For people like me, coop multiplayer shooters mostly seem to mean Borderlands, Destiny or The Division. (I mean the entire franchise here which has the coop feature, not a particular game). Jay is a Borderlands fanatic, while Ayush likes to storm his way through Destiny. As for me, I’m often the centrist playing all games without any favorites. One fine day, a friend of mine saw a new game on the Epic store called the Cycle and asked me if I wanted to play with him. After watching some videos online, I immediately decided to play it. After a few “cycles” in the game, I had found a coop multiplayer shooter I liked – a favorite.
For those who are guessing, The Cycle is a game currently in Alpha and is available on the Epic store (yep, I said it, come at me like a horde of zombies) It is free to play, so all you need to do is hit the download button followed by the play button. If you have a thing for both coop and multiplayer, you’re definitely going to like this. The terminology used here can be a bit deceiving, so let’s clear any doubts about it.
The Cycle pits a certain number of players/ squads against one another on an abandoned mining colony and tasks them with “completing contracts”. The team who completes the maximum number of contracts wins the game. The planet’s fauna is mostly resistant to the players, and is the primary challenge to overcome while “completing contracts”. The PvE combat requires you to play together with your teammates to kill the animals resisting you, reminiscent of the combat style in coop games. However, while the environment is the biggest obstacle, other players can shoot you on sight if they want to, so PvP combat is also a thing. The game successfully weaves together the formula for PvE and PvP combat making it a slightly different battle royale. One decent feature introduced by the game is that in solos, players can attempt to forge an alliance with others to complete objectives together. While this backfires more often than not, the feature itself is pretty innovative in itself. Also, there is no “blue zone” restricting player movement, and you’re otherwise free to explore a pretty huge map full of “contracts” to fulfill.
The game doesn’t really have a backstory to explain the events set in motion. The planet, nicknamed Fortuna III, is mentioned in all relevant texts in the game as a newly discovered planet full of resources. Prospectors are mercenaries hired to go into the planet surface and gather the resources. Three corporations seem to be at war here, Unreal Tournament style. The Korolev Heavy Industries are a bunch of Russian heavyweights in space who want the credits from putting down the fauna on the planet. The Osiris is basically the Illimunati who want a new test environment for their crazy experiments. The International Civil Advisory basically want to set up the planet as a platform for civilians displaced from several planets (because of reasons, geddit?) The game also has a sort of government spanning across multiple planets in space called the Federation (similar to the Confederacy, and later the Dominion in Starcraft). In-game structures suggest that a few primary expeditions were sent to the planet to assess the local flora and fauna, which didn’t exactly end well. Some of the “contracts” involve recovering research drones as well as powering up abandoned stations, allowing players to travel to these abandoned bases and stations throughout the planet. I admit that it’s almost a no-brainer thinking about the lore in multiplayer games, but it’s an enjoyable way to pass your time – discussing the possible lore with your friends when you feel too bored to play the game. I do the same thing about Warcraft, Overwatch and Rainbow Six Siege, so I don’t figure out why I wouldn’t do the same for The Cycle. (it also has a sci-fi setting, something which I like)
Contracts are the game’s bread and butter. They are missions which you need to complete to get ahead of your opponents. Contracts range from picking up minerals to hunting down creatures to powering up abandoned stations and recovering research drones. Some contracts like mining minerals and finding mushrooms are easy to pull off, while ones like holding an uplink to transmit scientific data off-world to the ship and recovering special crystal from planetary “storms” or meteor showers. There are quite a variety of contracts available, and each match has different contracts, with the exception of the mining minerals. Apparently, these minerals are what all the corporations want, so it tends to be a thing in all matches. The worst contracts are possibly the ones that ask you stuff like “defend the drone mothership” or “defend the laser drill”, as it leads a lot of players to the area for easy points. This leads to brutal skirmishes till only one team (or player) is left standing.
