Publisher: Samustai LTD
Developer: Fair Games
Release date: 30th April 2021
Approximate size: 2.9 GB
Age Rating: PEGI 7
Reviewed on: Xbox Series X
Screenshots: Xbox Series X / Xbox.com
Protocol is an action-adventure game where you’re tasked with making the first contact with an alien life form, with multiple endings, lots to discover and a wealth of humour, there’s a significant game in your hands, but in places, it falls a little short of its potential.
The story starts off with a government conspiracy and an alien ship (UFO) shot down over the arctic circle, you control the sole protagonist with an attitude, who’s tasked with the secret mission to make first contact and discover more about our visitors.
You begin inside a drop-pod and Protocol starts to show its true colours, on one hand, there are some intelligent decisions such as various steps just to get out of the pod. You’ll soon meet an A.I. drone who’s tasked with helping you along the way and you’re quickly introduced to the protocol, which boils down to do everything you’re told to do, otherwise you will die.
Breaching the protocol is something you’ll do time and time again, sometimes by accident, sometimes you’ll be well aware your taking risks, other times it’ll be 100% intentional because that drone deserves a snowball in its face. This first chapter sees you approaching the top-secret base, having to solve small puzzles such as using your keycard and replacing batteries in order to turn on the lights and open the door. Often these puzzles are well hidden, and you’re asked to remember something you probably didn’t know would be so important, and sure enough, if you get it wrong, you’ve breached the protocol and you will die.
Once you get inside, after a few psychiatric assessments, the AI decides to use a hologram of your ex-wife to make things more “comfortable” this leads to some witty conversations back and forth, and helps to break up some of the back-tracking you’ll need to do every time you forget that damn keycard, or need to return to a previous area. The personality of the AI and protagonist really combine well and the humour is mature enough for adults to enjoy and subtle enough to reach the PEGI 7 rating for younger players.
Thankfully there’s quite a subtle flow to the game and even when revisiting the first few rooms, it still feels like progression, there’s plenty of genres covered, with retro mini-games installed by a hacker, which are a nice distraction only let down by awful controls, such as having to move the camera to turn to the left or right of the screen to move a paddle in an Arkanoid style game, which could really do with a more intuitive control scheme, however, this is more than made up for by overall controls which are intuitive.
There’s plenty of challenging spots and puzzles but sure enough, you will succeed, and the regular “Have a Nice Day” phrase you hear every time you’ve breached protocol and are about to head back to the last checkpoint, didn’t get on my nerves anywhere near as much as I’d anticipated. Even in some sections where I’d make mistakes multiple times, it’s all part of the learning process, and it’s no more evident than the third chapter when I unexpectedly completed the game.
This wasn’t the end, far from it, but from my mixed responses I’d taken the easy way out, and upon revisiting the game I actually worked out the ship puzzle and continued for another 3 chapters, one of which was mostly an impressive old school FPS style presentation.
The appealing thing is, the decisions which decide your fate are far from obvious, so at times you’re almost forced to breach protocol in order to explore the game more, and if you want to discover some of the more interesting endings, you’ll probably end up killing yourself multiple times trying to figure it out.
Thankfully there’s a full checkpoint system, so you can return to where you were previously, but on one chapter hop, I found myself in an area, beyond my keycard, and I couldn’t return to find it, meaning I was stuck and forced to reload a different point in the game, it’s a minor inconvenience as half the challenge is working out what to do (and what not to do) which means retreading your steps isn’t as laboured as it sounds.
Everything is hopefully sounding pretty positive at the moment, and believe me, underneath the top layer, everything is positive, there are some decent shooting mechanics, an ever twisting story, puzzles to solve, deaths to avoid and an interesting location packed with humour and the fun of intentionally disobeying rules, but the overall presentation does fall a little flat at times.
Graphically, there’s more than a few issues with clipping through objects, it’s sometimes hard to carry something through a door without it getting knocked out of your hands and while the locations are well done, the character models aren’t up to standard and look closer to a 10-year-old Xbox 360 game.
Audio is another area that could have been improved, voice-acting isn’t terrible, but it’s sometimes a little flat and emotionless, which is a shame considering the writing and the relationship and feelings between the protagonist, his ex-wife and the AI.
At around the 10-hour mark just to work out the second ending, and plenty more gameplay on offer if you want to see how many times you can break protocol, the £16.99 asking price is perfectly good value, and while the overall presentation could have been better, it’s somewhat insignificant considering the fun I’ve had playing through the game.
There were a few times I felt interest waning a little, however before I knew it, I was past that point and onto something new, and with varied puzzles and new mechanics introduced throughout the game, it was always fun to find out what’s around that next corner.