Vicious Circle Review - Chunks, Betrayals, And A Mutant Chicken

Behind this title is a lot of great ideas, but the execution itself can leave more to be desired.
8
  • Windows
  • Action
  • Shooter
2019-08-14
VC Opening
Vicious Circle is an engaging and thoroughly entertaining asymmetrical multiplayer game - but is far from perfection itself. Rooster Teeth Games

Picture the scene: there’s a gigantic mutant chicken out for your blood, clucking menacingly as its footsteps shake the ground. In the distance, you hear the warbled ramblings of squiggly alien things as they nimbly grapple around the station with their tentacles. Then there’s you, squatting in a corner and hidden by some crates, with 75 nuggets (apparently worth more than your life) on hand and the teleporter a mere 20 meters away. It’s simultaneously the worst  and the most exhilarating feeling in the world at the same time, and if you can condense Vicious Circle into one single feeling it will be just that.

I’ve never been much into asymmetrical titles, mostly because they’re bound to one way or another always end up the same. When I first heard of Vicious Circle, I thought nothing of it as well. It’s another one of those four people versus a single overpowered person in a closed-off environment situation, only this time it’s set in space and features a wacky, humorous and irreverent tone. However, after playing for what feels like only hours (in truth, Steam says I’ve played for a day and a half) I can safely say that Vicious Circle is an extraordinarily well-made asymmetrical shooter that is as unforgiving as it is extremely fun.

Gameplay

VC Chunks
Collect enough nuggets, and you can call on a teleporter to take you away and win you the round. Photo: Rooster Teeth Games

Vicious Circle does not have much in terms of story. You play as mercenaries in space stations as you search for resources called nuggets, which are extremely valuable. The solo player takes on the role of a monstrous chicken-like creature called Peggy Sue, whose job it is to make sure that no mercenary escapes with the nuggets. The mercenaries themselves are different aliens.

Gameplay-wise however, Vicious Circle is not lacking. As mercenaries your goal is to get nuggets and survive the relentless attack of Peggy Sue. Nuggets can be harvested with either your gun or a melee attack, with nuggets drifting towards the nearest player. The game throws events at the players every once in a while, in which a large deposit of nuggets appear on the map. This allows mercenaries to harvest a ton from these deposits. Once a mercenary gets 75 of these nuggets, two teleporters start charging up. Once fully charged, the teleporters can be used by the mercenary, although with a few caveats.

See, the thing about Vicious Circle is that it forces you to be vicious and unforgiving. This attitude is not exclusive to Peggy Sue either, and extends to other mercenaries. The game is played in rounds of five, and only one player can win the round: Peggy Sue, or one of the mercenaries. While the mercenaries are grouped together, you are not in any way a single group – only one of you can be teleported to safety and win the round. In a weird twist, you can’t really use your guns against other mercenaries. You can, however, use pick-ups to make mercenaries drop their nuggets, like stun grenades or audio mines that play a very loud advertisement once triggered. Interestingly enough, the system works well, encouraging players to not be complacent and always watch their backs.

VC Dipper
Dying turns you into a Little Dipper, which can still win if it manages to invade another player's body. Photo: Rooster Teeth Games

Now, you may be thinking that since there can only be one mercenary at the teleporter, you should try your very best to let the bumbling chicken monster eliminate all of the competition by sabotaging everyone else. Vicious Circle found a way to balance this as well, as if you ever die as a mercenary, you’ll find yourself respawning as this small and nimble tentacled horror called a Little Dipper. Little Dippers can’t collect nuggets, but they can grapple around stealthily while searching for their prey. The Little Dippers’ goal is simple: find a mercenary and take over his/her body, which effectively allows them to take more nuggets for themselves and win.

Had your body stolen unceremoniously? Fret not, as you can still get one back as a Little Dipper yourself. It’s a rather “vicious circle” within the core loop, as mercenaries try and fight for available bodies in order to collect enough nuggets to win. The game only ever really ends when a mercenary manages to escape on the teleporter, or if Peggy Sue kills all of the mercenaries.

It’s a very interesting take on the asymmetrical multiplayer genre overall, and Vicious Circle manages to balance its many aspects into a really engaging game. Winning is all about being the best, but in this regard Vicious Circle does not ask for a competitive-level skill. It’s more about picking your battles and outsmarting everyone else, whether you’re a mercenary dancing one of those Fortnite dances as the teleporter takes you away, or Peggy Sue kicking the crap out of everyone and clucking menacingly for the camera. In my many hours of playing the game, it didn’t feel too imbalanced, and even getting swarmed by Little Dippers when you’re the final body standing is not too hard when you consider that they only need two or three shots to kill.