One of the most exciting things about the games is the ability to collect materials with each match and manually unlock guns, attachments, abilities and so much more. Each corporation records a separate progression and unlocks a different set of gear for the Prospector. However, just “unlocking” them won’t do – you need to craft them in order to be able to equip and use them in-game. Materials used for such crafting can be found in the game world and rewarded at the end of the match as part of a special package for participation. Some materials are more commonly found on the planet surface while others are rarer and need to be sought out. Truth be told, when you have your mind on the contracts, you can’t really focus elsewhere, and certainly not on collecting items. The grinding aspect is pretty nice, and here’s to hoping the game does not introduce any “premium” currency in the future that allows players to “reduce” the grind by simply paying upfront for gear. (We all know how well that works out right?)
Sound and Music
The game’s ambient music seems pretty weak at present. This is perfectly understandable, considering the fact that the game is just in an alpha stage. Despite that, the faction selection and loadout screen music at the start of every match is quite the hum for the incoming heat on the planet surface and the music which starts playing when the Cycle starts just 5 minutes to the end of the match when the evacuation ship touches down. The Cycle is a planetary metamorphosis that will ensure the death of any Prospector who fails to board the evacuation ship on time. The heart-racing final moments on the planet surface as players scramble to get on the ship is reflected in the end-game music, and it’s pretty well done.
The game’s voice acting seems to be a pretty decent one too. If you’re a player like me, running mostly after the minerals contract to get ahead easily, you get to hear the “We need more minerals prospector” in three variations quite often. Other than that, requests for hunting alpha creatures, for collecting crystals from smaller meteor showers and for recovering unpowered research drones from the various unmanned facilities on Fortune III are definitely something every player will become familiar with after quite a few games. It’s especially funny when I try to imitate the Russian guy in charge of the operations on Fortune III for Korolev Heavy Industries, and my friend promptly tells me “Remember, no Russians”. Wait a minute, what?
Graphics and Performance
The game’s UI needs quite some work. It’s understandable that the game is a free to play game, but it looks a bit too basic for comfort. The developers opted for a more cartoony, animated style of graphics so that they can focus on gameplay mechanics, and it paid off. The game world looks vibrant and nice. Weapon design is on point and is pretty detailed by nature (since they are the first thing people are going to notice in an FPS game anyways). The game world has several biomes or regions, each of which is detailed nicely.[toggles behavior=”accordion”] [toggle title=”Minimum Specifications”]CPU : Intel i5 GPU : NVIDIA GTX 760 / Intel Iris 640
RAM : 8 GB DDR4[/toggle] [toggle title=”Recommended Specifications”]CPU : Intel i7 GPU : NVIDIA GTX 1060 / AMD RX 580 RAM: 8 GB DDR4[/toggle] [toggle title=”Review Specifications”]CPU : AMD Ryzen 5 2600 GPU : GTX 1080 RAM : 16 GB DDR4[/toggle] [/toggles]
The game seems to be more CPU oriented by nature. I noticed minor framerate drops when you have a few background applications running, pointing to this conclusion. I hope the developers transition to GPU based physics when they optimize the game, eliminating this problem.
The game has quite a few bugs in terms of collision detection for both players as well as the creature AI. I saw two creatures which glitched out through the floor when I was mining a rich mineral node at a higher elevation than them. I also had a few problems moving to higher elevations using the Boxer wingsuit and had to “super jump” quite a few times to get there. Other than that, the game seems to have an issue with rubber banding. I find myself teleported back small distances even when my Internet is fine. Considering that the game is in alpha, there’s certainly a lot of time to improve the net code and work on the collision detection and other issues.
The Cycle is a fun game that combines the aspects of both PvE and PvP and uses the free-to-play approach to appeal to a large number of people. Despite being in alpha, the game has a surprising amount of polish that most other games in Early Access can learn from. It’s the perfect game to relax with over a weekend with friends in Duos or Squads (what is Solos again?)