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Platform: PC

Consortium Review

Saving the future, one dialogue tree at a time

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Not that one would willingly try to chat-up the crew members of the Zenlil, anyway. For a game where conversing with your subordinates constitutes such a huge slice of gameplay, a worryingly large percentage of characters are surprisingly bland and interchangeable. There's a core group of important people who are at least memorable, if not particularly interesting, but everybody else might as well be a set of half-melted shop mannequins with pencilled-in features. They all feel artificial, manufactured, delivering their sterile colloquialism-free lines with the emotional capacity normally reserved for infomercial actors. I won't blame the voice acting entirely, since it is at least up to a decent standard – apart from having that curious property where every single international accent on the planet is represented among your ranks – but I wouldn't be surprised if I was told, say, that the writer wasn't around when the lines were being recorded. The other part of the problem is the crew's names, in the sense that they aren't actually used. Everybody is primarily referred to by their rank designation, be it Knight 15 or Rook 9, and associating these often similar titles with people is far harder than it sounds. We have names for a reason, you know: a unique collection of syllables is ideal for identifying somebody's ugly mug. I wouldn't mind – since there is, in fairness, a menu option that lists everybody you've met so far – but the game wheels out a murder mystery plot early on which practically demands that you be familiar with every single person on board in order to deduce the traitor. Who do I think is more suspicious, Pawn 25 or Pawn 29? Don't know. Pawn 29 is the one with the single arbitrary forgettable character trait, right? Oh wait, that applies to all of them.

Consortium game

We're going to edge into petty territory now, so if you're hoping for some serious grown-up criticism then you might want to put fresh slices of lemon over your eyes for the duration of this paragraph, or whatever it is people do. Ready? Alright. Where, if you please, is the 'skip dialogue' button? I'm sorry, Consortium, but your spoken dialogue was not exactly music to my ears to start with, and playing through the game for the fourth time in a row has not sweetened the experience by any measurable amount. I appreciate, nay, admire Interdimensional Games' endeavours to create a game with multiple narrative paths, and I am as willing to wander down such paths as I was when I played The Stanley Parable, but I need to be met halfway here. The dull pain of repetition needs to be soothed as much as possible, and that starts with not forcing me to sit around for five minutes or so waiting for the same stiff space-opera dramatics to unfold at a painstakingly-slow pace. The Stanley Parable dealt with this sort of thing by being more densely packed than a 6 AM commuter train and – mostly – letting you pass through the story as fast as your legs could carry you. Consortium has neither of those things, meaning that pretty soon you'll be wondering just how Rook 9 would look with a plasma coil jammed up his left nostril.

As it happens, assaulting your crew is just one of the many things that Consortium just flat-out won't let you do, alongside opening conveniently locked doors and generally anything that would send the plot careening off its established course, which seems a bit weak and flimsy for a game selling itself so heavily on its freedom of operation. Several times I made a point of trying my absolute hardest to completely throw a playthrough and the game would always find a way to ensure things carried on essentially as they were before. I could just come right out and explain that I was a visitor from another dimension, inhabiting Bishop Six's body and controlling his actions as part of some twisted entertainment scheme, and after a brief diversion everything returned to normal. I just don't see why Consortium is so averse to the idea of going ahead with a game-ending scenario. Part of the importance of being able to drive the plot is being able to drive the plot off a cliff if necessary, or to bring it down to a more generalised level: freedom is not freedom without the freedom to royally bugger things up. Consortium is a game that never takes your training wheels off.

Consortium game

Don't touch those lemons just yet. In the course of researching this game before its release – because, you know, professionalism and stuff – I came across an interesting little titbit: there are, apparently, over 150,000 words of back-story tucked away in Consortium. This became something of a dubious claim after I'd played through the game twice and found precisely zero of those words, but eventually I ran my fingers over a certain info-screen in the ship's lobby and... well, it was like I was in a nineties sitcom and I'd just opened somebody's closet door. I was inundated – no, buried – by a bookshelf's worth of fabricated newspaper articles, reports, stories and general lore snippets. Sure, it was some impressive attention to detail, but it was far too condensed to be of any use to gameplay. Back-story is something to be weaved into the game, to be offered gently to the player, as one would offer a mint to their dinner date on the way out of the restaurant. Presenting the back-story like this, then, is like dumping a sack full of mints in front of me and sitting opposite, folding your arms meaningfully: I wouldn't know where to start, and even if I did, that's a seriously hefty undertaking you're asking from me there, Consortium.

