Way before I started my journey into gaming, graphics weren’t as advanced as they are today. Most of the visuals were just giant pixels that had to depict something like a human, a car, or even a giant spaceship. Sound consisted of blips and bloops, and you had to play a game by giving the computer commands through typing.
I was about 6 years old when I started playing games. I grew up playing games like King’s Quest, Leisure Suit Larry (really, Mom and Dad, what were you thinking?), and the Wing Commander series. These games already had more sophisticated graphics, but some of them still used keyboard commands. Although my gaming experience didn’t begin until the early nineties, my interest in retro games has always been strong. So when editor Danny asked if someone was interested in trying Astra Protocol 2, I was willing to give it a shot, although at first glance, I had some doubts. This was undoubtedly a genre way out of my league and comfort zone. But I pulled myself together, took a deep breath, and let myself immerse in the dark, empty space of Astra Protocol 2.
The first thing I want to mention is that after approximately 30 hours invested in the game, I’m pretty sure that this is not a game for me. So, this is not going to be a review, as I am certain that would not do the game justice. I think it’s more of an experience that has value beyond a strict review based on mechanics, visuals, and a soundtrack. I encourage people who hold this genre close to their hearts to give the game a shot.
Astra Protocol 2 is Hardcore
As is probably clear by now, this is not a game for everyone. This open-space exploration adventure demands real dedication and manual browsing to remember all the keyboard commands you need to use. In that sense the game has a lot of resemblance to simulation games of the mid eighties and nineties when big box PC games featured comprehensive manuals that sometimes had hundreds of pages and no onscreen tutorials.
In Astra Protocol, your spaceship’s monitors have picked up notifications of unknown events. It is up to you to find out what has happened and, along the way, save yourself from hostile encounters and search for any evidence of survivors.
Astra Protocol uses vector graphics and a brownish-black color palette (similar to the old PC DOS’s amber monochrome monitors) to depict everything on your screen. The game is set up as if you are really in a giant spaceship, watching your monitors. There are several different menus you can navigate through. You have screens that show you where your ship is heading, the state of your ship, a screen where you can plot a route, one to control battles, and one where you can see your scanning results.
Each of these screens is necessary for safely reaching your destination. Traveling with your ship is a huge task. First of all, you need to know where you need to go, as flying around without a real objective is rather pointless. So your first task is to scan for anomalies or celestial bodies.
Once you find a place to go, it’s time to plan a route and travel to your destination, while keeping a close watch on the different screens. The journey isn’t without danger, with overheating reactor cores, hostile spaceships, and alien fauna out there to make your life a living hell. Battles are a real challenge because you have to be aware of your surroundings and how to approach the enemy. You can control each of the weapons of your ship individually, but you must ensure your enemy is in the line of fire; otherwise, your rockets go on an adventure of their own.
It took me several attempts to even get my ship going in the first place. As stubborn as I was, I thought I could play this game without actually reading the manual (as some may say, RTFM!). So I finally did read it, and before I knew it, I got my ship going, but without a clear destination. Even though I got my ship going, it didn’t last long. Before I knew it, my ship was blown to pieces due to flying debris, enemy vessels, or even a massive asteroid. At this point, it started to sink in that this game might not be my cup of tea.
I had trouble understanding the manual and felt like I was missing key information to get things going, like setting a course destination and how to cool my reactor. I had to reach out to the developers for help on this. And I have to give a big shout-out to the developers here because they were very willing to help me understand the mechanics. Several times, they helped me on my way, and little by little, I got the hang of it. Before I knew it, I was sending my ship through space, battling giant enemy vessels, scanning anomalies, and finding people to rescue.
However, being a dad with 2 kids, a full-time job, and not much free time on my hands, this game is not for me, as it requires a significant time investment. I appreciate what Slice Bar Games is trying to achieve, and they actually did it very well. It will speak to people with an engineering mind. The ones who take the washing machine apart, instead of calling a repair service. The people who love technical manuals and read them, instead of going in head first.
Show some love
If you are someone who loves these types of games and would like to give it a shot, you really should. Astra Protocol 2 is getting updates on a regular basis, and Slice Bar Games listens to criticism and suggestions. For me, what I would have loved to see is an even more in-depth manual and perhaps a “how to start” chapter as a accessibility feature, for the ‘non-engineers’. I think new players like myself could benefit from this to understand the game and fall in love with it. I truly believe the game deserves it because it excels at what it is.