Cogmind review

A deep, accessible and brilliant roguelike.

From my first glance at Cogmind, I was hooked.  Roguelike games always result in many hours invested, but shortly after launching Cogmind, I realised that this wouldn’t be the case. No, this time, it could be hundreds of hours.

Early roguelikes from the 80s and 90s usually featured an ascii world. Most since have shunned this, to be replaced with a graphical interface. Cogmind combines the two. The resulting interface is more advanced than many graphical roguelikes, and looks great, while still offering advanced features that ensure the game is simple to pick up and learn (although those new to the genre would be advised to begin on easy mode).

cogmind gui

Cogmind’s depth is perhaps its standout feature. You control a robot, whose aim is to survive and explore a living, breathing world ruled by other robots.  Within minutes of starting the game, I had collected various components to fit to upgrade my character, mostly torn from hostile enemy robots (and some from the more friendly robots). I shot a friendly droid to pieces, picked apart his corpse, then attached the pieces of him that were more useful to myself. Brutal. This method of obtaining components from your enemies is where Cogmind really excels.

Over time, your legs, wheels, flight system, or whatever other method you have of getting yourself from A to B, degrades. When components completely wear out, you need a replacement.  Micromanaging your inventory is crucial in this game – you have a very limited number of items you can carry. Components drop from killed enemies aplenty, but the difficulty lies in deciding which upgrade you’re likely to need next. Weapon starting to degrade? Throw out those spare legs and stockpile an extra laser or two.

Speaking of weaponry, each piece that you find feels unique, from the amount of heat that it generates to the energy cost and damage types. Using a grenade launcher, for example, can even tear down the ceiling in precarious environments.

All components have a level of integrity, and with extended use, will eventually break.  Repair stations can be found, but these don’t provide a 100 percent chance success rate.  When trying to repair my flight system, I failed spectacularly and plopped back to the ground unceremoniously, forced to accept the backup propulsion system that the repair station compensated me with.

The ability to hack computer terminals scattered around the map provides an interesting extra mechanic. A variety of options are available when you find a terminal, but each has a chance of failure. For example, you can perform a hack to uncover the surrounding area, but if you fail, you’re more likely to reveal your location and be surrounded by reinforcement robots, and you really don’t want that.

It all contributes toward an atmosphere that’s strengthened further by some exceptional sound design. The first time I found myself in a corridor, a line of enemy robots politely awaiting to murder me, I fired my launcher into the face of the robot unfortunate enough to be front of the queue, and I heard the roof collapsing on top of his friends. Before reading the event message telling me what had happened, the sound effects already told me.  No other roguelike I’ve played has such a catalogue of sound effects. I even felt a moments of guilt at the death cry of a helpless, passive robot completely minding his own business before I tore him to pieces, just to add a third wheel to my collection.

Although I died several times within the first few floors of exploration, starting over never felt like a chore. Each new playthrough felt unique, and offered new solutions to the threat of enemy robots and the multitude of different traps awaiting the unprepared adventurer. Found a grenade launcher? Go loud and proud, destroy as many enemies as you can and don’t give a damn if they catch you doing it. Prefer to be more stealthy? Hack a terminal, disable all the traps, and call of any reinforcements that have been called in. That’s the truly memorable thing about Cogmind. You make the game your own.

9/10