Have You Played… Consortium?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Consortium [official site] is one of those games that’s kinda hard to recommend… but I really respect and wish more people would play. I know. Contradiction. Let me explain. With words.

I have a fondness for games that shoot for the moon, and Consortium is absolutely one of those. Christ, it’s ambitious. It’s a real-time adventure that tries to distill the good bits of everything from Deus Ex to The Last Express to 24 into a couple of hours aboard the airship Zenlil. Attacks by enemy agents. A murder mystery on board. Just hanging out with the crew. Tick, tick, tick – the timer is always going, with the story branching and shifting like crazy based on how much you find, how you approach things, whether what you say makes people like and trust you, and even if you tell people that you’re not really troubleshooter Bishop-6, but someone controlling his body from a computer in another dimension. Which you are, literally and metaphorically.

Yeah. Did I mention that this game gets seriously meta?

It’s a really cool game that didn’t quite work, not helped by a horribly buggy launch and some odd design decisions like giving everyone a chess themed title like Pawn 6 and Knight 2 instead of just… well… using their bloody names. Actual quote: “Maybe talk to Rook 25, Pawn 32 or Pawn 4.” Aaargh! It’s not even as though they’re cold models of efficiency – they’re a pretty amiable bunch.

But! To play it is still to experience something genuinely fresh and ambitious in a way that helps paper over many of the cracks, and to really hope the team gets to put its lessons into practice. Kickstarter will determine whether or not that happens, but I’m hoping. They recently announced Consortium: The Tower Prophecy, and I have high hopes for it. They’ve got the tools, they’ve got the talent. Fingers crossed, they just need a second chance. And if you’re prepared for serious jankiness as well as cool stuff, definitely check the first one out to see why they deserve it.

41 Comments

  1. TimRobbins says:

    The only thing I truly disliked about Consortium was the abrupt ending, with no follow-up in sight. There were a couple obnoxious crashes and bugs, but I’ve been properly hardened to that by years of Bethesda and other AAA games. Glad to know there is a new installment coming. Not sure why I played this in the first place, as I avoid unfinished episodic games like the plague (same with unfinished tv shows), but it was enjoyable and deserves a new entry.

    • Crimsoneer says:

      They recently announced Consortium: The Tower Prophecy, and I have high hopes for it.

      • Crimsoneer says:

        Sorry, I hadn’t noticed you’d seen there was a followup.

  2. ektoutie says:

    Just from this piece, this sounds very reminiscent of slightly-shonky PS1 adventure game Sentient [hg101]. You’re on a space station, a bunch of things are going on over a 24-hour period and it’s up to you to figure out what and how and who and where by talking to the various characters, who move about and follow their defined routines for the period covering the game, etc.

    You’ve got my attention.

    • phlebas says:

      Oh, it was available on PC – but sadly more than slightly shonky. A buggy mess, but full of glorious ambition and it loves Solaris the way Culpa Innata loves Brave New World.

      • ektoutie says:

        I was being very diplomatic there really, the PS1 version is also Shonky As All Fuck. Not helped by the absurd control scheme necessitated by the sheer complexity of the thing on a pre-Dualshock PS1 pad.

        The Solaris comparison hadn’t actually even occurred to me but now that you mention it it’s like a slap in the face.

  3. All is Well says:

    The best part of Consortium, to me at least, is how it acknowledges the discrepancy between the character you’re playing and the actual you, and weaves this into the storytelling. Most games just work around this by having you ask NPCs a lot of questions that are completely absurd for someone who’s supposedly lived for 20+ years in the world you’re in, and besides the odd comment, nobody really reacts. Consortium NPCs, on the other hand, get suspicious if you ask questions like that, and there’s some really wonderful tense moments when they even proceed to ask YOU about stuff your character should know, but you yourself don’t, and answering wrong makes them lose trust in you. I absolutely loved that.

    • TimRobbins says:

      You’re spot on about that. It was also so much better than having a “companion” tag along and learn things your character already knows just so the player can catch up.

      • phlebas says:

        Better? It’s a good trick (Omikron did something similar) but I wouldn’t want to see too many games use it. Breaking the fourth wall has its own distancing effect and acknowledging your control in-game only works in certain genres. The companion thing has worked pretty well for Doctor Who over the years.

        • TimRobbins says:

          You’re right, I say better because I’ve played so few games that approach player learning this way, rather than the companion learning or text box spam. I should have said different, but it felt fresh in comparison to others.

