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 learnt 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. If you could rent this game, I’d try doing that before actually spending money on it.