Reviewed on PC
CONSORTIUM is a science fiction role-playing game in which you play a character from our time who in turn occupies the body of another character from an alternate future dimension for the purposes of entertainment. Your character is in effect playing a game himself, or so it seems at first, only from his perspective, he is controlling a real person and interacting with real people in a real environment.
The game takes place on a futuristic jumbo jet belonging to a peacekeeping organisation called the Consortium. You occupy a person known as Bishop Six by the rest of the crew. Bishop Six is a field agent who doubles both as a negotiator and soldier and who has just joined the aircraft replacing a previous Bishop. Your controlling of another character allows for an interesting variation on the typical start of game amnesia common to RPGs in that you don’t know your character’s back story because you aren't actually him. You aren't even from his time period, so even recent history and current technology is an unknown to you.
CONSORTIUM’s gameplay is effectively a choose-your-own-adventure interactive story which resembles the conversation side of a point-and-click adventure game mixed in with some entirely optional first-person shooting. Unlike many dialogue systems in games, you do not have the option to explore every topic in turn. The conversations progress in a natural way, with your choice of response steering the discussion away from previously available options and even drastically altering how the game’s story will progress. Your choices, in even the very first interaction in the game, can open or close future avenues of gameplay to you. This is how the first-person shooter side of the game becomes optional - you can talk your way into or out of any fight in the game and even ignore your commanding officer’s request to carry out weapons training in a simulator if you so desire.
This flexibility to do what you want, with your actions altering the story, is the game’s major strength. There is no right or wrong way to play the game. You can't even get held up trying to meet an objective like you might in a typical game. For example, one of the plots in the game is to discover who has committed a crime onboard, but the game doesn't stand still waiting for you to solve this. It doesn't affect the game’s progression whether you correctly identify the criminal, incorrectly identify them or don't even bother trying. What it affects is how the story proceeds after that point.
The game environment is restricted solely to the jumbo jet. Whilst this sounds limiting, it is a three-storey jet with a variety of rooms such as the cockpit, avionics, hangar, control rooms and residential areas. There’s a sense that limiting the environment has had the trade off of allowing the developers to provide a lot of flexibility within it, such as the characters on board being able to move around the aircraft rather than remaining at a fixed location. The graphics certainly lack detail but the characters are well voice acted by people from around the world giving a feel of being part of an international team. Each character has an opinion of you that will change based on your conversations with them, and as you don't know these people, you have no idea in advance whether what you say may impress or offend them. You can even try to tell them you're from an alternate dimension playing a game and depending on the character they'll either play along, think you're wasting their time or think you're crazy.
The first-person shooting is basic and there are only a few opportunities to use it outside of the training simulator and so this side of the game is not going to be be the main draw. Even for those that do take the path of violence, there is still the option of using lethal or non-lethal ammunition. There is an unusual inventory system where players have to balance the energy for healing and weapons vs. carrying capacity. Combat-wise, there is also an air combat minigame which is basically a fairly easy 3D version of Missile Command which again, has lethal and non-lethal options.
CONSORTIUM is actually the first part of a trilogy in which it looks like sequels will be set in different environments. This episode takes the form of a series of smaller plots which you may or may not conclude depending upon your actions, with some overarching plots that will clearly continue through the series of games. By the end of the game you're left with plenty of answers - if you've chosen to pursue them, but also plenty of mystery left and a desire for the sequel to continue the story. Major decisions and actions you have taken, mostly regarding who is alive and dead, are logged in your save game to provide continuity and affect the story of the sequels.
The game is short, but it is clear from the variety of ways the game can be played and how this affects the story that there’s a lot of replay value here. There’s also an in-game virtual internet which provides a lot of background information as well as news reports on your own actions and this will take a good while to go through for those interested in learning more about the game’s universe.
It should be noted that at the game’s launch it did unfortunately suffer from a variety of technical issues, including some that would leave you unable to complete the game. These more serious issues have now been resolved, although some performance issues do remain on selected system configurations and these are due to be fixed at the end of January. The developers were very open and apologetic about these issues and we have described them in more detail here. Now they are well on the way to being resolved, they hopefully won't detract from what is otherwise a very good game.
CONSORTIUM is a short adventure but with a lot of flexibility in how you can play it and with your choices and actions leading to very different stories. With fairly limited, and entirely optional combat, this is definitely a game for those looking for a good story rather than action. The game has a great cast of well-voiced characters and intriguing plots with plenty of mystery. Whilst the launch was set back by technical issues, these should now be largely resolved by patches.