Alpha Prime Review (PC)

Put on your engineers hat and holler ďALL ABOARDĒ because this is a game on rails. While the ending levels are slightly more open than the earlier ones this game railroads the player from scene to scene and room to room mercilessly. There are practically no options for exploration of the world as hundreds of locked doors confront you as you go Ė with one path obviously marked out before you to follow. But this should come as no surprise because Alpha Prime fails to live up to its potential as a great game and merely settles for adequate in almost every aspect of the game.

The future is made of boxes
Long range death incoming!

The best part of Alpha Prime is probably its attempt to tell a story. From the introductory paragraph in the skinny game manual to the game engine driven cut scenes, this game takes the plot seriously. However, the story itself is fairly routine and simple Ė I wasnít surprised by the plot twists but I do appreciate an attempt to tell the story, something sadly lacking in to many games. Itís largely in the execution of this story that the game Alpha Prime shows its mediocrity.

It all starts with a typical sci-fi dystopian future where you the hero, Arnold, work for Corporation. Yup, thatís the name, Corporation. You are part of a mining crew retrieving the element Hubbardium when something goes horribly wrong. Your ex-girlfriend asks you to retrieve her current boyfriend who is stuck in the mines below and thus begins the game. The voice acting in the cut scenes as the story unfolds is fairly inconsistent, some scenes flowing well while others seem forced and stiff. Even the loveable Paolo Bellini, a character you meet early in the game as you explore the mines, sometimes sounds awkward and un-natural as his lines are delivered.

Unfortunately, this lack of polish is not restricted to the voice acting. For example the objectives you must accomplish as you travel through the game are obscure and unjustified. Several times I had no idea why I was supposed to find a switch or install a battery or why I had to locate some obscure panel to turn some doohickey on or off. Objectives seem to appear and are cleared almost at random. Worst of all at one point you have an objective to sit there and wait while a robot repairs the train tracks. Itís an epic design flaw to ask players to do nothing while the game plays itself.

Most of the puzzles are blindingly simple Ė turn the switch from left to right or move the box from on top of the pile onto the floor. Other puzzles are just irritating by being simple repetitive acts. The worst puzzles are combined with resource management in the game. Certain points of the game require you to periodically recharge your oxygen supplies from wall mounted boxes. In one puzzle in order to clear some obstructions away from your path I had to control a loader to move many of the ubiquitous boxes. However, I only had time to move one or two before I started losing health because I was out of oxygen. So the puzzle becomes drudgery as I grabbed a breath of air, moved a box, grabbed a breath, moved a box until I just wanted to shout at the designers.

A refreshing change of crazy
You thought I was kidding, it is named Corporation

Weapon selection in Alpha Prime is also pedestrian, with a very standard assortment of weapons available. Ammunition is plentiful and outside of the parts of the game where oxygen was a concern I never had resource management problems. Most battles can be handled using the machine gun Ė although the sniper rifle, shotgun, grenades and flame thrower all have opportunities for use. Outside of the first five minutes of the game there is almost no reason for including the pistol or the hatchet.

Alpha Prime is very combat heavy. Opponents will open fire at very long range and will fire constantly. Opponent intelligence is another inconsistent element in the game. Sometimes enemies will take cover and fire at you carefully while at other times they run back and forth like ducks in a shooting gallery waiting to be picked off one by one. I found it fairly difficult to tell when I was hitting an opponent especially at long range.

While the element Hubbardium in Alpha Prime makes most people crazy, the justification for ruthlessly slaughtering every living thing you meet in the game, when Arnold the hero uses it he enters a bullet time mode. This is infrequently useful for rooms with multiple opponents. However, the use of Hubbardium this way feels tacked on and artificial and I found myself rarely using it.

Ammunition is plentiful in Alpha Prime and you can carry it with you. In fact ammunition is so plentiful it breaks the suspension of disbelief. Why would a mining station have such heavy firepower? Healing, though, must be done at either wall mounted healing stations or by picking up medical kits. Kits are used immediately when they are encountered. Even if you have only one point of damage, if you walk to close to a medical kit you will pick it up and consume the entire kit to heal that one point of damage. This is clearly an artificial attempt to control the pace of the game by making healing a less common resource.

The interaction with the environment in Alpha Prime is also mediocre. Very few components of the environment can be destroyed. I put eight point blank shot gun blasts into a soda machine that appeared to be perfectly fine except for some cosmetic damage to its apparently invulnerable shell. Bullet holes appear in some materials and not in others. Many scattered bits of rubbish can be picked up and moved around but since there is no point to moving any of it this feature quickly looses any appeal.

The game is short, advertising itself as 15-20 hours of game play. I came in on the low side of that estimate. Iíve also read on the internet that some players with less than high end systems have had trouble running Alpha Prime. The game specs recommend a 2GHz processer and 512 MB RAM. I played it on a 2.33 GHz system with 2GB RAM and experienced no game performance issues, although, I did have one crash to desktop. Otherwise the game was stable and playable for me. The specifications also state that an Internet connection is required but that may be for the Steam version only.

The game is rated M by the ESRB and it definitely deserves it. The cut scenes use very adult language so be sure to send the kids from the room before playing. Since the game is combat driven the constant blood spatters and shooting also contribute to this rating.

A typical after battle scene
No tactics needed Ė just spray and pray

All in all this game is solidly average. Itís a decent if predictable story saddled with a pedestrian game. The scenery is dark but pretty. The puzzles range from easy to irritating. The voice acting is sometimes good and sometimes stilted and forced. I turned off the in game music after just a few levels because it was repetitive and annoying. Combat, and the game as a whole, was adequate but never engaging. Alpha Prime shows a lot of potential ruined by a lack of polish and some poor design choices. I applaud the attempt to tell a serious story but canít recommend this game very highly unless you have lots of time on your hands you need to kill.

Top Game Moment:
Meeting Paolo Bellini for the first time. He was a hoot, portrayed by one of the better voice actors, and the first person in the game not homicidally crazy.