I want to talk about a game I’ve been playing recently, but which wasn’t well-received at the time. This allows me to continue my recent ‘In Defence of…’ series and write a game review at the same time. Who ever said men can’t multi-task!
Alpha Protocol was released in 2010 on the PS3 and Xbox360 and was developed by Obsidian, a company more famous for making sequels to other people’s games (such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II and Fallout: New Vegas). It was an original IP and is a 3rd-Person Role-playing Game (RPG) that follows the adventures of Mike Thorton (who apparently passed the secret agent entrance exam despite being unable to spell his name properly!!). It has a modern-day setting and follows Agent Thor
nton as he travels the world trying to prevent World War 3, making it reminiscent of Deus Ex and possibly the best James Bond game since Goldeneye!
So, what’s the problem?
The game was slated for being full of bugs and dodgy design decisions, which I have to concede is completely true. The game is (presumably) built on the same technology as Mass Effect and suffers from the same visual problems, such as textures loading in late and many visual glitches and generally ugly moments. The AI is often poor; enemies will spot you even when you are crouched in full cover and will regularly get stuck on ladders, scenery and each other. There are balance issues too; some fights are horrendous difficulty spikes that are best defeated by repeating them until the AI breaks so that you can exploit it! One particularly horrible scenario involves escorting a character to safety and originally caused me to rage-quit the game; the eejit would always just run out into the middle of the square and directly into the line of fire, making it impossible to protect him. If I hadn’t use the intelligence network and arranged for a sniper rifle to be placed on the roof before starting the mission (and worked out how to double back and get to it), I would never have beaten it!
The boss fights suffer from the same poor design as Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It is possible to specialise in Stealth and Pistols and beat most of the rest of the game, but occasionally you are forced into a fight where you have to use hand-to-hand and rifles, which you are probably ill-equipped to handle.
Some of the abilities are slightly ridiculous too. One allows Mike (at max Stealth Level) to go completely invisible for 30 seconds, letting him run around the room and take out all the enemies. If it had been some sort of gadget, it might have made more sense (but still would have been slightly ridiculous and highly overpowered).
In its Defence…
But, despite all this, I really like Alpha Protocol. I love the modern-day spy setting, which is a refreshing change from the fantasy or sci-fi worlds that every other RPG seems to be based in. I like the story too. It does involve a secret government organisation with ties to a weapons manufacturer that is ‘secretly’ evil. But, like Avatar, it handles the story well despite not being particularly original.
Your actions actually have genuine consequences on parts of the story and on certain characters (which is more than can be said for Mass Effect!!). This can lead to very different experiences and slightly different endings if you play through it again (despite certain core elements playing out in the same way each time). I quite like the conversation system too, which resembles Mass Effect‘s and allows you to be ‘suave’, ‘aggressive’ or ‘professional’, with different effects depending on the situation or the character that you are talking to. It is possible to get potential antagonists to like you by reading their dossier, finding out how to behave to impress them and then convince them to aid you (or at least to let you go) rather than having to fight them (It is also possible to piss off potential allies and find yourself stuck without their support in later levels).
When the stealth/action gameplay actually works, it is a lot of fun. It is satisfying to sneak around and take everyone out quietly and non-fatally. Or you can go in all guns blazing (though this may affect how some characters feel about you). Even though the AI is often broken, it is always possible to fight your way out and disable the alarms, rather than instantly failing when you are seen. There are also three mini-games – hacking, lock-picking and electronic bypass – which are well designed, accessible and make sense in the context of the world, while getting incrementally more challenging as the game goes on. As for the balance issues, it’s not so bad if you realise the best approach is not to specialise entirely in one approach and learn how to prepare your character for all of the scenarios that the game will throw at you.
It’s hard to give a whole-hearted recommendation to Alpha Protocol. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong; with just a little bit more work – AI improvements, bug fixes, balance changes etc. – it would have been a great game, but these final finishing touches just haven’t been added. It’s frustrating because if they had just spend a little bit more time finishing it off, or brought out a few more patches after the game was released, then they would have been able to solve most of the game’s problems.
In short: it’s an unpolished game, but there are still moments when it shines!
Recommendation: Pick it up second-hand for around £10, for that price I would say it was probably worth it.