Balance

VC Blitz
There are four mercenaries to choose from, while one player takes the role of the monster. Photo: Rooster Teeth Games

Asymmetrical multiplayer titles are made and broken on the hill that is balancing, and if a game in the genre is to be a success, there has to be a balanced feel across all of its aspects. There’s no real edge over anyone when you’re a mercenary. Sure, you have four different characters to choose from, each with their own gun and utility skill, like blinking or conjuring a shield, but on a technical level there’s an even playing field for all of them. Likewise, Peggy Sue may be daunting at first, but not so much when ganged up on by all of the mercenaries.

There’s also a ton of leeway when it comes to movement on the maps. Mercenaries can double jump, as well as have access to a skill that can be used in desperate times. They can also sprint and crouch, which is vital to being successful in Vicious Circle. Peggy Sue and other mercenaries can see mercenaries through walls, and the only way to avoid detection is by getting a Decoy pick-up or crouching. You can move while crouching, and even collect nuggets while in this position – however, you do move extremely slow. It offers a nice layer of depth to Vicious Circle, while also giving mercenaries options for playing against a nigh unstoppable creature.

VC PEggy Sue
Hunting down mercenaries as Peggy Sue is extremely fun. Photo: Rooster Teeth Games

While Peggy Sue feels a bit clunky due to her large stature, her skill set more than makes up for it. Meeting her in a hallway usually results in a mercenary’s death, but thanks to a ton of different mechanics and level verticality it’s easy escape alive. That said, Peggy Sue can also jump around, but there are areas that are safe from her reach. To counter this, she has a ranged egg attack that does damage over time, which dissuades camping in order to kill her.

Character rotation is fair as well. After every round, regardless of whether you’re playing with friends or random people, the game will alternate between all of you so that everyone gets to play as the monster. It makes for a really balanced match-up, but in times when there’s fewer than five people due to quit-outs or not having five to begin with, the game chooses randomly who will play as the monster again. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it may work out to the benefit of some who really excel at either mercenary or Peggy Sue.

Combat design and gunplay

VC Mine'
Pick-ups like this mine allow you to steal nuggets from other players, as well as slow the advance of Peggy Sue. Photo: Rooster Teeth Games

Unlike other shooters, Vicious Circle puts gunplay secondary to traversal and item management. It’s a bit weird and jarring at first, seeing as in most cases, you don’t want to use your gun aggressively and should stick to just farming nuggets with it. Firing guns is reserved entirely for confrontations with Peggy Sue, and more often than not they’re rendered meaningless unless you’re working as a group or if you’ve got that insane power-up that boosts your damage so you can square up with the monster solo.

While it is secondary, this does not make the gunplay bad at all. In fact, it’s pretty good when you engage with it – hit detection is very decent, and the guns feel weighty. Every mercenary has his own weapon, with varying ranges of effectiveness, damage, and fire rate, so there are some tactics involved with character picks. That said, more often than not you will pick mercenaries based on how they perform in terms of their skills rather than what weapon they’re holding.

Vicious Circle lives and breathes on its pick-ups, all of which have their own usefulness when it comes to dealing with both Peggy Sue and other mercenaries. These pick-ups are scattered all throughout the levels, and have different rarities; rarer pick-ups – like the bomb that teleports other players randomly to other spots on the map and the vacuum that allows you to suck all nuggets within a vicinity, including those held by other mercenaries – spawn in harder to reach places, while the more common ones – shock grenade, audio mines, decoys and health pick-ups – are widespread throughout the hallways. This gives mercenaries an incentive to try and always explore beyond the more expansive areas, as you never know what lurks in a corner on the very top of the level. Watch out though, because these same corners are where Little Dippers lurk, and if you’re not careful you might end up having your body stolen.

VC Pickup
Pick-ups need some time to recharge before becoming available again. Photo: Rooster Teeth Games

Once a pick-up has been taken, it starts a timer to recharge it, so you have to be quick when trying to fight for it. Most of the time, a system like this results in a lot of players camping at spots where the best pick-ups can be found. You can’t exactly camp in Vicious Circle, as here the constant threat of other mercenaries throwing shock grenades at you to get your precious nuggets, Little Dippers out to get your body, or Peggy Sue wanting to crush you underneath her slimy body.

Despite the secondary nature of guns, I think that Vicious Circle managed to strike a healthy balance between the pick-ups and player abilities. Players can always pick whatever mercenary they want, regardless if it’s already been picked by other players. This means that you get to play with what you’re comfortable with, and players can switch between mercenaries after rounds are over.

