A turned-based, tactical RPG will always catch my attention. Maybe it’s my age, but looking at all the options before I make a move has always appealed to me. Maybe there’s a puzzle-like dimension in all of that? So when I saw the description for 3 Mind Games‘ sci-fi tactical RPG I knew I had to wishlist it on Steam right away. The Protagonist: EX-1 hit Steam PC in early access about a month ago. We got a handful of hours in to see if its full release is something to look forward to or if it’s light-years away.
The Force Is Strong In This One
3 Mind Games is actually a games development company with a strong history. The company was founded by two ex-Ubisoft Montreal developers who have a strong track record. Their resumes include working on many AAA titles including Splinter Cell, Prince of Persia, Far Cry, Far Cry Instinct, Rainbow Six, and the Assassin’s Creeds series. This is all knowledge that I acquired after playing the early access game. I know this game is in early access, which seems to be more the norm nowadays, but given the team’s credentials, some things in The Protagonist seem like they could have been better.
The Background Story
On paper, the story looks and reads well. When a massive space station suddenly appears high in orbit, the world fears a threat posed by the invading aliens. Your government is sending an elite strike team to board and infiltrate the space station. Play starts as you being the main female character (i.e. protagonist) Angel. She’s a highly trained soldier in the sciences and martial combat. Somehow you awaken in the infirmary of the station’s lab, with no memory of how you arrived there. The plan becomes to get out of this maze-like alien ship, locate the rest of your squad, and accomplish the mission. It all has an X-Com feel to it.
The gameplay itself is played in a traditional turn-based, isometric view. There is a free exploration mode where you and your team are moving from one room to another. This includes uncovering hidden areas, etc. When you encounter a mob you’re placed into the combat phase which is turn-based and in some cases quite lengthy.
Things We Liked
The pure adherence to a traditional turn-based game much like an X-Com. This includes statistics like initiative and action points where you can choose where to move to and what kind of attack to use. The game also sits heavily on an RPG foundation so you’ll earn attribute points and skill points for each of your player character teammates, including a dog Buddy eventually. These points allow you to configure your team with marksmen, soldiers adept with knives, hackers, etc.
An innovation we really liked was the “M.A.C.S.” combat feature. This stands for the “Martial Arts Combat System”. It’s a system that allows you to chain together sequences of melee combat actions. It adds another entertaining element to up close and personal combat. It was a mini-game in itself in finding the right combinations to cause a chain for some powerful attacks.
Also, the developers coded in a “Dynamic Dialogue System” (D.D.S.) which allows dialog decisions that have consequences and can drastically change the reactions and responses from other characters.
We also loved that the idea of crafting is in the game and the sparseness of in-game shards required to do crafting. This dynamic promotes a need to explore as you make your way through the ship’s interior walls. Some environment puzzles are thrown into the mix as well where you have to break down walls or get access to ledges all in order to find those elusive shards.
Things We Didn’t Like
Graphically speaking the shades of blue, purple, etc. give the game that spaceship-like feel. The isometric graphics are good, but the cut-scenes though seem to have character models that need some work. In my humble, and perhaps harsh opinion, they are not AAA cut-scene graphics, yet. Some of it feels like watching mannequins. I can’t quite place my finger on it.
It also felt strange using the “Q” and “E” keys to rotate the camera around on the horizontal access. Especially when accustomed to holding the right mouse button down while rotating the mouse which is how several popular isometric games have done.
There are also bugs we encountered. The biggest during our short time spent playing was in trying to move a light block around. The light block was key to reaching a platform. For whatever reason we couldn’t grab the block, to pick it up, unless we got close to it. Eventually, we managed to turn the camera around a bit to get it to do what we wanted but it was five minutes of frustration.
The choice to put dialogue all the way at the bottom of the screen is a questionable decision. There were several times where I couldn’t move my characters to eventually realize that dialogue text was up which freezes movement.
The crafting interface felt a bit cumbersome as well. The up-down arrows and dragging common attributes into a slot needs a tutorial or clearer direction.
The Protagonist: EX-1 seems like it could be a top-notch tactical RPG. Even though it seems like the development team has put a lot of work into it, in its current state, it has some annoying things that get in the way. Above that, it doesn’t offer a lot that’s new but the story and setting could help propel it to new heights. At a meager buy-in price of $12.99 on Steam, it’s not the largest commitment you’d have made, or just wait it out until full release and see how far the team has come.