I’m always down for an XCOM-like, I’m also very down with Diablo games. Mashing that together should be a recipe to tantalise my gaming taste buds. Unfortunately, in The Protagonist – EX-01’s case I didn’t like the taste. The ingredients currently seem a little off.
Indie dev 3MindGames are the people behind The Protagonist, in which you play the role of Angel, an operative who loses her memory and wakes up on a strange alien ship. Before long, you bump into your teammates who come with you for some fun alien beating action.
I mentioned Diablo earlier because moving around the map is similar. When you get into an encounter, that’s when it switches to XCOM style, turn-based combat. A grid on the floor will dictate where you can move to, as well as giving you an idea of how far your abilities can reach. On the bottom of the screen, you are presented with various actions your character can perform and each has a varying cost of Action Points – of which you get five per turn. Moving, of course, costs AP but it doesn’t have to be the first move. So, if you fancy popping off a shot, moving to cover and then firing another, you can do so as long as you have the points.
Other actions differ per character. Angel, for instance, has the ability to hack robotic enemies – turning them to her side, stun them or throw quite a sizable explosion their way. There’s also M.A.C.S. (Martial Arts Combat System) which lets you perform custom combos. When you select this option, it opens a sub-menu with four more options – punch, kick, elbow and knee, each with a level of power, up to three, that has a lower chance to hit the stronger you go.
This is ok in theory, with you being able to drag up to three attacks over to create a custom combo, then to fail when you realise the attacks cost two points each. Doh. I’ll punch kick, then? More points are granted as you level up but I’m impatient and want to do the cool stuff, now. Each character also has a special combo they can unleash which looks cool and does a ton of damage. On another note, M.A.C.S. works a lot better than just trying to shoot enemies.
A lot of the time, I felt like I was firing bullets at Agent Smith. These not so manoeuvrable robots dodged more bullets than the entire cast of The Matrix trilogy, leaving me bewildered as to what happened. They don’t seem so great at dodging punches, however. It doesn’t help that there’s no percentage to hit markers anywhere. XCOM gives you all the information so you know whether to risk a move or not. Not having it in Protagonist made missing stuff just seem that little more annoying. A lot of the encounters also start with enemies quite far out, forcing you to make use of the delay function, so you can bide your time until they get closer.
Beating enemies and scrounging around gets you scrap, which can be used to build new weapons, armour, implant and items from schematics earned. Some of these schematics are given as the story progresses but others you will need to hunt for in maps. Once created, you can equip characters with two weapons as well as various shields and implants, each improving the character’s stats. Once you’ve had fun fiddling with the inventory sorted, off you trek to go kill some alien scum.
After waking up, you get to explore the alien ship during this early access build, trying to find your teammates while solving puzzles and dodging enemies. Puzzles are light at best, with the main puzzle involving you guiding a light over to a switch to open new areas. There are also destructible walls which can be shot in order to get to the lovely goods behind.
It’s not long before you run into your first squadmate, Radical, who has a particular liking for knives. The two have some banter before continuing onwards. It’s all pretty run-of-the-mill story-wise and the writing, in particular, feels a little dated. It’s just a little boring and all in all, currently not enough to keep me invested. Story not being a major hook in these is generally acceptable as long as the gameplay is spot on. XCOM’s gameplay is sterling though, Protagonist’s is not. It’s average at best and combat can often be infuriating. To top it all off, it feels as though the visuals need some extra time in the oven.
It’s early days yet, as of course this is early access, and this is the beginning of The Protagonist’s journey. I can definitely see its potential, but the experience is let down by a lack of polish and a quite frankly naff script. Here’s hoping The Protagonist – EX-01 improves over time.