Release Date: March,2004
One of the hazards of the reviewing profession is that, at some point, you will be assigned some of the dregs of the gaming world. Getting a new game can be very traumatic experience, and I was quite nervous when I received the preview build for Play Logic and Khaeon's Alpha Black Zero. Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. In fact, I was so impressed with the title that I urge you to be on the lookout for future titles by Khaeon, a company which I believe could be a serious challenger to other high profile FPS developers.
ABZ is a futuristic squad-based first-/third-person shooter. In a time of powerful totalitarian governments and influential corporations, his government has accused Lieutenant Kyle Hardlaw of multiple illegal assassinations. Hardlaw is the ultimate patsy, but this patsy has a specialized combat unit, Alpha Black Zero, a group of boys with heavy weapons and hard combat experience. Talk about messing with the wrong guy.
Hardlaw and crew have to clear their names, and their chosen approach is the common-sense method of shooting every bad guy in their path. Hey, at least he is a proactive kind of guy.
The storyline is surprisingly solid for this type of game. In one level of the press beta, Hardlaw gives a very succinct overview of what needs to be accomplished. The voice actor has a clear, gruff voice that is pleasing to the ear. For that matter, all of the voice acting is well cast and recorded.
Graphically, the game is top-notch and adds significantly to the quality of this title. I was quite astonished to learn that this title uses the Serious Sam graphical engine, but it was a choice that paid off wonderfully. The underbrush is so thick that you, as well as the opposition, can use it for cover and be lost in it. I have not felt this surprised with a game's visual elements since I put Halo in my Xbox many moons ago. The level design is pretty straight forward although it switches nicely from large open outdoor environments to vast and complex interior settings.
Sounds in the game are accurate to my ears. When the heavy machine gun kicks in, it has a solid rumble that I found pleasing to my ears for some odd reason. The sniper rifle has the solid crack of a high-powered weapon, and since this game is set in the future, the grenades first give a high pitched sound and then have a strange futuristic "bang" to them.
Game play is a slightly more complex version of the basic shooter model. This extra complexity comes from the extra controls needed to manage the squad and switch between squad members. At any time, you can switch from one of your squad members to the other, whenever the situation requires one of their areas of expertise. You control one squad member at a time, but the rest of the group automatically follows you, unless you bring up the squad menu and give them specific instructions like "Hold position," "Regroup," and so forth. This can be done to give the entire squad the same command, or per team member individually. Shifting between the members of the squad is a unique experience, giving the player the ability to control the placement of the members of your squad. The added controls are not too bad, perhaps as difficult as America's Army or Mechwarrior's added command controls.
First- and third-person views are available in this title, with the latter view being the default setting. The views are not too complex to manage, and flowing between them is very natural. While your regular grunts will give you a shoulder view in 1st person, the sniper and heavy machine gunner bring up a scope instead.
The physics model of the game is solid, which is understandable because the developers used a preexisting engine, which is a good start to a stable software platform. I found no strange issues with shooting at someone; the bullets dropped a believable amount across a distance. The weapons shoot tracers, so it allowed me to walk fire into targets. The combination of a solid physics engine and the choice of adding tracers allowed me to pick up the mechanics of the game quickly. Enemies fall back pretty realistically by bullet impacts, scream when they get hit and although mortally wounded try to crawl back up, only to gasp their last breath and drop dead anyhow, pretty cool.
The preview build was incredibly challenging, which is a reassuring sign that the game will not be a cakewalk. During the mission briefing, the player has three weapon loadouts that he/she can select: stealth, regular, and heavy. The stealth component is actually nice, as it involves sniper rifles and silenced weapons. With the heavy weapon loadout, you get two machine guns that pump out about as much fire as a full America's Army game. The regular load out is somewhere in between the other two, but I suggest going with stealth or heavy, as there is little room for middle ground in this title.
The AI in the game is excellent, which is good news for the squad members and bad news for the opponents. The AI opponents will fall back and then counterattack, or try to move to cover from incoming fire. Your squad members will actively cover you and respond to enemy fire; thank goodness they do not try to throw grenades back at the player.
It took significant design skill and foresight to make a good game as good as Alpha Black Zero, a title that no gamer can do without. With its first release, Khaeon is generating a new renaissance in PC gaming. If they can maintain the momentum in this game, I believe that Khaeon will be a force to be reckoned with in the game industry.
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