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Protocol review for Xbox One, PS4, PC


Platform: Xbox One
Also on: PS4, PC
Publisher: Samustai
Developer: Fair Games
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: M

You know how some games are so charming that you can’t help but like them, no matter their flaws? Protocol is like the opposite of that: it’s so obnoxious that you can’t help but hate everything about it.

Some of this, I think, is by design. It’s a self-described sci-fi comedy that’s heavy on self-aware humour, so it’s kind of intentionally obnoxious. Intentional or not, though, that still means the game is pretty obnoxious. Likewise, Protocol also commits the sin of thinking that just because it makes fun of itself for adhering to basic tropes, that somehow absolves it of the fact that it’s still adhering to those tropes — which is almost never the case.

Moreover, it also means that Protocol feels very much like an “in your face” ‘90s game — witness, for example, the fact that one of the controls is for your character to give the finger. That may have been fine if it were 25 years ago and you’re trying to be shocking, but now it just feels dated.

The bigger problem with Protocol, though, is that the gameplay is terrible.

Mostly, I suspect, this is because Protocol started life as a VR game, and the transition to being a regular console game wasn’t done with a whole lot of care. The controls feel clunky, and picking up items — which may be the most common thing you go here, especially early on — is always a massive pain. You’re constantly dropping objects, and not in a Surgeon Simulator, this game is intentionally tough/broken kind of way. Rather, it’s because the controls are unintentionally brutal, and constantly getting in the way of the game being playable.

It also doesn’t help that the whole game is built around killing you off every time you don’t follow instructions. This seems kind of interesting the first few times you die, in a meta sort of way, as a commentary on how we follow rules in game…and then you realize that happens every single step of the way, and it suddenly becomes more tiresome than clever. To go back to a point I made above, it doesn’t really matter if a game is making fun of tropes if it’s still slavishly adhering to them.

If I were inclined to be generous to Protocol (and I’m not), I’d say it’s more a failure of execution than of ideas. After all, it’s at least smart enough to know that it needs to be better than it is. Still, the end result is the same: a game that’s not particularly fun to play.

Samustai provided us with a Protocol Xbox One code for review purposes.

Grade: D