglomerate 451 is "coming soon" to Steam Early Access. 

Andy covers the day-to-day happenings in the big, wide world of PC gaming—the stuff we call "news." In his off hours, he wishes he had time to play the 80-hour RPGs and immersive sims he used to love so much.