I really tried to like Alpha Black Zero: Intrepid Protocol. Honest.
The game began with a nice plot teaser- who is Lt. Kyle Hardlaw and why is he really being Court Marshaled? Why did he and his tactical squad apparently wipe out a facility full of civilians? Why do his guards seem to know all about it? It sounded like an interesting premise.
The pre-mission briefing screen was chock-full of details about the colony world I was about to invade- how the world got its charter and what the settlers and the economy were like. I perked up. This looked really beefy, story-wise, a crucial factor that shooter developers all-too-often ignore. I picked the default weapon loadout and accepted my mission.
Then the game itself began, a tactical squad-based third-person shooter, reminiscent of other titles I had played (and enjoyed), such as the Rainbow Six series. The environments weren?t bad looking, thanks to the Serious engine (which Serious Sam employed to such good effect not too long ago), but were a bit on the bland side with reddish/brown sky, reddish-brown grass and reddish-brown enemies. The interface, however, was dreadful- a garish, intrusive red-and-black monstrosity that I immediately wished I could shrink, or recolor, or make transparent? anything. My squad-mates fell in behind me, following my lead.
Combat was a bit jerky and the enemy models all looked alike- seems as if in the future everyone is male and wears one of two possible sets of coveralls and a spiffy gas mask (practically a de rigeur fashion accessory in the future, or so I?m told). My AI controlled companions seemed to handle combat adequately (I would not find out why until later, however), although I did experience great frustration when I spent ten minutes flanking a fortified enemy base?s defenses, only to find that my brain-dead team-mates were unable to negotiate the same terrain that I had used to achieve my perfect ridge-line shooting position. In the end we were forced to walk right up the main road and into the waiting guns of a dozen eerily-similar bad guys.
As the game progressed, I was to become more and more frustrated with my moronic squad-mates. Did my outfit hire them through a temp agency? How else to explain the fact that they would often cross my line of fire or even stop right in front of me, forcing me to cease fire or pump their brain-dead backsides full of lead? No highly-trained commando would ever dream of doing such a thing.
As ammunition began to run low I searched for salvage, only to discover that, although every single enemy was armed to the teeth with pistols, rifles and even grenade launchers, I was unable to salvage even a single bullet, and instead had to keep on the lookout for green dots on my map, indicating resupply crates. I guess the hoity-toity Alpha Black Commandos are just too good to scrounge for ammo, and insist on using the fancy designer stuff. More frustration.
My patience was finally exhausted when I pulled a bone-head maneuver and walked accidentally off of a cliff (in my defense, in better games the location I fell from would probably have concealed a hidden area with special power-ups- no such luck in ABZ, however- all I got was a long fall to an early grave). Being the wily veteran I am, I loaded up my last saved game, only to discover the first of many game-crippling bugs that I would run across.
Upon re-entering the game world, I noticed that all of my squad-mates were not able to follow me, and instead were frozen in place, their eternally-running legs flailing underneath their torsos. Moving ahead, I noticed that all of the enemy models refused to activate, and instead stood there in little clusters of five or ten, arms outstretched, looking like those creepy wooden totems from The Blair Witch Project.
Unfortunately, the same bug that kept the enemy from waking up and attacking me also crippled the game?s mission completion detector, and I was unable to finish. I did finally manage to get the game back up and running, but only after totally shutting it down and restarting (this same bug happened over and over whenever I loaded a saved game, regardless of level).
Disgusted by the thought of having to walk through the level again, I decided to just do a suicide run through the hordes of bad guys between me and the final nav point. It was here that I discovered the secret to my squad-mates? battle prowess:
The bad guys can?t hit the broad side of a barn.
Running though the last third of the level, I passed by literally scores of enemies, all of who unloaded clip after clip at me, and I was barely scratched. I did have to get a health booster about halfway to the mission?s end point, but there?s no way that all of those bad guys, no matter how incompetent, should have missed me. My suspension of disbelief was totally blown. Before all was said and done I would experience more bugs, from annoying to positively crippling (some of which locked up my PC so badly that I was forced to do a hard reset to get going again).
In the end, Alpha Black Zero: Intrepid Protocol left a very bad taste in this reviewer?s mouth. Even without the show-stopping bugs, the game would have felt half-baked at best, with its jerky animations, brain-dead AI, sparse enemy modeling and freakishly large, dull environments. Factor in its many glitches, however, and the game moves into coaster territory.
Game Play- 4 Squad-based tactical shooters are tough to pull off, as Alpha Black Zero: Intrepid Protocol demonstrates. Future game designers take note: when attempting to craft a game of this sort, be sure that ally and enemy AI isn?t totally brain-dead, lest you annoy your players. While you?re at it, be sure to not make the player run through endless canyons or re-trace their steps over and over, as some of ABZ?s missions force you to do. Some of the game?s scenarios are moderately fun (an embassy defense mission early in the game stands out in my mind), but the many game-crippling bugs spoil whatever lingering satisfaction may have remained.
Graphics- 7 The Serious engine is capable of rendering fairly decent-looking environments, although the texture details could use some serious sprucing up. On many occasions, ABZ?s bland, brownish textures made games like Quake look like a Mardi Gras float.
Audio- 3 Sound effects are achingly bad? like ?Hey, guys, let?s all get drunk and record people screaming!? bad. While roaming the mind-numbingly large levels, expect to be treated to trees that sound like your Grandma with a bad case of indigestion, guns that are either way too loud or too soft compared to how you?d expect them to sound and other delights.
Value- 2 Even though the game was just released a few short weeks ago, at the time of this review, Alpha Black Zero: Intrepid Protocol is already retailing for as little as $2 at online retaillers like EBGames.com, and I?m sorry to say it but even at that price some players might not feel like they?re getting a good value. The community for the game is non-existent, so much so that this reviewer could not even locate a good URL on the publisher?s site for a patch or walk-through.
Curve- 3 Alpha Black Zero: Intrepid Protocol really could have been a good game, if developer Khaeon and Publisher Playlogic had taken a few additional months to polish it. There are still a wealth of unexplored plot ideas nestled in the game?s impressive back-story- too bad they decided to rush the actual game out the door in such an incomplete state.