Protocore is built like an old school shooter, but it adds a twist with an AI that hates your guts and changes the game to keep it difficult and on your toes.
Protocore is developed by IUMTEC and takes place on The Autonoma, a giant spaceship overrun by robots that were originally there to help humans but were taken over by an AI that really doesn’t like you.
When you start the game you’re offered a short tutorial level which isn’t necessary, it's not one of those boring tutorials and it's short so it doesn’t hurt to play it. You’ll quickly get the hang of it either way, and realize that the inspiration for Protocore comes from a time when FPS games were a lot simpler.
You’ll also get to know the game’s antagonist, the game itself. There’s no difficulty picker, the AI analyzes the way you play and adapts the gameplay towards it. The AI also makes it very clear to you that it wants you dead.
Before we get to the AI and the ways it makes life difficult, let’s talk about the gameplay. First of all, everything is implemented in a very natural way and the gameplay itself is incredibly smooth even this early.
Before you start a level, you get to customize your loadout. You pick the weapons you want to bring to the fight, passive abilities and gears, which are special power-ups, are also something you should pay attention to since they dictate the way you plan on playing. If you want to earn some extra points, you can let the game randomize your loadout, or simply not pick anything for a certain slot for even more points.
When you actually start playing, you’ll notice that everything from the way your guns sway to the side when you start moving to the way you dash and jump is incredibly well animated and feels smooth. Small things like this make a huge difference and make a game that much better. The 3-hit melee combo you can do is really satisfying, it’s just too bad that you’ll often find yourself too swarmed to actually execute it.
That is a great segway into the combat and ways the game adapts to your actions. Every weapon has a purpose, but if you just want to go crazy with two shotguns, that’s also an option. Not a smart one by any means, but it is an option. The robots react very naturally to getting shot, they flinch when hit while running at you or get stunned for a moment when blasted by a shotgun from close range. There were moments when the animation was a bit off, but nothing too bad. For example, if you dash through them and they get stunned, they might be facing a direction that makes no sense. But it’s still in development so I have no doubt that this is something that will be ironed out before release.
The levels themselves have you clearing areas of robots, escorting a payload, destroying shields, and so on. Obviously, there are boss fights too, and they’re pretty challenging, especially if you refuse to change your playstyle.
Which brings us to the AI and the many ways it can adapt against you. What better way to talk about it than with an example, specifically why you shouldn’t exclusively use dual shotguns.
As mentioned, the dual shotgun loadout is very fun, it decimates the robots at close range and they’re acceptable at medium range if you focus by aiming down the sights. But as soon as I finished the first level it was pretty clear the AI is keeping track of my actions.
Once you finish the level you’re presented with a screen that shows how you did. Did you focus on close-range combat or prefer to keep some distance between the robots and yourself; do you like to camp in one spot or are you very mobile; how often do you engage in melee combat; do you play alone or stick with your friends? Once you’re done with looking at your stats, you pick a skill to upgrade, and then the AI picks a modifier to add.
The first thing that it picked were turrets, which at first didn’t sound too bad. The problem became apparent when I realized they are mounted to the ceiling and more often in the middle of large open areas, so shotguns weren’t the best solution, but I managed. I also noticed that robots would change behavior from time to time, some of them started trying to sneak up on me while I was focused on bigger groups in the front.
After the next level, the AI realized I move constantly, so it added landmines around the map in hope that I will move too fast to notice them. The robots themselves adapted even further by closing in on me and then activating their shields just as I would start firing from my shotguns, effectively taking no damage and then attacking me while I reload. I thought I was really smart by dashing through them at that moment to stun them while I reload, but oh boy, the AI was ready for that too.
The next level became almost impossible, because besides everything so far, now I was also facing suicide robots that were just behind the ones I normally dash through. So now when I dash through the first wave an explosion is waiting for me on the other side.
At that point, I just had to give up the shotguns and try a different loadout, since the game made it obvious that it was done with my shenanigans.
Besides the way that robots learn to react to the way you fight and the map itself adapting, there are also Nemesis events.
The first one I found out about very quickly since my tactic was to collect as many robots as I can in front of myself and then to burst them down with the shotguns. The game reacted by giving them a short bonus to health so that they can push towards me.
Next up was the camping zone, when I was stuck in a hallway fighting robots on both sides. The game decided I really need to get moving and started spawning them right next to me as an incentive.
One that is mentioned by the developers, but I haven’t noticed, is that the robots can visually glitch out. If you weren’t hit in a while, the robots begin to glitch making them hard to see and allowing them to sneak up on you.
This AI is still in development and it was just made live in the most recent version, but it already makes things very interesting.
Moving away from all the reasons I found it amazing, there are a few flaws, but it’s worth keeping in mind that it’s early in development, so I’m not going to berate the game over them.
The first I already mentioned, from time to time some of the animations are a bit off, it’s not a horrible eyesore but you will notice it.
Next up is variety. So far, there is a healthy amount of weapons and things the AI can throw at you, but it wouldn’t hurt for it to get expanded further.
New weapons and a more in-depth skill tree would be welcome. The skill tree so far lets you upgrade damage, health, stamina, and lets you upgrade to a double jump, it doesn’t feel that impactful besides upgrading your stamina so you can double jump and dash more often.
You can also see what the AI can choose from when changing up the gameplay, and again it would be amazing if there was more variety.
The main reason why I want to see more variety is that a survival game mode would work perfectly for Protocore. You fight wave after wave and the game changes on the fly, but you don’t get notified what will change between them. This way you have to survive a wave that’s unfair against your build or you can preemptively change your loadout without even knowing what’s next.
Some of the things that are announced are modding and speedrunning which will also greatly impact the replayability of Protocore. I’m not a fan of speedrunning, but hearing that a game supports mods always brings a smile to my face. Protocore has a lot of potential for modding so I’m interested in seeing the direction that will go.
The last thing I noticed is that some of the abilities you can unlock aren’t explained very well. Also, the English translation isn’t very good either, things don't make much sense, or there are typos, so that’s something that still needs polishing.
To wrap it up, Protocore’s core gameplay is amazing, it takes classic FPS games and changes it up with a lot of modern things that fit in incredibly and naturally. The graphics are great, and I refuse to play it on anything below ultra. There are still some things that need to be ironed out, but Protocore is going in a great direction.
Even though it’s just an early version still in development, you can see the potential, and I had a blast playing it and plan on playing it even more.