Alpha Protocol: review

Billed as ‘The Espionage RPG’, Alpha Protocol is an attempt at mixing strong story telling elements from the role playing genre with third person shooter mechanics from the action/adventure genre, resulting in a mixed bag of results.

The first element of the game you’ll be thrown into is the heavy RPG work going on in the background as you set up your very own Agent Mike Thorton. Along with what Mike looks like, you get to pick from a range of backgrounds or to customise your own, which basically all have an influence on what his starting skills are. Shortly after that, the game begins and Mike wakes up on an operating table to one of the most extreme job orientation days you’ll be likely to experience.

This initiation into the Alpha Protocol group of super spies and secret agents working for the US government to fight terrorism serves to teach the player about the many aspects of the game to get to grips with. At its core is essentially a third person shooter with stealth aspects mixed in (more about these in a moment), but what is most important here are the RPG elements.

The reason we say that the RPG elements are the most important are because they are just about the only thing done right. For your actions you receive XP and eventually you hit enough to level up. At this point you can spend AP on levels of new skills ranging from weapon type expertise, to better hand-to-hand abilities, to gadget proficiency and stealth. You also earn perks through various actions or Achievement/Trophy unlocking. These new levels of skills and perks may just have a latent function like ‘Endurance+5’ or have a skill that you can activate whenever you want. The various skills you can learn are not even remotely kept within the realms of realism, such as Iron Will causing Mike to glow blue and deflect bullets or the various traits in stealth that can make you invisible.

The choice chat system will also come into play here and stays strong throughout the game. Unlike something like Mass Effect rather than pick how to react, you choose the emotion you want to convey – generally whether you want to be professional, suave or sarcastic, with a last option only being available if some special action like ‘Execute’ is available.

Shall we Headslam the old gent? Yes, let's Headslam him.

Obsidian are in their own right a decent RPG developer, so it would not be fair to claim that they have basically copied Mass Effect and stuck it in a more modern day setting. They certainly have had their own versions of multi-path chat systems for example. What doesn’t help matters is that not only does the default Mike look like Shepard, but his voice actor even sounds like him. We kept expecting him to discover that the enemy behind the terrorist conspiracy was actually a Reaper.

Choice also plays a part in how the story unfolds and true to other Obsidian games this is done well. Who is fighting alongside you by the end, who you trust, and how you handle the final enemy (while obvious while playing, we have been vague about their identity to avoid spoilers) are all up to you. Again, this is an excellent part of the game and despite essentially being a by the numbers thriller plot, taking part in it and having genuine effects on it as you go is great.

And so ends being able to say anything positive about Alpha Protocol, as in just about every other aspect it is terrible. A summary of some of the larger bugs encountered to start with: people disappearing during conversations, people’s faces disappearing during conversations, people’s upper bodies disappearing during conversations, slowdown, missions not forwarding, crashes, bad visual errors, and general bugs. While not a bug we’ll also throw in here that it isn’t very good looking either.

Perhaps the worst crime other than the clearly minimum amount of polish this game received is the broken gameplay. You basically have the choice of going the guns blazing route or the stealth route, and both have massive problems. Guns blazing leads to boring and repetitive combat with hilariously inaccurate weapons, and a broken cover system that you can easily manipulate to shoot from perfect safety if you find the right angle. If you go the stealth route, until you get the skill high enough that you can run around invisible to all, you must suffer through never being sure how hidden you are in shadow – in fact most of the time shadow doesn’t even seem to register with AI enemies.

If you are willing to put up with all that, there is a good story here. It will last upwards of eight hours to get through and there is replay value if you want to see just how much you can change how things happen as you go along; but again that’s if you can put up with so many glitches, and quite frankly boring gameplay.

With some strong titles under its belt, you would think that it would be a given that Obsidian’s Alpha Protocol would be an excellent game. It isn’t. Instead, it stands as a perfect example of trying to do too much with too little and ruining what could have been a great experience as a result.


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Written by Ian D

Misanthropic git. Dislikes: Most things. Likes: Obscure references.

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