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A brutal and unforgiving robotic adventure that asks a lot and offers a lot in return.

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We’ve seen some interesting resurgences of various genres of game thanks to the modern era of game development and its somewhat more transparent outlook. Cogmind, for instance, is a more traditional roguelike in an era where “rogue-lites” – a goofy term for games incorporating some roguelike elements – are a little more popular. This is game that’s been visibly under development for some time with interested parties able to pay a relatively high initial price to get early access and try it out and provide feedback.

Now that it’s available to a wider audience thanks to showing up on the Steam storefront, it’s worth taking a look if you’re fond of the sort of brutality it brings to the table.

Cogmind casts you as the titular robot, a bot with a brain that’s started to gain a measure of independence from the other robots in the complex where you find yourself. Your robo-kin are, naturally, not altogether pleased with this, so you find yourself with a pressing need for self-defense. There’s a lot going on in the complex that you’ll discover organically by checking out data logs, item descriptions and so on, but that’s going to take place over the course of many, many adventures; this game, as you’d expect from a roguelike, isn’t playing around.

Your ‘bot is comprised of a central core and whatever parts you can find to staple onto it. Parts come and go; they’re all over the damn place, enemies drop them, if you kill a scavenger-bot you might come up with a few, the point is that there’s always more so they’re replaceable. Your core, on the other hand, is absolutely indispensable, and the destruction of your core spells the end of you. Damage taken to your core is, for all intents and purposes, irreparable, and while progressing in level will restore your core integrity that’s not really something to count on. Early on you can’t equip all that much, but as you get further your core will evolve and allow you to bolt more bits onto your ‘bot.

The take-away here is that successfully getting through levels means avoiding combat where possible along with making sure that you keep your core bristling with weapons, propulsion parts and utility items. There’s a ton of parts to choose from, offering various playstyles ranging from speed to stealth to head-on combat, but one way or the other you’ll want to be absolutely sure to keep your core protected given how difficult it is to fix the incidental nicks and scratches that enemies will dish out as you go. Your parts build upon one another to determine how your ‘bot plays, with a basic example being that faster propulsion systems tend to leave you unable to effectively carry as much other gear. I generally found that fast, shooty builds tended to fare well, but a lot of that comes down to what the game feels like giving you; you’ll always have something to use, but it may not necessarily be what you want to use.

One way or the other, don’t expect to get very far at first; the focus on ranged combat and stealth as opposed to many other roguelikes makes Cogmind a daunting experience for beginners and a challenge to be conquered with slow, steady progress. As you keep playing you’ll learn more about what works and what doesn’t, along with figuring out how to do more advanced things like hacking terminals and using them to your advantage. There’s an impressive amount of content here, and Cogmind’s brutal difficulty makes it seem even more deep because of how unlikely it is to see the more advanced levels of the complex on any given run.

Cogmind’s presentation is a treat for old-school roguelike fans. If you’ve ever played a text-based game long enough to see through the letters and numbers to the world they represent, you’ll appreciate the efforts Cogmind makes to replicate that feeling through both its tile and ASCII-based modes. A lot of the graphical trickery and animations here belie the fact that this is is a more contemporary game than it seems. Sound-wise, you’ll come to dread the alarm and the rattling of enemy weapons along with other notable noises.

Make no mistake: Cogmind isn’t going to be for everyone. Much like my personal favorite roguelikes, Dungeon Crawl and Tales of Maj’Eyal, Cogmind demands a lot from players in the form of patience and a willingness to experiment with its many and varied systems. Naturally, it also shares a strong sense of progression and accomplishment with those games as you begin to grasp what exactly you need to be doing. If you’re not already a roguelike fan, Cogmind might be a good place to start – just consider if you can handle the kind of trial-and-error progression that defines many truly difficult games, because on some level that’s what you’re getting here. If you already are a roguelike fan, of course, you’re probably playing it by now!

About the Author: Cory Galliher