Let me make it nice and clear that Consortium is not, apart from this unprecedented backstory dump, a badly-written game. The story is definitely compelling, above-average for videogames – at least, when it's not faffing around with all that alternate reality nonsense – and most of the dialogue rings fairly pleasant in spite of its often-monotonous delivery from plasticine emotion-androids. However, there is one thing that Consortium deserves a good thumping for, and that's the ending. You know the drill here: spoilers abound, citrus sleeping masks at the ready if you have a problem with that. Anyway, after a relatively stable plot so far, you meet with the King – an AI in charge of running the Consortium – and are made aware of a terrorist operation taking place in London being orchestrated by none other than Sa'ad Bin Laden. With a completely new, conspiracy-theory infused (and slightly tasteless) conflict on the cards and the old ones not quite resolved, things are looking ominously fragmented. You are introduced to a completely new character with no connection to the plot thus far, you arm yourself to the teeth so you can prod some terrorist buttock, bail out the back of the Zenlil in the middle of a storm, quantum leap your way back through key parts of the story and... roll credits. The game goes to all the trouble of making you think it's going to have an exciting climactic action-packed ending, and then ends on a weakly ambiguous cliffhanger. As disappointments go it's right up there with getting a Chinese Wii knock-off on Christmas Day and struggling to look grateful for the family photographs, but since this is Interdimensional Games' first release I suppose I can let them stick their grubby foot in the door for a sequel if it means they can carry on. I'd play a sequel, honestly; if only to see what the developers do next.

Consortium game

Finally, and perhaps fatally, the game is swimming in a sea of bugs. Most are of the graphical glitch variety – sometimes only subtly distinguishable from the 'oh look, your magical time satellite is on the blink again' graphical effects – but a few have risen to the top of the crawling mass, their bodies engorged upon the corpses of their underlings, and have taken the form of game-ending dead-ends. Normally I'd spend some time gleefully recounting their wacky effects upon the game, but my hand was stayed by the news that the developers have not only publicly apologised and sacrificed at least one beta tester at the altar of Kali (okay, I might have remembered that part wrong) but have also hotfixed everything they could in the first week and have set up a bug-fixing process for the next few months. In today's world, I can respect a developer that not only admits that they ballsed-up, but also immediately sets about righting their wrongs. Consequentially, Interdimensional Games gets to escape humiliation today. Perhaps by the time this review beams itself down your eyeball tubes, the game will be more or less fixed, and perhaps I will also transcend my physical form and become a being of pure spite and bad similes. You never know.

Ultimately though, Consortium is little more than a flawed curiosity. In some ways it emulates that mighty first-person RPG of yore, Deus Ex, but only if the dialogue features had been allowed to grow unchecked, like a cancerous mass, and swiftly engulf everything else that made that game great. It's a vision of something quite extraordinary, a truly character-driven piece of original science-fiction, but just takes far too many missteps to properly entertain. For a game where story and character are everything, it makes so many amateur mistakes in those key areas: the poorly-defined crew members, the congealed mashed-potato lump of in-game lore, the on-the-rails plot, the occasionally completely broken dialogue trees and the frankly downright silly framing concept are just the largest bugbears to be named. If you're desperately seeking a non-arty departure from typical action gaming and are prepared to forgive just about anything to get it, then I can recommend Consortium to you. For everybody else, it is but a novelty.

Our ratings for Consortium on PC out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
Visually uninspired and hampered by somewhat dry dialogue delivery, but essentially functional. Music isn't half-bad either.
Adequately deep combat and inventory mechanics that end up getting barely used. Dialogue-based gameplay dominates the day, and that's fine too if you don't mind the heavy reliance on a meaninglessness reputation system. Overall just downright unfocussed.
Single Player
Well-written at both the plot and dialogue levels, full of nice little moments, but the implementation is questionable. Poor back-story delivery, ridiculous framing concept, disappointing ending cliffhanger and - let's not forget - paced more agonizingly slowly than an arthritic tortoise race.
(Show PC Specs)
CPU: Intel i7-870 @ 2.93 GHz
GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 760
OS: Windows 7 Premium 64-bit
PC Specs

Graphical glitches and inexplicably crawling framerate dominate the day here. You might be able to deal with those, but game-ending logic bugs that flat-out prevent you from continuing are not so easily shrugged off. The developers are apparently on their way to fixing most of that, but don't take that as anything resembling a guarantee.
Strangely compelling though it is, Consortium is a roughly-cut venture that doesn't really make use of its ideas. Not recommended unless you're really, really, creepily into dialogue trees.
Consortium box art Platform:
Our Review of Consortium
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Consortium is ranked #1935 out of 1989 total reviewed games. It is ranked #147 out of 152 games reviewed in 2014.
1934. Star Trek
PlayStation 3
1935. Consortium
1936. BLIK

10 images added Jan 25, 2014 16:32
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