As a mining inspector the player is tasked with exploring an illegal asteroid mining base to investigate the disappearance of its inhabitants. However, more pressing is why the mining robots and other autonomous systems are trying to put an end to his inspecting, permanently.
The story leads the player through several distinct environments - the inspector's spaceship, damaged by enemy fire from within the asteroid, technical facilities, laboratories, crew quarters, mining shafts and more. On his quest to discover the secret of the asteroid the player will fight not only the robots, but the station itself. Using the ship's radio he will talk to the navigator of a cargo vessel, one of the few people from the surrounding area to somehow remain alive. Walking down the empty halls and eerie corridors of the industrial complex the player will meet several survivors willing to help. Or so it seems.....
Built around the Enforce2 engine, Alpha Prime is a first person action game with an emphasis on the single player experience. At its core is a Science Fiction story written by the foremost Czech Sci-fi author Ondrej Neff. Game play will be a varied balance of combat and more technical activities such as hacking and remotely controlling robotic devices.
Hands up who's played Doom 3? Hands up who wants to play it again? Now that's not an entirely fair comment on this first-person shooter - it's not exactly the same, but its dark corridors, sci-fi setting, completely linear path through the levels (ooh another locked door) and the odd puzzle thrown in which involves shifting boxes around will remind you strongly of the realm of the cacodemons.
Where the game is different, sadly, it's generally for the worse. The cinematic cut-scenes are poorly voiced, the characters unconvincing, and the plot is so-so at best. The developer has thrown in bullet time to try to spice things up - which is activated by taking a drug called Hubbardium that the story revolves around - but that's hardly a master stroke of originality either.
The graphics - average. The sound effects - average. The music - below average. Even the arsenal of guns - painfully average (shotgun, machine gun, sniper's rifle, blah, blah).
Enemies will charge you at times, or take cover appropriately, and sometimes act a little unpredictably in a sort of human-like way to keep you on your toes. Unfortunately, sometimes they'll also act unpredictably in a sort of random running up and down the corridor while you shoot them way, so even the AI is patchy.
Alpha Prime isn't even all that long, boasting just ten levels (and no multiplayer).
Alpha Prime is set in the future on a distant asteroid where an element called hubbardium is mined. Hubbardium is used for interstellar travel but it also seems to poison people and turn them crazy. When I first learned about it, I thought it was some Scientology influence but at any rate, you're asked to leave the confines of your spaceship to go down to the asteroid's surface and rescue a former comrade.
Down on the asteroid, the surface looks every bit uninviting. It felt a lot like going into the seedy sections of Mars in Total Recall. (OK, maybe I'm thinking of that because the protagonist's name is Arnold) Black Element's custom engine is able to render the dank confines of the mines with an uncompromising level of detail. The light effects often give places an eerie glow that seems to go well with the damaged equipment, blood stains and sterile metallic interiors. On the audio side, the voiceover acting is off key and you'll notice that in the very beginning when you're in an emergency on the spaceship but the voice actors certainly don't feel they are. The sound effects for the various weapons also lack bass to make them convincing.
The artificial intelligence for the enemies you encounter are very suspect. Some appear to have super aim and are placed in areas where they get first dibs on you. Others are blatantly ignorant of what's going on around them. You could literally have two enemies in the same room and pick them off one by one. Heck, don't even pick them off, start a firefight and watch the other person not respond.
Alpha Prime does feature some unique abilities that it borrows from other games. There is a hacking tool that lets you look at security cameras and reverse engineer sentry guns to aid you. This pays homage to the features introduced by Deus Ex and recently perfected in games like BioShock. However, unlike BioShock, it is not an integral part of the game and for the most part you can ignore using these and go in guns blazing. There are environmental puzzles a la Half-Life put in. These are plenty annoying because unlike Gordon Freeman you don't have a hazmat suit so you're always dreading to solve tedious puzzles in uninhabitable environments. Finally, Alpha Prime also introduces slow motion gameplay. Like Max Payne or F.E.A.R. you have the ability where you can slow down the action to a crawl so you can get better aim at your enemies. I found this to be only useful when you encounter one of those well placed insanely accurate enemies and you don't have a sniper rifle on hand. The problem with Alpha Prime is it never really develops any of these three main features to the point where you don't think it's a simple clone of another game. For example, I read that initially Black Element wanted more role playing elements in the game with the hacking feature. Maybe they should have just stuck with that developed that side further considering all the rage with intelligent action games like Mass Effect and BioShock on the market. Instead, these features all feel half-hearted.
With ten missions overall, the game can be over in a few sittings on a weekend but whether that time is well spent is dependent on whether you've played any other first person shooters in the past two years. Alpha Prime takes a little from each game but has a hard time carving out its own identity. While F.E.A.R. was a very derivative first person shooter, it succeeded by creating a creepy atmosphere and had a story that was worth playing through to the end. It never had any special weapons and even the slow motion was borrowed off of Max Payne. The expansion packs for that game went nowhere because it thought the meat of the game was in the action, which clearly it never was. Alpha Prime seems to suffer from the same problems. I never got the feeling I wanted to play through Alpha Prime just to see how it would end up nor was there really any ambience in the game that kept making me want to load the game up. Many will likely give up around the middle when the game slows down because of the environmental puzzles.
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