This low-poly GTA clone is a surreal multiplayer sandbox

The first thing I see in Broke Protocol is two blocky police officers hop out of a police car, walk over to a man in a suit strolling down the sidewalk, and bludgeon him to death. One of them uses a crowbar. They don't get back in their car, and instead just wander off down the road. A few drops of hexagonal blood dot the sidewalk and a nearby fence. I watch as traffic piles up around the stalled police car. The only sound effect in the world at this moment is tires squealing on pavement. Three minutes later, I'll be murdered by a man with an axe after he gets in a fight with a grandpa wearing iron knuckles.

Broke Protocol is a weird little game: a wannabe combination of Grand Theft Auto's crime sandbox with Minecraft's chunky voxels. Or perhaps a better comparison is Unturned, a wildly popular low-poly survival game made by a 16-year-old. Broke Protocol is aiming for similar success, with a page on Steam Greenlight and a Kickstarter campaign promising it's "the go-to game for engaging roleplaying and meaningful player-player interactions."

In my experience with Broke Protocol, meaningful player-player interaction was a cop running up to me and saying over a crackly mic: "I'm a cop."

Now we're roleplaying. "I'm Clyde," I typed, because my character's name is Clyde. He waved a gun at my face, mumbled for a few seconds, then ran off. I followed him. Twice he turned around, saw me, and barked "Hey you, stop!" and got up close to look me over again, like I was some exciting new specimen. "I'm Clyde," I explained both times. He didn't seem to remember me. That was my best player experience.

Broke Protocol is surreal, like Grand Theft Auto stripped down to the absolute basic elements of its simulation. There are cars, but driving them is about as fun as sliding a wooden block along the floor and making vroom noises. There are NPCs, but no dialogue or personalities; they roam the streets like calm automatons. The whole thing is incredibly eerie, actually—sound effects are minimal and there's absolutely no music, making this feel like some sort of purgatory for blocky AI men to live out their sidewalk routines for all eternity.

There are weapons to find or buy—human players and AI drop briefcases full of their possessions on the ground when they die, and you can take what you want, but death wipes you of all possessions except your clothes. I was psyched at one point to find a briefcase with a pistol and heroin, which I bound to my hotbar using Broke Protocol's incredibly ugly menu. But I couldn't shoot bullets, and pressing the 2 key for my new drug stash did nothing. I've never been so disappointed to find out I couldn't shoot heroin.

Broke Protocol isn't the place to go for deep roleplaying or much in the way of world interactivity, but it does offer the basics in open world mayhem and a variety of weapons to mess around with. Mostly, it seems to be the current popular choice for kids who can't afford Grand Theft Auto, or perhaps don't have the computers to run it. Even as an alpha, Broke Protocol is the third most popular game on IndieDB, and the developers claim it's been downloaded 100,000 times in a month. It's free to download or set up your own server.

The freeform wandering of the voxel blandscape did finally take on some structure when my server voted to start a battle royale match, the only mode currently available. 10 players were suddenly pitted in a battle to the death, and the survival radius slowly shrank around one point in the open world city. When the battle royale started, I had almost no health and definitely no weapon, so I ran circles around a few suburban homes for five minutes, then hoofed it away from anyone who looked like a human player. Somehow I won by doing nothing and pocketed $3,000, my first real cash. I don't think PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds needs to sweat the competition just yet.

What to do with all that money? You can go to the police station and become a cop for $710, but with my low health it seemed like a better idea to find a way to heal. I spotted a food icon on the minimap and walked into a building named BURGERS to buy a burger that would surely heal me. While I was trying to navigate the menu, a man walked into the shop behind me and punched the back of my head. I died.

So long, money. So long, Broke Protocol. 

I just wanted a damn burger.
Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).