  4. greatbird says:

    Dev here. Just wanted to mention that we have dutifully fixed the vast majority of issues reported to us over the past year. We even updated some voice acting earlier this year! Many players now report few to no issues at all after multiple playthroughs (which we recommend in order to get the most out of the experience).

    • Premium User Badge

      G-Lord says:

      Backer here. I can confirm that the game improved a lot after the release. Great recommendation Richard, was glad to see Consortium featured again.

      • slerbal says:

        Steam purchaser and player here: I can also confirm that the devs did a great job patching and fixing issues with this excellent game. I really enjoyed Consortium and look forward to the release of part 2. I’ve played Consortium through twice so far and will go back for more.

        Note to the devs: My only comment was I didn’t like the hissing on the soundtrack which masked the otherwise superb music by Jeremy Soule and made it un-listenable to on headphones. The static effect works in game but not for the OST on its own.

        • greatbird says:

          Wow. None of us listen to the mp3s, so this issue, for whatever bizarre reason, has gone both unnoticed and unreported. The game itself uses far better quality versions of the music.

          I just listened to them now and you’re right, the mp3 conversion is garbage. We will be addressing this issue asap, watch for an update on Steam soon that will fix the quality of the DLC soundtrack mp3s.

          • slerbal says:

            Awesome! I’m glad I could help and thank you for the awesome response!

            PS. I can’t wait for the Tower Prophecy. As a writer of science fiction set in future London it definitely sounds like my cup of virtual cybertea!

          • slerbal says:

            I was so pleased you got Jeremy Soule on to do the soundtrack. I’ve bought games in the past purely for his soundtracks :)

        • greatbird says:

          And the problem has been fixed, update was just pushed live. Greatly improved sound quality across the board, and better soundtrack cover art.

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      I look forwards to giving you more money.

    • twaitsfan says:

      Buyer here – just wanted to mention that I never got it to work on either PC I owned (yes, I made posts about it), and am still waiting for the late Mac version in the hopes that I’ll someday get to play this game that I bought.

      • greatbird says:

        A big update on the Mac version is coming soon….

      • greatbird says:

        Also, I will be happy to personally follow up with any support you need. If you have a PC that is within the recommended specs you should have no issues running the game. But PCs are notorious for having an insanely wide range of hardware and software configurations that can cause issues. (undoubtedly, everyone reading this knows this all too well. ;-)

        Anyways, shoot an email to support@interdimensionalgames.com , perhaps reference / link to the post you mentioned making and we’ll try and get you sorted!

  5. Anthile says:

    Here’s the notes I made while playing the game (some spoilers, I guess):
    link to i.imgur.com

    Really all you need to know about the game. It doesn’t even mention the plot.

    • Sin Vega says:

      As a corollary to this, while the game’s fiction is complex and you can plot the character and subplot relationships with painstaking detail, it’s not necessary to enjoy the game or see a lot of content. You can also play things by ear and rely entirely on your judgement and memory and make decisions based on who you do or don’t trust or like.

  6. Daniele says:

    When talking about real time adventure, I have to mention the fantastic and sadly forgotten Blade Runner game :)

    • Llewyn says:

      To be fair, Blade Runner has already featured in this series several months ago. It’s also not strictly real-time as there are several points where the plot doesn’t progress until you trigger it (although I’m told this is true of Consortium too.) It was a fabulous game though, despite some weird design decisions (actually, I see why you mentioned it on a Consortium article…)

  7. Marclev says:

    This article is really dissapointing and disingenuous. They did a really great job patching the issues out and the game is as good as any other in that regards now. How do launch day affect whether or not you’d recommend it to someone these days? I don’t know how you’d even get hold of it in it’s launch day state!

    Consortium is really cool and I’d say worth anybody playing a few times (every play through is different, and every choice you make changes the way the game unfolds, think The Stanley Parable on steroids and with a serious sci-fi thriller plot), the only problem I can see with it is that it ends a bit abruptly, but the amount of content they fit into what’s there, is amazing and immersive in a way that can’t really be put into words.

    • greatbird says:

      Thank-you for this, good sir. I suspect the OP is reflecting on a play experience that happened sometime earlier last year, but this is the single biggest issue that we’re still working on trying to stamp out. Reviews that were written a couple days after release and have never been updated are particularly frustrating, but it’s really an industry wide problem these days. Even worse are YouTube video reviews based on ancient builds.

      Anyways, we’re still extremely happy about the mention and recommendation, and you guys in the comments are doing a fine job of making it clear that the game in a great shape for playing now. :-)

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      Funny I read that as a positive – framing them as launch day bugs implies the devs actually stayed about to fix things rather than folding up or being Bethesda.

