I didn't expect much from Alpha Prime. All the warning signs were there: the small, foreign developer (Prague's Black Element Software), the discount price ($20 on Steam), and the fact that every review quote on their site reads like, "Graphically, at least, Alpha Prime doesn't disappoint . . . rest of game [is good]." After about five hours, I began to pity this unlovable FPS. It isn't a bad game, or more precisely, it isn't merely a bad game. It's an unbelievable fiasco of a game, a brazen travesty that continually displays its own hindquarters like the world's ugliest mammal attempting to mate. Alpha Prime is the Half-Life of suck.
Half-Life in particular comes to mind many times in the course of this game, while crawling through vents, stacking crates to solve physics puzzles, using oddly familiar health stations, and even (points for chutzpah) a tram ride. Mathematically speaking, it's no surprise that a game named Alpha Prime should be derivative. The surprise is that each element has been modified just enough to be irritating. The tram ride is twenty feet long, breaks down every five feet, and by completing an objective the wrong way, I tricked the game into pulling me and my tram through a closed door. The health stations work fine but there are identical-looking oxygen dispensers in low-oxygen environments which require constant backtracking. (When your tiny oxygen meter runs out, it's instant death, without warning.) Finally, if you're going to include crate stacking and jumping puzzles, make sure collision detection works perfectly. The crates kept clipping into each other, and when I jumped next to a wall or heavy object, it magically pushed me backwards through the air. I found a basketball lying around in one level and tossed it around a bit. It rebounded off the wall and killed me.
Every enemy in Alpha Prime can be lethal, not just the sporting goods. Robots and humans alike are crack shots, down to the unarmored, wimpy civilians with pop guns. Without aiming, they can hit a moving target every time. You, on the other hand, need to hold down the right mouse button for anything like accuracy. Enemies do occasionally miss when they blind fire, which they do in a particularly cute way. I'm no tactician, but shouldn't they be facing me, their opponent, while they retreat? Instead, they turn their backs, run away, and unload a pistol over their shoulder. Sometimes they run into a wall and keep running like they're on a treadmill. Given the game's clipping issues, they might make it through nonetheless.
To add insult to injury, each dead enemy only drops a couple of bullets to pick up. I think that just before death he swallows all his remaining ammo, just to be a dick.
The only way to survive is to exploit the game's bugs and the AI's blind spots. I once entered a room with two baddies and two crates, one in the middle of the room and one farther back. Leaning around the doorway, I dropped the first guy with about three headshots, then retreated through the automatically closing door. After, say, five minutes, I realized the other guy wasn't coming in after me. "Good AI," I thought. "He's caught on to my elaborate doorway/shotgun strategy. Or he can't open doors."
When I ran back in, he had already returned to his patrol, marching out to the same pre-determined points over and over like a late night talk show host. Under heavy fire, he ran to the nearest crate, paused, then turned his back and ran to take cover behind the farther crate. (He had time to do this because they all have ridiculously high hit points.) After dispatching him, I went over to the crate and told it about what had happened. "I want you to know that he chose you over that other crate. He was tempted but stayed faithful. Now I'm going to cower behind you while those other guys shoot at me. Boy, this is awkward. So, hey, do you like music?"
Alpha Prime hews closely to FPS conventions but always manages to throw in some new, annoying twist. For example, item boxes have lids, so just walk up to them and when the cursor changes into the "pick up" icon, press F to take the lid, walk away, press F to discard it, then get the items, which can involve standing over the box and squatting until they get sucked up into the inventory in some unspeakable manner. Pressing Tab (and then good old F again) opens up a Metroid Prime style scan mode which allows the player to control electronic devices, exciting items like stationary security cameras and buttons.
I haven't even mentioned the story up to this point, which is because the game is only half-translated from Czech and borderline incomprehensible. Cutscenes feature such lines as, "That you'll get fired is the least of your problems right now," "I'm up the spout!" and "They still haven't managed to rob the nest." Also, the incompetent voice actors give the most mumbling, stilted line readings ever heard outside of A Charlie Brown Christmas. It appears that the main character is a space mercenary named Arnie, who shoots at a bunch of robots and soldiers on a mining colony that produces hubbardium. Yes, hubbardium, the substance produced by cramming a Scientologist into an alembic. It drives miners crazy and gives Arnie bullet time. However, it's a distraction. What the soldiers really want is some mythical thing called Glomar. Wasn't he Punky Brewster's magical friend? There really is a plot buried under all that confusion, but it's standard sci-fi stuff full of clichés and easily guessed surprises.
Alpha Prime is an odd duck. On the one hand, it's playable. On the other hand, I only kept playing through sheer bloody-mindedness. I couldn't believe how many classic FPS tropes they could steal and somehow fumble. It quickly degraded from mediocre to excruciatingly bad, but also perversely fascinating. Here's this game in a nutshell: every once in a while, I'd get fed up and quit, and it would always crash upon exiting. Every time, I would think, "Take that, game. I hope that hurt."
Final score: 9/10