You shouldn’t play The Cycle: Frontier

This is less a review and more of a public service announcement. I was recommended The Cycle: Frontier several months back. Maybe not so much recommended as someone told me they were playing it. I asked them if it was good, and I got told “It’s like Escape From Tarkov,” which didn’t answer my question. In retrospect, that might have been a warning sign.

But it was free. How much did I have to lose?

The answer is “5+ hours of my life.”

Why do I hate this game? Well, a lot of reasons actually! Funnily enough, they’re not the same reasons most negative reviews on the Steam page offer. Those reviews have issues with the massive numbers of hackers, and the claim that the game’s secondary map is imbalanced. The hacker complaint actually somewhat surprised me, as Cycle Frontier has very invasive anti-cheat.

Anyway, I have my own reasons for hating this game. In order to explain them, I need to explain Cycle Frontier’s gameplay loop.

In Cycle Frontier, you are a “Prospector” who gets airdropped from outer space onto some planet. Your goal is to collect as much garbage loot as possible, get to an extraction point, call down a shuttle, board the shuttle, and survive until it takes off.

Of course, the other players are also trying to do the same thing. One of the big differentiators between this game and something like Hunt: Showdown is that all players aren’t spawned in at the same time. More players can drop in whenever. And as you might guess, it’s a lot less work to just kill other folks and take their stuff, than to try to find loot yourself.

Let’s start with my first problem with the game: the loot. Loot in Cycle Frontier is visually difficult to actually spot, so much so that every lootable item has a glowing sheen effect that plays on it. I’m assuming they did that so I’d be able to tell that this random alien shrubbery is loot, and this one is scenery. In addition, there’s no “Take All” option, so each time you open a crate, get clicking.

Loot is also incredibly uninspiring. It’s all random trash and garbage that gets used as part of inane upgrade trees to… give you more stuff with your daily login rewards. Oh, I’m sorry, they’re called “Crates” and they’re on a timer, but they’re pretty much just daily login rewards. And perhaps most importantly, you know what you won’t find as loot ever? ACTUAL WEAPONS.

And this is a problem, because you can’t get weapons except by buying them. So forget about just dropping in naked, scavenging what you can find, and making do, because you won’t find anything. Backpacks and weapons almost entirely seem to only drop from other players. In my time playing, I’ve never seen a single one that didn’t appear to come off a corpse.

Of course, this all starts to make sense when you realize you can “insure” your gear to get it, or its equivalent value back in credits. Just spend a bit of your Premium Currency! Because of course this game has premium currency. And while there is a way to earn some of it in game, again, it’s tied to the daily crate system.

Now all of this might be tolerable if the game’s gunplay mechanics were incredible, and genre defining, but they’re trash. On multiple levels. Let’s start with the game’s AI enemies.

There are enemies in games that are “Bullet Sponges.” I wouldn’t describe enemies in Cycle: Frontier like that. The enemies in Cycle are the fucking Bounty Wipes best value, soaks up more than the competition of damage absorption. This is to presumably make up for the fact they’re braindead, with all the tactical sense of a rock. I’ve had more exciting tactical engagements trying to get a cat into its carrier so I can take it to the vet.

But again, this is more “large annoyance” than fundamental problem. Bad loot, obnoxious progression, perverse incentives for combat engagement, and bullet sponge enemies are all individually frustrating, but on their own, are not the death toll for a PVP shooter.

However, bad sound design is. And Cycle Frontier has the worst sound design I’ve encountered. I’m not a big audio person, so I can’t give a good technical explanation of why it sucks, but I can give a few notable examples.

Whenever a player is dropped into your map, they’re sent down in a drop pod, and it makes a large sonic boom sort of noise. This would useful, except that it’s pretty much omni-directional, and gives no info about where it came from. In one game, I heard something like 13 of these in a row, and I have no idea if it was 13 players or a sound bug.

In another game, I was crouching around when another player used the audio wheel to talk to me. Based on the sound playing, I assumed the player was located above me, and hid in a bush. However, after waiting a decent while, I saw them emerge, look around, and then scuttle off. Where had they been located? Maybe 30 meters behind me in the same small strip of river.

Another really obnoxious one is how the movement audio plays. If you move, the audio plays the full stepping clip, except that the clip is LONGER than taking a single step forward. So if you move and stop, there will still be sound. This all gives the impression that there’s someone around you, even when you’re completely alone.

The sound design is the nail in the coffin of Cycle: Frontier. It takes something mediocre, and transforms it into something effectively unplayable. There are other annoyances and frustrations, but it could be argued they are part of the game’s design. But a game where you can’t hear your enemy coming has no business being a hardcore PVP FPS.