Posted on 02 Jun 2020 by L Coulsen

Cepheus Protocol

The Defence

Developer: Halcyon Winds
Publisher: Halcyon Winds
Genre: Indie, Strategy
Platform: PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: No data.

The Prosecution

OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i5 2500K
AMD FX 6300
VGA: Nvidia GeForce GTX 470 2GB
AMD Radeon HD 6870 2GB
HDD: 14 GB
DirectX: 10
Controller: None
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i7 4770K
AMD Ryzen 5 1500X
VGA: Nvidia GeForce GTX 960 6GB
AMD Radeon R9 280X
RAM: 16 GB
HDD: 14 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: None
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+

Cepheus Protocol is a squad based RTS that wears its XCOM (though it feels more like the old UFO games, to me) influences on its sleeve. Focusing around a government agency called CERC, the Center for Epidemic Research and Control, you take control of Captain Adrian Winter and her forces. Be aware, if Winter dies, it’s all over, so think carefully about where you want to make use of her skills. CERC has been tasked with infiltrating San Francisco and ending the spread of the Pangu Virus, which is being spread by a Nurse dubbed ‘patient zero.’ It turns people into wild, rabid zombielike creatures that want to munch on everyone’s faces.

As it currently stands, there’s one mission for you to play around in. And honestly, this one map alone is already enough of a game to be considered finished, if only as a budget title. You can pump a good 5/6+ hours into a single playthrough. Slowly building up your forces, spreading them across the map and hunting down your target. And that’s assuming you stop at taking her out. If you want to take the time to fully cleanse the city and bring it under CERC control, you have quite the task ahead of you.

At final release, there are currently plans for about a dozen missions in total, including some that will take place entirely in indoor areas. It will actually be really interesting to see how tight quarters will mix things up. For exterior gameplay, the map is broken up into multiple zones which can be captured for increased resources, and this is where things start to get a little more interesting. Because Cepheus is squad based, you can’t just build up a mahoosive army of throwaway units and scatter them all over the map, of Zerg rush the objective. You have to be canny and careful about which areas you move into, and which areas you focus your forces on defending.

Come get some!

You start out by landing at a shipyard with Winter and three other soldiers. First port of call being to set up a command post and other useful buildings. These will be airlifted in, so you can send your soldiers off to capture a few control points at the same time, even splitting them into smaller groups to take multiple, if you so wish. Since the difficulty ramps up over time, it’s usually safe to do this at first, but don’t overextend. If you have your forces spread too thin, you can be rapidly overwhelmed, even if you reinforce capture points with a medical and supply truck for ammo replenishment.

See, your soldiers are split into two groups. You have an Away team, which can have up to eight soldiers, and a Defence team. The former can go anywhere, but the latter can only move through areas you control, but you can move individual soldiers between the two teams at any time. Something which can become very useful later in the game, as each unit will improve (level up) the more they do. You can also opt to spend time training a soldier before deploying them on the field, so that they’ll come out levelled up and raring to go.

Also, you don’t have to move all of your units, of course, you can split them up into groups. So I typically opt for two Defence team groups of 7 each, and use them to hold previously captured territory, whilst my Away team pushes further forward. Each time a new zone is cleared, move one of the Defence team groups up, rinse and repeat. The map is mostly three points wide, apart from two bridges about a third of the way in. These make good choke points if you’re more interested in finding and eliminating Patient Zero. But pushing further un gives you money faster, so its a balancing act. Also, be aware that Patient Zero can only be defeated after collecting DNA samples from downed infected, and they don’t drop them frequently. You also need a specific unit to actually collect them.

Look at all that JUICE.

A quick piece of advice, though. Invest in upgrading your forces as quickly as possible. There are three phases of preparedness in total, you start at one. Spending resources (money) to upgrade your facilities gives you access to new buildings, new units and, at Phase 3, mortars. They only cover roughly half the map, but get yourself about half a dozen or so, and you can rain death on the enemy, move your forces in after they’re all dead and get some easy captures. It takes a little patience and careful planning in the early stages, to get to this point, but it’s well worth the effort.

Your soldiers come in a range of varieties. From standard Infantry types, to heavy machine gunners, Medics and Scientists. The latter being the ones that can collect DNA. Also bear in mind, Medics can only use their supplies on other soldiers and cannot heal themselves, so I usually take two with each squad, just in case. They have an infinite healing capacity, though it does take time to recharge, so they’re pretty bloody useful. Other units can also do different things like snipe at long range, lay down concentrated fire with their machine gun and so forth. More unit types will be coming later, but there’s already a pretty wide roster to choose from.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that Cepheus Protocol is a pretty darn good game. In the short time it’s been available, there have already been several updates to tweak various things. A few bugs here and there (of which there are surprisingly few) and overhaul the visuals. Though it’s not an especially good looking game, despite running on UE, it’s not terrible either. It serves its purpose, and the lighting effects are rather spiffing. Engaging in a firefight at night, with your flashlights (torches!) on looks incredibly tense and atmospheric.

There are some solid sound effects, especially the screeching of the infected as they wander around or rush your emplacements, and some nice squelching sounds when they eat a face full of hot lead. I’ve pumped several hours into it already, enough to fully get to grips with the game and finish both the easy and normal modes currently available. It’s not a hard game, at least not yet, but it’s also challenging enough to feel proud of yourself when you finally end the spreading menace. Well worth your time, and accessible enough that even someone like me (I suck at RTS) can muddle their way through. Definitely keep your eyes on this. There’s a hell of a lot of potential.

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