Art direction, sound design, and technical aspects

VC HoloChicken
The game comes with a free battle pass system, which gives you new skins with every achievement made. Photo: Rooster Teeth Games

Vicious Circle’s overall art direction for the characters is pretty inspired, but in terms of everything else, it’s rather generic. Praise can be directed to the fact that there’s huge distinctions between the different mercenaries, and you can always tell who is who just from a glance at their silhouettes. However, when you put all of the levels side by side, they all just seem like palette swaps of each other rather than their own thing. The actual level design changes a bit, and there’s one level that boasts an actual hangar which is very open, but for the most part their art direction looks and feels a lot like color swaps.

Vicious Circle features a battle pass system for its characters, of which there are only four right now. There’s no extra charge for it or anything, and you only need to keep playing and reach milestones in order to unlock additional cosmetics for the mercenaries, Little Dippers, and Peggy Sue. What I would wish for, however, is more base mercenaries and monsters, as the game feels a bit barebones right now. The developing team is promising updates in the future, so we’ll have to wait and see.

The sound design could’ve been better as well, considering the mixing is really bad as of now. There are a lot of times when mercenaries prompt each other with different callouts to denote what they’re doing, but this is rendered moot due to the fact that they were all just layered on top of one another with no mixing done in between them. There are some areas in which it was good, as you can certainly tell when Peggy Sue is close by and pinpoint the direction where she is coming from just from listening to her lumbering strides. The Little Dippers’ warbling, on the other hand, sound like they’re coming in from all directions, meaning that you can’t really pinpoint where they are unless you can see them. I wonder if that’s done to make it easier for players playing as Little Dippers, but a balanced counterpoint would have been to just do sound prompts for the former whenever they’re attacking, jumping, or using their tentacles; doing so, you can actually tell where they’re coming from, but Little Dippers can still have an aura of surprise and sneakiness about them.

On the technical side, Vicious Circle plays wonderfully, with no hiccups, crashes, or other issues. The game is also not that taxing on your PC, and you can play it on not-so-powerful to mid-range machines easily.

Online and queues

The thing that will most likely kill any online game is connectivity, and the same rings very true for Vicious Circle. I’m pleased to say, however, that this game’s online is actually well-implemented. Servers are very stable, and despite my relatively slow internet connection, I was never kicked out of a room or disconnected in any way.

That said, it’s important to remember that Vicious Circle is a multiplayer-only game. There is no single-player component, and at the time of this writing, you can only play in a single mode. You can queue up with up to four friends to play together, but you still need to be online to do so, as there are no LAN lobbies or custom matches. The game would’ve benefitted from the latter, but then again you can just go on the game’s Discord to find other people to play it with.

This brings me to my next issue, as any game that relies solely on an online component needs to have a solid playerbase behind it in order to work. If you go on the Steam Charts right now, you’ll see that the game is not doing so great when it comes to numbers. You can hop into the game any time and find players to play it with, but there’s a bit of a waiting queue to fill each game up. I haven’t really found any problems with it, and even made a few new friends on Steam while queueing.

Overall

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Being the last man standing is a dangerous position, as everyone wants what you have. Photo: Rooster Teeth Games

Asymmetrical multiplayer games worth playing are pretty hard to come by, and in this respect Vicious Circle has managed to set itself apart by focusing on the uncooperative and rather unforgiving aspect of having to work alone to reach the top. It’s incredibly inspired, with room for both casual and competitive players who want something new with their multiplayer titles. On the outset, the concept may be easy to grasp, but in many ways Vicious Circle is a very cerebral game that relies on your timing and execution rather than the mechanics.

It’s not without its caveats, and for the most part I think of it as a great prototype for more titles made in the same vein. There’s a big lack of variety and content as of now, but it’s pretty reasonable considering the price. The biggest takeaway, though, is that Vicious Circle managed to make a highly enjoyable and unique multiplayer experience, especially for those who are hankering for something that’s not a battle royale or your regular PvE shoot and loot grindfest.

REVIEW SUMMARY
Vicious Circle
8
Vicious Circle Review - Cerebral Chunk-Hunting In Asymmetrical Multiplayer Form
Despite a few caveats here and there, Vicious Circle has managed to expand upon the asymmetrical formula and bring along with it some much-needed innovation through overhauling and an extremely uncooperative play style. In a sea of uninspired shooters, Rooster Teeth Games' attempt to move the 4v1 setting away from horrors and other shooters paid off, as Vicious Circle proves time and again that there's no better feeling that coming out on top in a game - whatever that may take.
  • Decent ideas and polished gameplay.
  • Good balance between teams, and great rotations in between rounds.
  • Decent gunplay.
  • Good mechanics for various characters.
  • Balanced pick-ups, all with varying degrees of usefulness.
  • Subpar level design, with not a lot of variety in between.
  • Mediocre sound design which is necessary in these types of games.
  • Lack of options for other mercenaries and monsters, and feels very barebones in some ways.
  • Gunplay is secondary in nature, which can be a bit jarring.
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