|Alpha Black Zero: Intrepid Protocol which, among other things, continues the trend of video game publishers and developers coming up with some of the stupidest names, ever. Although most people will hardly know that as ABZ is also the latest entry in the cookie-cutter tactical squadron shooter genre which has been exploited to death since the rise of Rainbow Six and its constant sequels and spin-offs. The game shows signs of life, and has aspects that could give it a unique edge in the crowded genre, but that life is successfully put to rest with poor execution and mediocre production values. |
The story takes place a few hundred years in the future in a cliche story taking elements from just about every other sci-fi movie released in the last two decades. The player takes on the persona of Kyle Hardlaw (now continuing the trend of obnoxiously named video game characters) who is on trial for mass murder. The game plays out like a bad flashback sequence where you reenact the events that led to Kyle's present day situation. While the story is different than the standard one-guy-with-lots-of-guns story that takes precedence in most games these days, it is still hard to follow when you look deeply into it. How, mind you, can you play past events and ever experience a "game over?" If Kyle is, obviously, still alive when the game takes place, how can he die if you fail a mission in the past? It will take a few minutes for your eyes to uncross and you simply won't care anymore.
Alpha Black Zero uses Croteam's Serious Engine which provides good looking environments with moving grass, rolling hills, and structures, but those graphics are marred up by questionable use of 2D sprites throughout the final product that give it a first generation Nintendo 64 look where 3D and hastily produced 2D textures were displayed hand in hand. The environments, while looking good, are universally linear with canyons filtering you to your destination location. To make it through these levels you can choose stealth or balls-to-the-walls gunplay, but no matter which way you decide to play, you won't have a hard time killing your opponents.
I wish I was exaggerating when I say this, but ABZ features some of the worst AI I have ever seen in a video game. Opposing forces will flee you, which, in itself, isn't a problem with the AI, but while fleeing they will usually have problems getting up a small hill. Other times you will be able to shoot a baddie standing right next to another and he won't even flinch. When the computer controlled characters are actually able to get away from you, they will bring back reinforcements, which is a single shinning light in the AI department. Your four teammates, to which you can switch to and from at will, aren't much smarter, usually showing some of the same problems as your enemies and hardly following the orders you give them.
The game also has shortcomings in its presentation as glaring errors can be found from the very beginning. The opening narrative, setting up the story of the game, features two guards talking about the upcoming events, but their text doesn't match the subtitles presented on the screen. These aren't small errors where one word is different; these are mistakes where the spoken line of dialog is completely different than the dialog shown on the screen. This, coupled with a voice over sounding like it was done by developer Khaeon's janitor in the broom closet, doesn't lend itself well when compared to the talent other developers are able to secure. The rest of the game's sound ranges from generic screams, from your dying opponents, and generic gunshots as you progress.
As stated before, Alpha Black Zero doesn't offer anything new to set itself apart from the far superior Rainbow Six and emerging console offerings like Sony's SOCOM series which reduces the need to make sure your computer can stand up to the challenge and focus on the game itself. Unfortunately the penetration in the US market for games not published by a super-publisher is small, but you won't be missing anything that won't be followed up by four other tactical games in the next quarter all looking to be the next big thing. It only takes one good game to change a genre's landscape, but, sadly, ABZ is not that game.