Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Alpha Prime Review

Alpha Prime, developed by Black Element Software and published by IDEA Games and Meridian 4.
The Good: Impressive visuals
The Not So Good: No multiplayer, very short, exceptionally unfair difficulty, vague objectives, generic weapons, sporadically intelligent AI, clichéd and broken bullet time, endless, boring, and frequent cut scenes with stiff voice acting
What say you? A derivative first person shooter with great visuals but not much else: 4/8

When trying to come up with an introduction to this review, I was alternating between talking about first person shooters or the 1980’s. Why the 80’s, you ask? Well, Alpha Prime sounds like Optimus Prime, so that was going to be the connection. The problem with doing so many reviews is that I sometimes can’t think of anything original to say in this introduction; games in the same genre tend to get the same kind of introduction. I already referred to the 80’s in my World in Conflict review and the FPS is very common. But then I thought I could write an introduction about writing an introduction. Brilliant! Too bad I can’t use it again…well, for a while. Anyways, Alpha Prime is a single-player first person shooter. Is it any good?

Clearly the highlight of Alpha Prime is the graphics. The game features a nice level of detail, from the environments (though they are repetitive) to some nice facial animations on each human character. The animations are a bit off, though. There are some nice lighting effects and each of the game’s areas look like real locations. There are even some pleasing weapons effects and explosions in the game. Alpha Prime gets dangerously close to the level of quality seen in BioShock in terms of the graphics. The sound in the game is a bit worse off: there is some missing dialogue from the cut scenes, most of the effects are generic, and there are some weird fading issues with stereo sound: people not directly next to the camera almost whisper when talking. Alpha Prime features typical music for the setting that’s fairly enjoyable. So Alpha Prime is pretty to look at: how is the gameplay?

Alpha Prime is a single-player only first person shooter that takes place in space: something has gone horribly, horribly wrong and it’s up to the protagonist to shoot things and make it all happy again. The first disappointment with the game is the lack of any multiplayer features. It’s disconcerting to have a FPS released in today’s market that lacks cooperative or competitive multiplayer, especially a title that has a very short single player campaign. Sure it might not be original, but it would at least extend the life of the product beyond the basics. As I mentioned, the game is short: only ten missions and they go by fairly quickly; good thing Alpha Prime is only $20 because you sure don’t get many features. The levels are linear by nature and green doors show the way to go. Sometimes finding the right way to go or getting turned around during combat can be a problem since Alpha Prime lacks a map or indicated objectives. I’m sorry, but “unlock the door” is not specific enough for me, and I don’t appreciate having to backtrack in order to find out specifically where to proceed next. The setting of Alpha Prime is very generic: metallic mining operations and alien planets straight out of Aliens. While BioShock shows how to come up with a unique environment, Alpha Prime shows how to use recycled locales for your game. The cut-scenes that drive the story are too frequent and just plain bad. I could only take the opening cut scene for four minutes before I had to skip it, due to poor acting and agonizing exposition. Another “feature” of Alpha Prime is the lack of alt-tab support: I normally make notes while I play for my review, so I alt-tabbed out of the game. I guess you can’t do that, as the game locked up and had to be manually shut down. Alpha Prime gets very jealous.

Anyone familiar with a first person shooter will feel right at home with the controls. The generic setting of the game extends to the rest of the presentation, from the weapons to the gameplay enhancements. You can equip yourself with a hammer, pistol, shotgun, machine gun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, flamethrower, and grenades: nothing original there. You will need to frequently visit health and oxygen stations to replenish your, well, health and oxygen: these locations are plentiful in some areas and sparse in others, creating an imbalanced level of difficulty. There are some alternative methods in the game beyond simply shooting things, but all of these are either “borrowed” (stolen) from other games or not worth the effort. You are equipped with a hacking tool that can be used to access locked doors, use remote camera, and control vehicles. While this sounds cool and the possibilities are numerous, its use is highly scripted and not as dynamic as it should be. Alpha Prime also “borrows” (steals) bullet time, although it screws it up. While the game does slow down when you activate it (energy is gained by finding hubbardium scattered in scripted locations in each level), your complete movement is slowed down as well, including aiming. Usually, you walk slower but you can still aim just as fast as in real time, which gives you a distinct advantage. But in Alpha Prime, it all slows down so bullet time makes absolutely no difference. Even if they fixed this problem, bullet time would still be unoriginal; you should at least make it more varied like in TimeShift. The hubbardium is also scarce and it’s used up very quickly, which makes the use of bullet time even more questionable.

Alpha Prime tries to offer up some good AI, and your computer opponents will sometimes search and use cover and throw plenty of grenades. However, you will still encounter dumb AI about half the time: ignoring you, running away instead of firing, and general implausible behavior. Alpha Prime is also a very difficult game: you are usually up against a number of enemies at once with the same weapons you have and health decreases rapidly. Although you will usually be able to replenish your health frequently, you will die more often than necessary. Because of this, you need to save frequently; it should be noted that “quick save” and “quick load” isn’t very quick, yet another strike against this generic shooter.

Alpha Prime has good graphics, but everything else in the game is taken from another first person shooter. A short campaign, lack of multiplayer, generic weapons, tired bullet time, spotty AI, underutilized hacking tool, linear level design, and common setting all add up to a very unexciting experience. The cut scenes that promote the story are annoying and poorly acted and the action is very standard for the genre. The budget pricing of Alpha Prime (only $20) almost makes me want to bump the score up another notch, but the game is simply too unoriginal to warrant its purchase, even at a reduced price. There is purely no reason to play Alpha Prime, as you can pick up Max Payne, F.E.A.R., Half-Life, or any number of other titles and experience a better overall game for essentially the same price. Nice screenshots might bring in some customers, but don’t be fooled by the pretty pictures: Alpha Prime is not original in any aspect of the gameplay.