STAFF REVIEW of Cyber Protocol (Xbox One)

Wednesday, June 24, 2020.
by Adam Dileva

Cyber Protocol Box art I wasn’t really sure what to expect just before starting to play Cyber Protocol, as if you check out the screenshots beforehand, or even dive in and watch a video of gameplay, it’s all very confusing at first glance to actually figure out what’s going on. Thankfully the developers made the learning curve easy enough to figure out what’s going on with the first handful of levels before slowly introducing new mechanics and steeply raising the difficulty.

What if you took the core gameplay from Pac-Man but changed the setting to have a cyberpunk backdrop and twisted the gameplay just enough to be almost like a puzzle game? That’s essentially the experience of Cyber Protocol, as your android friend, G0X6, had been shut down, so it’s up to you to hack into the system and activate the protocol to cause a reboot. While a narrative isn’t really needed for games like this, I appreciate the effort that went into making a reason for doing what you’re doing. Obviously, as you hack deeper into the system, more security measures are in place, hence the difficulty spikes.

As mentioned above, think of the core gameplay much like Pac-Man. Your avatar traverses through a maze in the traditional top-down view collecting coins and other tokens if you’re able to figure out how to do so. Once you hit a direction, you’ll automatically travel that way until you hit a wall or object, stopping you. From there you can choose what direction to go next, but you have to plan ahead carefully your moves, as the levels are laid out much like a puzzle game.

The first handful of levels are simple enough, having you navigate around corners and bends by rushing from wall to wall, but eventually you’ll start to encounter traps and enemies that will make things much more challenging. There are diamonds that follow a set path back and forth that can’t be touched or else you’ll restart from your last checkpoint in the level. You’ll have lasers that charge up for a short while then blast outwards; another obstacle that must be avoided or you’ll have to restart. Eventually you’ll have to deal with portals, which will whisk you to another place in the maze, tiles that can only be touched a set amount of times before turning into instant death spots, walls that will cause you to explode upon impact and more.

The levels start out simple enough and gradually become more and more challenging, though never unfair. Even after dying dozens of times on a stage, I never really felt frustrated, as I knew it was my poor timing or trying to rush that was the cause for my restarts. Those that wish to collect every coin and token (which earns you new avatar icons) will have plenty to strive for, though I eventually conceded and tried to simply make it to the end whenever possible, as the amount needed are way too high in my opinion.

Cyber Protocol is all about trial and error. Sometimes moving into a portal will teleport you somewhere where there’s an enemy or laser in your path at that exact moment, so it’s all about timing. You’re able to zoom the map out and get a layout of the whole maze, but there’s a lot going on, and sometimes you’re going to have to be incredibly quick and accurate to make it out alive. Some tiles can be rushed through once, but then leave a wall brick behind, or others that block lasers until you pass through them. There’s a lot of different types of strategies that will have to be utilized to finish the increasingly difficult levels.

Even when you do understand what’s going on and what needs to be done, it can still be a little overwhelming at times to take it all in, as it can feel muddled at times with all the different types of blocks and moving parts to figure out. It’s not terrible design or anything to do with the visuals, it’s just a lot to take in with lots going on and strobing lights, though you do become accustomed to it over time after a handful of the 100 levels under your belt. As stages become more and more challenging, it becomes about logically thinking about how to solve the solutions and having incredible reflex skills. There’s even an Arcade mode where you and play competitively alongside four friends on the couch, though I wish online play was supported.

Where Cyber Protocol shines brightest is its Synthwave soundtrack. There are some real gems here, to the point where I actually sat on the music player screen and listened to the whole soundtrack a few times, even while writing this. Sure, there’s an achievement for using the music player for a set amount of time which is why I initially sat and listened to it, but I’m glad it was included, as I got to experience some amazing synthwave tunes. While there’s not a ton of tracks, they are kickass in every way if you’re a fan of the genre, as it’s fitting for the cyberpunk backdrop. The 8-bit graphics are retro and feel like you’re back in the 80’s playing an old classic game. You’re even able to unlock other visual and audio themes as you collect tokens during your playthrough.

I would have never imagined that taking Pac-Man’s core gameplay and spinning it into a hacker game with a cyberpunk backdrop would make sense or work, but here we are. Cyber Protocol may be repetitive at times and challenging with its trial and error difficulty curve, but at least the soundtrack is absolutely kickass throughout. I’m a sucker for anything cyberpunk, and if it has a kickass synthwave soundtrack, consider me sold. Needless to say, Cyber Protocol checks both of these boxes.

Overall: 7.7 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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