RedDeerGames have delivered Xbox One players a new puzzle game set in the shady world of computer hacking – Cyber Protocol. The story of the game is the usual kind of throwaway nonsense: our best robot buddy has somehow become deactivated, and the only way to reactivate his “Cyber Protocol” is to navigate our way through 100 levels of hacking action. So, should you give this a blast, or is it likely to leave your brain in a melted heap on the floor?
First off, the look of Cyber Protocol is firmly in the retro-styled camp, with a pixelated look straight out of the 8-bit era. It also bears more than a passing resemblance to PAC-MAN, with the levels all being discrete arenas, if you will, with a single path through and lots of power pills and dots to pick up. Sorry, not dots, coins, and what do coins make? New avatars to put through the maze. Yes, different avatars can be unlocked, should you wish, but as they don’t appear to alter the gameplay in any significant manner, they are largely cosmetic items.
As you make progress, lots of other cosmetic goodies can be unlocked, including new themes for the levels which change the way that the game is beheld. I must also take a moment here to mention the soundtrack, as the music is very good indeed. So good in fact that while I write this review I’m using the built-in music player to help the words flow smoothly.
So, Cyber Protocol sounds great and looks suitably retro, but how does it play? Well, good and bad is the short answer. The slightly longer one is that the first set of ten levels ease you into things, introducing gameplay mechanics and so on, but after that it all starts to get a bit, well, samey.
The game plays out as a maze-type affair, and you are tasked with getting from the start to the finish of the level as quickly as you can. For a perfect score, you will need to try and collect all the coins on the level. This is where the difficulty of the game’s systems come into play. You see, the first couple of levels are easy – whizz around and get to the finish. After this, various traps and defences are added in, making a perfect run much harder to achieve. There are mines and trap blocks that are triggered when you move across them, and these are okay as long as you don’t remain on the mine when it explodes. If you are caught in an explosion though, you die, and so a trip to Restartville is required.
Yes, one mistake in your run; one fractionally mistimed movement, will result in starting the level again, unless you’ve made it to a checkpoint, in which case you restart from there. Mines aren’t the only problem: there are glitches, which turn certain walls in the maze red, and hitting these means instant death.
Now, the maze in question must be made of ice or something similar, because once we have started to move in a direction we keep moving until we hit an obstacle, whereupon we can choose to move in a different direction. With lasers, blocks that become solid after we pass them and more to contend with, you can see that the difficulty quickly ramps up in Cyber Protocol. In fact, one of the first achievements you will unlock will be for dying within two seconds of starting a level. Read into that what you will!
Thankfully, there’s a lot of customisation that can be unlocked along with other game modes to explore. The local multiplayer option works well, but to be honest I don’t feel like it’s a needed option. While it’s always nice to play couch co-op with friends or family, with the pace of the game and the whole 80’s neon soaked almost-TRON-like vibe, the whole thing can become very distracting. In fact, the leaderboards are much more like the place to be, allowing you to compare your performance with others; it’s here that what little hook there is comes into play, especially if you’re a competitive soul. Seeing that one of your mates is only a few milliseconds ahead of you on a particular level (and any completed level can be chosen from the menu, which is a nice touch) brings the urge to continue playing, determined to beat the time.
The gameplay on offer in Cyber Protocol almost boils down to that of a memory test. What happens if you go left? What happens if you go right instead? Oh, fiery laser death – best go left then. There is a strong element of remembering which path is safe, coupled with a bit of trial and error to see where we will die and how to best avoid it. It is here where the repetitiveness of the gameplay rears its head. By the time I had battled my way through about half of the levels on offer, the sheer madness of Cyber Protocol sees you becoming a little bit jaded; a bit fed up to be brutally honest. And it’s not helped by the fact that there is occasionally a bit of a lag between pressing a direction and the avatar you are controlling moving – almost like a stuttering in the game. Making one mis-step when the checkpoint is within reach will also ensure a few profanities are uttered, and I’ll admit that I’ve had to turn the game off when a particularly challenging level drained the soul.
Cyber Protocol on Xbox One is a kind of PAC-MAN/TRON hybrid; one that takes the shiny neon visuals of the 1980s, mixes in a collect-the-dots, maze-based mechanic and runs with it. The story is completely redundant – it makes literally no difference to the game that you are playing – and while the challenge is good, the input lag and repetition aren’t. It’s a long and challenging game, of that there is no doubt, but fun? Not always so much.