      That said while the old reviews mentioned in the comment above might not reflect the current state of a game as a consumer I really don’t want developers getting any more encouragement to release unfinished games and having a record like that is important when people consider things like preordering the next game.

  8. Premium User Badge

    X_kot says:

    My experience with Consortium is mixed. I backed it, enjoyed a run through it, and found the premise very interesting; it’s like Quantum Leap: The Game. All of the characters are distinct and have their own agendas, which you can learn about and manipulate.

    However, there are some serious difficulty spikes when combat occurs (unless you’re playing on the lowest difficulty), there is a MIssile-Command-like segment that comes out of nowhere and requires skills not used elsewhere, and there is little sense of resolution at the end. It is the first part of a series, sure, but Mass Effect 1 (a thematically similar game) sets up a multi-game experience and tells a full story arc.

    I also suffered a couple hard crashes and a 15-minute “Trapped in the VR Closet” incident when I first started playing at launch, but those issues have been reported fixed ages ago, so newbies likely won’t be affected by technical problems.

    • Sin Vega says:

      The combat is definitely a black mark, even though it can all be avoided (except the ship combat bit, which can be made less frantic), it’s unlikely you’ll figure out how on your first go, and even when you do, the point of the game is to replay it and do things differently.

      I’d recommend playing it on easy, as the combat is just a chore at best otherwise. But the silver lining is that the combat system has a fair bit of potential, both in terms of playability and integrating into the choice and consequence aspect of the game (try playing the training sim for a while if you doubt it. Pretty fun once you get a feel for it), so hopefully the second game will improve there.

      • Llewyn says:

        I don’t buy the notion that being able to avoid the combat is a redeeming feature. This is a game design where fail-states (or at least negative outcomes) are as interesting as a ‘perfect’ playthrough, if not more so. The idea of playing to avoid combat, as opposed to avoiding combat as a side-effect, is definitely not a desirable objective.

        The FPS combat elements of the game are absolutely, irredeemably awful. It’s by a long way the worst FPS I’ve ever endured for more than a few minutes. There may be some good ideas in the systems, but the implementation fails horribly through messy, confused visuals and an absolutely lack of feedback for both your own weapons and your enemies’.

        Greatbird, if you’re reading this, with the sequel please give us more of what your team are excellent at and less of the bad stuff. If you have to shoehorn an FPS into your thinking game please give those of us who don’t want it an option to bypass combat without having to pick specific decision paths – a Skip Combat button as other games might provide a Skip Cutscene button, which resolves combat and brings the player to the outcome (which can legitimitely include fail-states).

        I’d really like to back the sequel, both because I’d like to play more of the good stuff and because I’d like this kind of innovation to be successful, but at the moment I can’t even face a second run through Consortium.

        • greatbird says:

          We will be significantly improving and polishing the combat systems across the board in The Tower Prophecy.

          In addition, however, it will be much easier and more fluid/intuitive to use other tactics and approaches to avoid having to engage in direct firefights at all, if it isn’t your bag. We won’t ever force it on you.

          • Llewyn says:

            That sounds promising – based on that with the elements I did enjoy in Consortium I think I’m going to have to take a punt on the KS when it opens.

            Also, I do like the way you’re engaging with the community. As well as goodwill, it builds confidence in what you’re doing.

        • Sin Vega says:

          Well yeah, that’s what I was getting at. The point of the game is to replay it and see more outcomes, and avoiding combat necessitates certain actions, which prevent you from seeing some outcomes. It’s not really a solution. But that combat can be avoided is a good thing in most games, and it’s definitely a plus in Consortium (especially as the manner in which you do so in one case is very fitting and strategically sound – something a paramilitary agent should recognise)

    • greatbird says:

      In addition to Sin’s insightful comments, I would like to also add that we’ve made some significant balancing fixes since last year’s build.

      In addition, while it is indeed possible to end the game without solving the murder (and, indeed it does seem like most first playthroughs have this occur…) it IS possible to completely solve the murder, providing resolution to that plot.

  9. Robert Post's Child says:

    You had me at Weird, Slightly Janky Last Express in Space!

  10. tomimt says:

    The first thing that jumps in mind about Consortium is the horrible UI the game has. I knew that the game was only a couple of hours long, but I still couldn’t make myself to play it through because how much of a chore it was to play, which is a bit sad as I do think I did get more than half way through.

  11. cpt_freakout says:

    Yes, do it!