Home Reviews 3/5 Review Alpha Particle Review

Alpha Particle Review


Function Unknown, the team behind Alpha Particle, probably didn’t expect their game to be compared with James Joyce’s Ulysses, but we’re going there anyway. Twice we’ve tried to read Ulysses, and twice we’ve bounced off it. It’s clearly stupendously written and has no doubt wooshed right over our heads. But it’s just so dense, so impossible to read comfortably, that we lose the enthusiasm that we went into it with. We have no doubt that someone, somewhere else, is enjoying it, but we just can’t. 

This is precisely the feeling we have with Alpha Particle. It is, objectively, an exquisitely created indie game. We imagine the designers putting it together like an ornate pocket watch, with each individual component fussed over and made with precision. But for the life of us, we can’t get into it. The ornateness is precisely what puts us off. There’s so much detail here that we don’t know what to focus on.

alpha particle review 1
Any idea what is going on in Alpha Particle?

For a game built around the existence of a single particle, it’s absolutely stodgy with lore. The story is an existential one, as you aim to learn about the purpose of your existence – you are a manufactured particle, you see – and then you determine what to do with that information. The narrative spans space stations, life forms and advanced philosophy lessons as you work your way to a solution. 

Part of our problem stems from Alpha Particle’s love for its own story. The narrative is voluminous and unexpected, don’t get us wrong. It’s far more high-minded than we expected from an £8.39 Eastasiasoft game (that’s not the insult that it sounds like). But the story got in the way, at least in our experience. There’s mountains of information on each of the entities and particles that you encounter on your journey, and a lot of it is vital stuff that you need to know to overcome those same entities. But the process of finding it is a needle in a haystack. We were sifting through the various interfaces and dialogue with our panning sieve, trying to find the important information about a weak point, or the path to the next step in the story. It was exhausting. 

The world of Alpha Particle has exactly the same problem. Here’s an exercise for you: look at a screenshot of the game. Now try to identify what you think is decoration, stuff that has no impact on the level, and what is gameplay-affecting. We’re willing to bet that you would only get half marks. The screen is a riotous mess where everything blinks and bloops, pulling the eye towards it. But only some of it is important. When the point of the game (we are getting to that, don’t worry) is to navigate the environment as quickly and seamlessly as possible, suddenly boffing into a wall or enemy that seemed like scenery is a problem. 

What you actually do in Alpha Particle is a fascinating question, mainly because we were still asking that question after the tutorial. Alpha Particle is introduced particularly poorly: a devastating error considering how hard-to-read the game is in the opening moments. It completely overloads the player with jargon and flashing interfaces, abandoning the mantra of less-is-more and opting for more-is-more straight off the bat. If you’re anything like us, the information will dribble out the ears. 

alpha particle review 2
Quite simple, really.

Which is such a miss when you consider that, actually, Alpha Particle is quite simple. As the Alpha Particle, everyone is after you. They want to absorb you. You have no countermeasures yourself, but there are areas in the world that are hazardous for them but not for you. For a large proportion of the levels, you’re bait. You are shaking your butt at passing particles, getting their attention and then scooting to the various energy centres that can then destroy your enemy. You’re the matador and they are the bulls. 

This is a simple bedrock that Alpha Particle just cannot wait to build on. You don’t get much in the way of time to acclimatise to this unusual setup. Almost immediately, you are introduced to different particle types (want to know more? Scan the incredibly busy encyclopedia entry on them), obstacles, bosses, upgrades, energy types, friendly locations and more. Levels get tricksy and turn out the lights, or offer multi-stage problems. It is, as much of Alpha Particle often can be, bewildering. 

We’ve paused Alpha Particle, ruminated on problems, come back to it days later and completed that loop several times over. Just as we get a handle on things, a new level will fox us all over again. We’re going to be completely frank with you: this has been one of the hardest games for us to review. Getting to a point where we can give a satisfying verdict has been challenging, to say the least. 

There have been moments of lucidity, where we’ve strung together a few levels not by accident, but with actual skill and brainpower. I know, we were surprised too. These are the moments where the intent behind Alpha Particle shines through: we understand what the designers wanted to achieve. But even when this happened, we still weren’t quite enjoying ourselves. And that’s because we’re not convinced the underlying concept is one-hundred percent fun. 

alpha particle review 3
Most definitely a product of love

Being chased isn’t naturally empowering or enjoyable. If we were taunting a particle that was slower than us, then there was the frustration of trying to keep its focus. Get too far ahead and it would drop away, and we’d have to wheel back and get it again. If a particle was faster or more maneuverable than us, then there’s the frustration of the level. We’d hit walls or mistime laser barriers and have to start afresh. It’s when the unreadability of the level is at its most irritating. 

Ultimately, we just didn’t feel a glow of satisfaction at being chased. It’s new, there’s no doubt about that: we’re so used to gunning down enemies in other games, that being the one that’s chased feels inherently different. But as we died for the umpteenth time to a boss as it chased us about a level, we huffed and puffed and wished that we had a BFG in our hands. Alpha Particle spikes the adrenaline, but not in a way that we always enjoyed. 

We admire Alpha Particle. It’s a product of love, created by people who truly believed in their vision. You can see the passion for the world, story, rulesets and progression structure in every minute detail. But in our case, all that effort created a wall, not a game. We bounced off it more than we tinkered with it.

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alpha-particle-review<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Stupendously well-realised story and setup</li> <li>‘Chase’ mechanic is innovative</li> <li>Dense with secrets, levels, bosses and upgrades</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Being chased rarely felt fun</li> <li>Impenetrable in opening hours</li> <li>Very hard game to read and understand</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Eastasiasoft</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch <li>Release date and price - 1 November 2023 | £8.39</li> </ul>
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