It goes without saying that Alpha Black Zero: Intrepid Protocol has one of the most unusual game names that we've encountered recently. The multisyllabic title comes from the fact that you get to command an elite squad of marines, code-named Alpha Black Zero, in this futuristic, third-person action game from Dutch developer Khaeon. We haven't heard much about this European title, so we got our hands on a near-finished version of the game to check it out.
Alpha Black Zero is set several hundred years in the future. Humankind has established hundreds of colonies among the stars, but, as a result, rebellion and unrest reign throughout the galaxy. You play Lieutenant Kyle Hardlaw, the commanding officer of the five-man Alpha Black Zero squad, which is tasked with carrying out covert missions on colony worlds. While on a routine assignment, you begin to uncover a vast conspiracy that sends you and your men in pursuit of a treasonous plot that's spread to several worlds. This web of deceit also pits you against your superiors, because the game starts off with you being brought in to face a military tribunal to explain your actions. From here, the rest of the game unfolds as one big flashback.
The game takes place on a variety of worlds and space stations. Though most levels are quite large, they're usually designed in such ways that you are channeled down particular paths. For instance, there's often just one direction that you can go, because all other directions are blocked off by impassable terrain. As you follow the path, you'll both encounter squads of enemy soldiers and engage in firefights to take them out. There's not much need for subtlety or tactics, so you'll basically just get close and unload on them. Enemy soldiers will roll to the side and will occasionally try to fall back, but most of the time they'll stand there, almost as if they're content being shot. It can take quite a bit of ammunition to take one down, though. On the other hand, Hardlaw and your marines can absorb almost a ridiculous amount of punishment themselves, so there's little need to crouch behind cover.
Alpha Black Zero will allow you to approach each mission differently, and, at the beginning of each mission, you can select one of three different weapons packages for your squad. The stealth package includes silenced weapons and a couple of sniper rifles, which allows you to both dispose of enemies quietly and take out enemies from long ranges. The standard package features a mix of assault rifles, while the heavy package packs a lot of heavy assault rifles and grenade launchers.
The controls are fairly standard for the third-person-shooter genre. You use the keyboard to both move around and strafe side to side, while you use the mouse to aim and shoot bucket-loads of bullets at your enemies. As you command your five-man squad, you can issue commands to the other marines, including hold position, regroup, hold fire, and more. You can also switch between team members, so if you want to make sure that the team's sniper rifle is used effectively, you can jump to the sniper position directly. While your squadmates are computer-controlled in the single-player game, you can play the game cooperatively with up to four other players, which means that each of you can control a single member of the squad.
Alpha Black Zero is built on the Croteam graphics engine, which was developed by Croteam for the Serious Sam games. As such, it can render large levels with a fair amount of detail, including those tall grasses where enemies like to hide. Our only concern regarding the graphics revolves around the fact that the game seems overly dark at times--as if the worlds where the game's actions take place are caught in perpetual dusk. Alpha Black Zero is scheduled to ship within the coming weeks, so expect a full review with our final impressions of the game soon.