Vicious Circle bites off more than it can chew when it comes to gameplay elements, but still provides a slice of multiplayer fun in places.
It's not always easy to get personality into a multiplayer shooter. Whereas the likes of Overwatch add a little bit of character into the genre, it's all too easy for the multiplayer FPS world to purely focus on gameplay elements as a means to drive player excitement. Vicious Circle attempts to deliver this through an asymmetrical shooter, with somewhat mixed results.
Vicious Circle comes from Rooster Teeth Games, and acts as the company's first venture into the online shooter realm. Fans of Rooster Teeth, who are behind a long run of iconic gaming culture series such as Red vs. Blue and recently gen:LOCK, will recognize a fair few voices in the cast of Vicious Circle. It all boils down to trying to make the game feel like something a little bit different.
When it comes to this attempt to inject some personality, it works rather well. Vicious Circle is full of color, and each of its characters does feel distinct. Even its enemies have a place of their own, with the game's main nemesis - also player controlled - sitting not-so-pretty as a giant, murderous chicken called Peggy Sue.
Vicious Circle puts in the homework with its premise, too. The game revolves around a bunch of alien mercenaries who are heading into dangerous locations to get hold of extremely valuable Nuggets. It's a game full of sci-fi charm, with a colorful, retro aesthetic that will no doubt win a fair few players over.
The game's characters all have their own differences, too. From Cr45H & Burn, who is effectively Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with a grenade launcher, through to the blue Fonz-a-like Blitz, each mercenary is distinct. That said, Vicious Circle lacks the diversity of play - and the well-crafted balance - of other hero-centric shooters on the market.
Of course, it's not all about those smaller character design moments and small tweaks. When it comes to the big picture, Vicious Circle unfortunately cannot deliver, as its core gameplay is fairly unpolished. A major part of this is because the title cannot quite handle its various different design decisions, and perhaps would have been better served by perfecting a simpler approach.
Vicious Circle describes itself as an "uncooperative multiplayer shooter." Even though on paper the game has two teams (one made up of the mercenaries and one made up of the powerful Peggy Sue), each of the mercenaries is in it for themselves. This means not only watching out for the chicken beast, but also gathering the required amount of Nuggets and trying to be the only one to make it back alive.
This leads to Vicious Circle using a mixture of different ideas. There are similarities to 2015's Evolve with its asymmetrical structure, but without the cooperative angle. There's also Overwatch's character focus to contend with, but once again this is overridden by that more cynical bent of every player working on their own.
Putting such contrasting choices into the same game was always going to require the utmost care to pull off successfully. When it comes to Vicious Circle, this attempted blend of various ideas doesn't work in practice. And, no matter of charm can cover up a muddled gameplay experience.
That's not to say that Vicious Circle entirely fails to hit home with its ideas. Something that works a little better is the fact that killed mercenaries come back as smaller aliens called Lil' Dippers, who can then take over the surviving mercenaries to give them a shot at success. This can lead to some great fun, but even here Vicious Circle struggles due to an awkward respawn rate, and the introduction of Lil' Dippers does lead each match into a progressively more desperate scramble.
The biggest problems in Vicious Circle are down to its balance. Peggy Sue is extremely overpowered for a giant chicken, meaning that the other players will spend more time simply trying to survive and scavenge rather than putting into effect the more uncooperative elements the Rooster Teeth had in mind. Should these problems be sorted out, then Vicious Circle's potential could be brought to life, but at the moment it's more of a missed opportunity.
At the end of the day, Vicious Circle is an ambitious game that needed more time to really work out what it wanted to be. Its characters and overall premise could have offered up something new, and in places works well, but at the moment Vicious Circle feels extremely cluttered. Hopefully Rooster Teeth will be able to tweak the game further, as there are elements here that could really work well.
Vicious Circle is out now for PC. Screen Rant was provided with a PC download code for the purposes of this review.