The first-person shooter market is extremely crowded at the moment. Actually, that’s an understatement: the amount of shooters being released at the moment is insane. The bar has been set so high with the likes of Halo and Bioshock, so for an independent studio, releasing such a game can be like releasing a minnow into the ocean and hoping that something bigger doesn’t eat it. Is there any hope for the little guy? Alpha Prime may not revolutionize the genre in any way, shape, or form, but it’s an admirable effort from a practically unheard-of studio.
Alpha Prime is a shooter set in a deep-space mining facility. A substance called Hubbardium is making miners go crazy, and the security robots down below have also gone a bit woohoo. You’d get off this rock if you could, but there are just so many things in the way! Obviously, you’re going to have to shoot them. This doesn’t sound like a particularly interesting canvas; indeed, the first impression Alpha Prime will give to people is “corridor shooter”. And it is a corridor shooter, filled with the prerequisite claustrophobic hallways, intensely dark lighting, and cheap scares. However, there are some sprawling outdoor segments as well, which include vehicles. This is all quite a pleasant surprise, given that most action games tend to opt for one or the other as far as environments go. You can partake in Hubbardium yourself, which enables a cool and useful bullet-time effect. The arsenal is also pretty impressive. Sure, they fit into the standard pistol-shotgun-SMG archetypes, but it’s apparent that a decent amount of effort went into designing them. Even the enemies are a nice surprise: robots, crazy people, AND militarized police. Considering that most science-fiction games make do with just one of those categories, the roster of good design choices is pretty robust.
There are also some fairly bad choices, though. Voice acting, by and large, is pretty bad. It’s rather odd that the robot seen in the opening cutscene, on a television screen, sounds like a woman in the room. No robotic sound effects? Not even an attempt to make it sound like it was coming out of an intercom? The acting is poor across the board. Sometimes emphasis is put on words that really don’t need to be emphasized, other times the characters just sound plain weird. The lone exception to all of this is Paolo, an amusing character found early on in the game who delivers some seriously funny lines. The writing in Alpha Prime is fine; the actors just needed to do more than one take for each line. Granted, there are plenty of good games with terrible acting- Resident Evil and every Square RPG ever made come to mind- but in an otherwise immersive game played from a first-person perspective, it’s more than a little grating. At least the music and sound effects fare better. There are some good, fast-paced action tunes, and the eerie music in the corridors fits the bill nicely.
The team that developed Alpha Prime deserves major kudos in one area: graphics. It may not be Crysis, but damn if the visuals aren’t great for such a low profile game. Everything is lovingly textured, and the lighting is very moody. Nice little details, like the bloodstains that appear after you kill your first crazed Hubbardium user, and the detailed way glass breaks, are all welcome touches. Alpha Prime looks better than Doom 3, the previous PC benchmark game, and what’s more, it has an all-encompassing physics engine too. It’s not going to push anyone’s computer, but it’s attractive all the same.
There really isn’t much to say about Alpha Prime other than all of this. It’s a bog-standard shooter with some cool graphics. Honestly, Alpha Prime feels like the product of a first-person-shooter checklist. It hits all the marks that, if missed, would bring a game’s score down. Multiple enemy types? Check. Narrative? Check. Slow-motion? Check. Good graphics? Double check. Aside from the embarrassing acting, Alpha Prime does nothing wrong; it just doesn’t do anything special. You run along and shoot things; no major flaws leap out and ruin your gaming experience. If Bungie or Valve had released it, it wouldn’t have been worth playing. However, due to its indie nature, it’s worth checking out on the terms that it is actually a solid game; it’s good. If these developers can keep up the good work, one can only hope that they’ll soon release something truly great.