Cepheus Protocol: Hands-on with the Early Access RTS
Cepheus Protocol is a new squad-based strategy game from Halcyon Winds. Currently available in Steam Early Access, there are some notable flaws in its current incarnation. However, it also has potential with further development.
Editor’s note: Players may find the content disturbing given recent real-world events.
The game takes place on a single island where an infection is running through the population from a singular Patient Zero. The goal is to address and neutralize the infected while steadily increasing not only your own squads but also your equipment and tactics. The entire island is your active map. The infection occurs in real-time, providing you with a counter of remaining civilians, infected, and dead.
Notable issues immediately come with the appearance and introduction of the game itself. In fact, most of the initial tutorial is told to you through lengthy dialog or very small text windows. Something that should be addressed is making these more organic to the tutorial itself. For my playthroughs, I chose the full tutorial, but doing this does nothing to stop the infected from spreading, and ultimately slows the game.
Each time I played the game I found myself quickly overwhelmed by a growing horde of enemies shortly after starting, where any small skirmish would turn into an endless fight against the entirety of the infected. It did lead to several entertaining moments of heroic last stands, but further progression felt frustrating to reach. Hopefully, the AI can be tuned more carefully to player progression and reaction.
The graphics are not quite up to modern standards, but this may also be addressed as Halcyon Winds moves closer to a full release. The lower graphics may also be intended as a tradeoff to manage the sheer number of enemies on and off the screen.
A downside to the lower graphics, along with the scale of the camera, means that it can be hard to pick out specific members of your squads should they be needed – and more importantly, if they need to survive. There is a thermal option that allows you to see any moving units that your squad may not have sight on, but is set behind a limited timer.
The greatest weakness of the game is also its strength. You have a multitude of abilities and base building options in the way of Warcraft or Starcraft. At the same time, you have the squad management, movement speed, and line of sight for units in the fashion of XCOM. By mixing both – especially the line of sight mechanics with the sheer scale of the map – it feels like you have too many options to efficiently manage. My recommendation to the developers: have pre-built buildings and put more emphasis on the units themselves.
Ultimately, Cepheus Protocol is taking a new approach to a very familiar genre and gameplay style. At this point in the game, should the developer address several of these issues, it could prove to be an exciting challenge for gamers.
Cepheus Protocol was released via Steam Early Access on May 15. It retails for $19.99. Game Freaks 365 received a free Early Access key for the purposes of this article.