Game Reviews

Vicious Circle Review

Rooster Teeth dives into the shooter genre with mixed results

by Kyle Hanson

It’s tough to stand out and innovate within the shooter genre. As one of gaming’s premier gametypes, shooters have grown and expanded over recent years, but have mostly settled into some preferred patterns. To break from those patterns is difficult, challenging, and risky. The genre doesn’t seem broken, so any attempt to fix it often results in a muddled experience that never feels as fine tuned and focused as other titles. This is what seems to have happened with Vicious Circle, Rooster Teeth’s first major foray into the online shooter realm. Combining tons of ideas, there’s certainly something you’ll find interesting here, but the whole is far less than the sum of its parts.

Vicious Circle is a jumble of various shooter ideas

What is Vicious Circle? It’s tough to put together in your head given the sheer number of ideas being presented. The game is a jumble of various shooter concepts that its creators describe as an “uncooperative multiplayer shooter.” What does that mean exactly? Basically that it’s every player for themselves, but without fully embracing a competitive experience.

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When you first start playing it all kind of seems to make sense. You play as one of four alien mercenaries who enters a deadly arena to collect Nuggets. Each mercenary type has its own unique weapon and ability, settling into the usual tropes of default shooter, heavy weapon specialist, and so on. Collect enough nuggets and evacuation zones will spawn. Get to them first and you’ll become the winner. This is where the uncooperative part comes in, with four mercenaries vying for these nuggets and the exit all at the same time. You can’t kill each other, though you can steal nuggets and prevent evac if you feel like it. Oh, and there’s a giant alien chicken trying to kill you.

Vicious Circle is both a semi coop shooter and also an asymmetrical multiplayer game

So here’s where things get even more mixed up. Vicious Circle is both a semi (but not really) coop shooter and also an asymmetrical multiplayer game ala Evolve and Dead by Daylight. Four mercenaries enter the arena along with Peggy Sue, a colossal chicken who’s set on protecting her eggs from these invaders. One player takes this role on just as in other 4v1 experiences.

Each of these ideas is full of potential, but neither comes together well on its own, and especially not when put together. Let’s start with the mercenary team, which is ostensibly where most of the uncooperative fun is meant to come from. On paper, it all makes sense. Four players enter, all with the same goal. So they’ll compete to be the first to achieve it. There aren’t a ton of ways to directly impact other players though, resulting in most simply ignoring each other. Where they’re meant to cooperate is against Peggy Sue, but few teams will do this without in-game voice. And the reward for defeating her is simply more nuggets and a few seconds escape from constant danger. So in the end you have four players all running around doing similar things, but rarely interacting.

The biggest way Vicious Circle forces its uncooperative nature onto the player is in the evac zone. Only one player can leave, so if there’s two in the area it will lock down, delaying victory and offering an opening to the alien enemy. But this rarely happens in an actual game, since each player would need to have collected the requisite number of nuggets before victory is even possible, and there’s no reason to give the already overpowered chicken player more of a chance to win. Also, by the end most human players will have already switched teams.

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Oh yeah, there’s another new shooter mechanic added to Vicious Circle’s mix. Upon death each mercenary will watch a far too long cutscene where they transition into the form of a Lil Dipper. These tiny, fast moving creatures are now uncooperating with Peggy Sue, going after the mercenaries and trying to kill them. If you manage to do this you then take over their body, switching teams again and stealing all that hard-fought progress from that player.

This is another “great on paper” idea that struggles in practice. Players don’t really fight in Vicious Circle, they harvest nuggets. In a five minute round (oh yeah, there’s rounds), four of those minutes will be spent shooting at nodes on a wall while the other minute will be used getting to the finish or escaping danger. Once you become a Lil Dipper you instead just swarm the surviving players trying to take over their body, prompting a lot of repetitive gameplay and tedious respawning.

Moving around as a Lil Dipper is actually quite fun, with interesting and easy to control movement mechanics like the grapple. You move fast, but are easily killed. It’s just that this doesn’t really lead to any unique or engaging gameplay opportunities. You respawn quickly, so the rest of the round pretty much consists of you spawning, running at the closest enemy, trying to take them over, dying, repeat. If you do take them over then you feel like a bit of a jerk with little sense of accomplishment and the odds are you’ll die quickly anyway due to Vicious Circle’s inherent imbalances.

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There’s going to be a lot of balance patches heading this game’s way, I believe. First off, the four mercenary types aren’t well balanced with two of them being the clear favorite if you actually want to win. But the elephant in the room is actually the chicken, who has a one-hit KO move and tons of other ways of ending up the victor. Most matches will end with a Peggy Sue victory and if they don’t, it’s probably after a Lil Dipper took someone over upending any sort of skill or work put in by that player. And after the five rounds, which don’t really fit with this style of gameplay as it is, the game just sort of ends. There’s no feeling of satisfaction at a hard fought victory and no camaraderie built between teammates. If some crazy, random stuff happened you may have gotten a laugh or two, but most games sort of just whimper away with a splash screen for the results.

So there’s a lot wrong with Vicious Circle as it has launched, with the game in a lot of ways feeling like an early access, free-to-play experience rather than the full release at $20. It does do many things better than anticipated though, especially with the visuals. The character and world designs are excellent, and the maps are nice as well. It’s also clear that more thought has went into this universe than is on display initially, leading to a promising future if the game can get and maintain an audience long enough for the promised free updates to arrive. And for fans of the Rooster Teeth brand as a whole the voice cast is a total triumph, though the sound mixing could use a bit of work overall.

The Verdict

Vicious Circle is a bold leap into the shooter genre for fledgling developer Rooster Teeth Games, but the risks didn’t really pay off. The game feels like a big ball of differing ideas rather than a coherent whole. There’s a solid foundation to build off of, but it’s tough to see a truly strong future if things aren’t worked out quickly. Balancing between the factions is key, but the game currently has too many mechanics, especially of the “gotcha” variety. If all you want to do is gather five friends together for some random shooter fun, this will fit that bill somewhat, but there’s better options out there.

"meh"
meh

Vicious Circle

  • Available On: PC
  • Published By: Rooster Teeth Games
  • Developed By: Rooster Teeth Games
  • Genre: First-Person Shooter
  • US Release Date: August 13th, 2019
  • Reviewed On: PC
  • Quote: "Vicious Circle is a bold leap into the shooter genre for fledgling developer Rooster Teeth Games, but the risks didn't really pay off."
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