The Protagonist: EX-1 Review
This is a review of 5 hours of what I believe is the game’s Early Access content. I have not played more, and am unlikely to do so as it would be a disservice to both myself and the game.
The short of it is that this game is aggressively boring.
As an outside consumer, the name The Protagonist: EX-1 calls to mind something generic, like a bargain bin film for $5, likely starring Bruce Willis, that you somehow have not seen or heard of before but that still exists. This is accurate advertising.
In The Protagonist: EX-1, your character (a hot white woman named Angel) wakes with mild amnesia, a voice in her head (Pilot) guiding her throughout the blue science-fiction base. Angel is a martial arts expert, a quick shot with a gun and can hack things with implants in her brain. Her “training” is regularly alluded to. She slowly accumulates a squad of players, from the tough guy Radical, to more generic infantry-like characters with names like Raven, etc as she explores this base, picking up audio-logs and fighting floating robots.
A turn-based strategy game with squad building and door puzzles, the most novel element of The Protagonist: EX-1 is perhaps that one of your squad-mates can be a dog that acts as a healer. Even that cannot save this game from being a soup of bland sameness. The key to RNG-based combat is that it somehow must walk the razor’s edge of freshness and fairness. Freshness is that each new combat encounter must feel in some way unique. It’s one of the reasons a designer uses randomness, rather than carefully scripting encounters. Fairness is a bit more complicated. The game doesn’t have to actually be fair, it just has to feel fair–the player shouldn’t go into an encounter, die slowly and painfully over the course of several incredibly dry turns, then restart the level and change nothing about their strategy and win in four turns. That feels like malfunctioning RNG, the bane of every angry loser on the Internet. The Protagonist: EX-1 feels deeply unfair, to the point of frustration.
A game that has a poor mechanical base can be saved by any number of things, but that is not the case here. The graphics are polished for an independent game–think early Mass Effect–but the environments are incredibly similar, to the point where there is basically nothing novel to be found here. The door puzzles, which are frequently just “find the pillar that looks like a salt lamp and go through a two step sequence to unlock a door across the screen,” feel like time wasters. Having your characters narratively call out that these annoyances exist, or to be like “why are things like this” is not meta, it’s just lampshading bad design.
Ultimately The Protagonist: EX-1 is another addition to the turn-based strategy game that requires no strategy, with a squad that provides no interest. I cannot begin to care enough about this game to continue playing it, and cannot find a reason to recommend it.