Developer: Black Element
Release Date: November 8, 2007
Gamers may look back at 2007 and refer to it as the "year of the shooters." With hit titles like Bioshock, Call of Duty 4, Half Life 2: The Orange Box and Halo 3 hitting the shelves, it is obviously going to take an impressive game to be recognized as a great first-person shooter. While these new shooters boast intense next-generation graphics and realistic physics, is there any room for Alpha Prime to make a dent in the overcrowded shooter market?
In the future, a substance called Hubbardium enhances everyone's way of life. A large organization mines the substance at deep-space mining facilities on the surface of asteroids; they hire humans to do the mining and enforce the rules by using security robots. It sounds rather profitable and harmless, right? Well, half of that is true. Harvesting Hubbardium has made this organization rather rich, but as for harmless …well, that's a different story.
Recently on Alpha Prime, a Hubbardium-harvesting asteroid, a severe outbreak of conflict and a destructive uprising have led to the isolation and abandonment of the asteroid. The corporation in charge of harvesting on the asteroid has made it quite simple: No one lands on the asteroid, and no one leaves. Ideally, this sort of problem shouldn't affect you at all, but your ex-girlfriend's new lover was left behind on this asteroid, and she has come to you for help. (I don't know about you, but I know I wouldn't be landing on this isolated hellhole to save my ex's new romantic spark.)
Fortunately for the purposes of the game, you agree to take on this task, and within a short period of time, you're dropped onto the surface of Alpha Prime. Armed with a small hatchet, you head into the asteroid's mining structure, hoping to quickly find this man and get out of there.
Of course, nothing is that simple. Long periods of exposure to the Hubbardium have led to Alpha Prime's inhabitants going a little crazy — and by a little, I mean a lot. The humans left to rot on Alpha Prime are like drug addicts; it's quite possible that they don't mean any harm, but boy, do they want their fix of Hubbardium! They are almost certain that you are a man who has it.
Shortly after entering the mining facility, you find a pistol on a dead soldier, which makes your task a lot easier. Just as I was starting to perfect the art of placing a well-shot bullet into the head of a crazed human, Alpha Prime's security force felt the urge to step in and make my day even worse. The security force is an assembled army of robotic workers that has been given one simple command: destroy all personnel on Alpha Prime. Oh, and if things weren't bad enough, there's still no sign of that new boyfriend.
As the story line of Alpha Prime continues, you will find yourself at war with crazy humans and security robots, along with space marines and a galactic form of "Special Forces" sent to quarantine and exterminate the asteroid. The story unfolds quite well, while providing some decent firefights and a pretty nifty F.E.A.R.-like bullet-time feature through the use of Hubbardium. Don't worry, though; it seems you're immune to Hubbardium addiction.
Alpha Prime uses a decent engine to provide decent gameplay in a first-person shooter atmosphere. The title includes decent AI, a cool physics engine and a decent arsenal of weapons. The weapons, while not unique or innovative in any way, provide an accurate and realistic simulation of actually using those weapons. Weapons include the hatchet, pistol, sub-machine gun, shotgun, rocket launcher, sniper rifle and even a flamethrower. The sub-machine gun and shotgun seem to be the better weapons in the game, often resulting in the solution for each firefight unless you need to snipe someone from afar.
The gun-fighting gets really fun once you began using Hubbardium for the slow-motion/bullet-time effect. Although this feature has been done many times before in FPS games, Alpha Prime does it well and provides a soothing feature that adds to the experience instead of limiting it. You aren't required to use bullet-time to kill anything, but it makes it fun and, in some cases, ideal when taking out enemy forces.
Another cool feature in Alpha Prime is the Recon hacking tool. This tool, found rather early in the game, allows the player to hack into certain hardware located throughout the mining facility. Hacking into a security camera allows you to see the enemy layout in the upcoming room to devise a plan, while hacking into a sentry machine gun may give you just the firepower you need to clean out a room filled with enemies who will surely rip you to shreds. I mean that metaphorically, unless of course, you are fighting a Hubbardium-crazed human. I think they are that crazy.
While the levels of Alpha Prime look rather clean and polished for a game of this quality, I often found myself asking why Black Element didn't do a little more. The entire game itself is rather linear in terms of exploration, but it becomes a little upsetting when the rooms themselves — where intense firefights and struggles for survival — are linear. It's like this: There's an entrance to the room, and an exit. Oh and some enemies in the way. Get to the exit alive. Repeat.
Graphically, Alpha Prime is well polished but certainly not next-generation caliber. It would have been considered breakthrough technology a few years ago, but now it's simply a revamped and refreshed version of an older graphics engine. It looks nice, and it certainly doesn't require the ultimate gaming rig, but I guess I just would've preferred a little better.
The sounds of bullets flying out of weapons matched the crazed screams of the drug-fiends, and they are done quite nicely. The only problem I had sound-wise would have to be the voice-overs for the characters. It's quite apparent Black Element didn't have a huge budget to spend on the voice acting, because it often sounds as if they are just reading the lines as opposed to acting them out. With voice-overs as mediocre as this, I also felt Black Element focused too much on cinematics with voiceovers as opposed to actual gameplay.
So, is Alpha Prime worth playing? If you're a fan of shooters, I'd say most certainly. With a $20 price tag and the ability to download it via Steam, I'd say any shooter fan should pick it up and give it a try. It's a fun shooter with a well-done bullet-time feature and a decent storyline. What more could you ask for from a $20 dollar game? Oh, Hubbardium-crazed humans? It's got that too!
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