Just passed beta.
The first-person shooter genre has long been accused of having little to no innovation. Years of favoring incremental improvements to graphics, physics models, and AI have given the impression that most FPSs are basically interchangeable and cookie-cutter in gameplay and are really only differentiable in their finer touches.
Alpha Prime does nothing to challenge this belief.
[image1]Three or four years ago, Alpha Prime could’ve been released as a solid, if generic, $50 shooter. The march of features has not been kind to its money-making potential, however, and its current price of $20 has nothing to do with kindness or brilliant project planning and execution. Hardly anyone would buy Alpha Prime for $50, and they would not be wrong with that decision.
You take on the role of Arnold, a grizzled space-prospector who is inexplicably immune to a substance called hubbardium. L. Ron Hubbardium? We’re better off not knowing. Arnold gets roped into looking for the beau of an old girlfriend because… well, because Arnold is an idiot. Who knows? The said beau is supposedly a good friend of Arnie’s, blah blah blah – it still seems like a pretty preposterous reason to go out of your way to some asteroid mining base.
Add in the little fact drop that hubbardium tends to make people go crazy and damages electronics, and it becomes a whole lot iffier. But hey, Arnie is the sane person, and that’s why you get to shoot people with guns.
The guns, by the way, are extraordinarily conventional. You’ve got a pistol, a shotgun, an assault rifle, a flamethrower, hand grenades, a sniper rifle – there’s not much in the way of unique weapons to tote around. Even your barebones melee weapon, a hammer, is dull and uninspiring. Not that beating a guy to death with a hammer ain’t impressive, but it doesn’t have the flair of, say, a morningstar, or one of those industrial-strength staplers.
[image2]The graphics are somewhat dated, though by no means bad. In fact, Alpha Prime features some excellent use of lighting, and most of the textures are well-made. It doesn’t change the fact that it looks approximately like Unreal 2 did, but it’s worth noting how much effort went into making the game look decent. It reminded me of this forty-year old Russian ballet dancer I met on this cruise once - a sexy dress and a lot of make-up can go a long way, but only so far. The cold, hard light of sobriety illuminates every awkward stretch of skin.
The sound can be awkward in Alpha Prime. Most of the gunfire and explosions are correct, but the voice acting is awful. The music is distractingly bad at times, while curiously appropriate at others. It’s extremely synthy, picking up the tension while crawling through corridors in a mining base on some alien rock, but the music attached to combat sequences is usually just cheesy.
Playing the game isn’t bad, though. It’s a very solid shooter, with some run-of-the-mill level design and an overall competent balance to the guns, movement, and AI. There’s nothing that will really blow your socks off or make you remark at how novel it is, but there’s nothing that’s distractingly bad either. The game is on the short side – ten levels, each of which can be played through in roughly forty-five minutes. There is a pretty solid variety of enemies – crazed miners, rogue robots, and dick special forces dudes – but the generic combat fails to take advantage of it.
[image3]In BioShock, fighting a Big Daddy was something you could easily tell a story about to a friend. In Halo 3, those large four-legged walking tank machines that you had to climb onto in order to kill were worth some laughs and some curses. Alpha Prime is a tedious shooter that doesn’t have any moments like that.
Playing Alpha Prime isn’t objectionable per se, but it’s also hard to recommend when there are other, better shooters available, such as Crysis or BioShock. That brings us back to the price point. Were Alpha Prime really fantastic in some specific aspect, at just $20, I would be happy to recommend it to one and all. It isn’t bad – you can have fun playing it and it’s not going to crash inexplicably – but it is an offering exactly matched by its budget price.