Vicious Circle is the latest game from video game publisher and developer Rooster Teeth Games, and the second of which that was developed in-house. As much as I love what comes out of their publishing arm (Bendy and the Ink Machine to name just one) it’s nice to see Rooster Teeth Games flex their creative muscles for the first time since RWBY: Grimm Eclipse launched on Steam over three years ago. Vicious Circle takes on the hero-shooter genre and adds a couple of twists of their own, taking inspiration from games such as Evolve and Overwatch to try and come up with something new. But throwing a bunch of good ideas into the mix doesn’t always mean you get something good in return. This is our Vicious Circle review.
The core gameplay is simple and fairly intuitive. A free-for-all online shooter between five players, wherein four players run around as one of four different mercenary characters and one as the overpowered mutant chicken named Peggy Sue. To anyone who’s played Evolve, this may sound familiar. But whereas Evolve has players cooperating to capture and kill the mutant monster before it grows too strong, Vicious Circle has players compete – and not always cooperatively – to harvest sci-fi space nuggets and get to the evac point before they’re killed off by the mutant chicken. The catch? Only one merc can escape with the loot, while the others are left behind to suffer their Kentucky-Fried demise. This uncooperative element is the entire hook of Vicious Circle and although I like the premise on paper, in practice the execution is a confusing mess. Players will often wind up not co-operating enough and are methodically picked off by Peggy Sue. There are a variety of random pick-ups scattered across the map to grief other players though, including decoys to drop and throw off where you are as well as shock grenades that cause other players to drop some of their gathered nuggets. Maps are also littered with security-doors that you can use to lock up access for several seconds, potentially trapping the person right behind you in a room with Peggy Sue or locking out Peggy Sue itself. Personally, I wish we were incentivized more to help each other out initially because the beginning of each round is a chaotic rush to get as many nuggets at first before Peggy Sue reaches us, by which point each of us has run off on our own making ourselves easier targets. If players could stick together more they’d stand a chance against the giant poultry-geist, instead of panicking and trying to run away which usually results in their death.
The secondary hook to Vicious Circle is that death is not the end. When players die, they come back as a Spider-man swinging critter called a Lil’ Dipper. As a Dipper, you can attack other players and take over their bodies (and any nuggets they’ve gathered) forcing them to become Lil’ Dippers themselves. One assist to help you track down other players is the ability to see them through the walls. This is where items like the decoy come in handy since Lil’ Dippers will see those and, hopefully, be distracted from finding the real player. Unfortunately, since those decoys don’t move it’s pretty easy to spot the fake from the real. But it’s annoying nonetheless when you think you’re really close to another player just to realize that it’s nothing more than a projected hologram. Some of the most fun I had while playing Vicious Circle came as swinging around as a Lil’ Dipper though. The RMB will extend your two tentacle-arms and attach to nearly any surface, allowing you to propel quickly and easily wherever you are looking. The Shift key acts as a boost-jump as well, making traversing the odds and ends of the map a breeze.
Yet with as much fun as I have playing as the Lil’ Dippers, that’s not how you win a round. As more players get killed off by Peggy Sue and turn into Lil’ Dippers themselves, the difficulty spikes exponentially for the remaining players. It creates this snowball effect where as soon as one player goes down, inevitably a second and then a third will follow. My beginning hours playing Vicious Circle were vicious indeed, as nearly every round was won by whoever was playing as Peggy Sue. Luckily, Rooster Teeth Games were on-top of the feedback from players and swiftly implemented a couple of patches to 1) balance out the power and speed of Peggy Sue and 2) reduce respawn times on Lil’ Dippers. This gives players a little more breathing room instead of constantly being barraged by enemies. Since then, it definitely appears to be more balanced as in any given match Peggy Sue will usually only win one or two of the five rounds.
The more I played and the more familiar I became with the various maps and mechanics, the better Vicious Circle seemed to feel. There are a lot of nuances that aren’t immediately made known, such as how to progress ranks in their free seasonal battlepass, but just by playing matches and earning Daily, Weekly, and General challenges you start unlocking additional character skins and emotes and learning more about the different systems. Finding which character jives with your playstyle best is definitely a top priority as you gain more familiarity with the gameplay mechanics. I’ve found myself drawn to Zella (voiced by the wonderful Barbara Dunkelman) and her invisibility skill, even though much I prefer Cr45h & Burn’s AoE cannon weapon. It’s these kinds of trade-offs that ensure no single characters feel overpowered or imbalanced. That said, the different characters all feel very similar with their main weapons and their RMB special ability really being the only difference. I would’ve preferred a more Overwatch style skill system, where there were more abilities to utilize, as I feel like there’s not enough differentiation between each mercenary nor do I feel like there’s enough utility to successfully escape, defend, or attack. As such, certain tactics have become essential to my gameplay, such as running through a door and dropping a decoy, then turning invisible and hiding next to the door, just to slip back through as soon as Peggy Sue comes rushing after me and then locking the door behind me. It’s classic misdirection and it’s saved my alien-butt more times than not.
Although I’ve found aspects of Vicious Circle to like, the overall experience was extremely lackluster. I never really felt like I was having fun while playing – even when I was winning (which was hardly ever). The battlepass system seems disjointed and tacked on in an effort just to have that extra something to work towards. Unfortunately, the rewards from the battlepass never excited me and I didn’t feel incentivized to perform any particular task or play as any particular mercenary outside of just earning more XP towards my overall rank. Despite the wonderful voice acting (such as Dave Fennoy as Captain Boom), the expertly designed maps, and the excellent level of polish, I never once had that feeling of “Just one more match!” or “I’m so close to unlocking this next skin!” that similar games evoke. Instead of several great gameplay elements fusing into something amazing, they seem to detract from one-another and highlight weaknesses in the gameplay. I often found myself comparing certain elements to other games, and wishing that Vicious Cycle would have either implemented more of a particular mechanic or scrapped it completely. After all, if you’re only going to do something half-way, why bother doing it at all?
Note: Our copy was reviewed on Steam with a code provided by PR.
COMPARE TO: Evolve, Overwatch