Alpha Protocol Review
Alpha Protocol is the latest RPG to be added Obsidian's library, and it's their first original IP. The game has you playing as Michael Thorton, a super-secret super-spy for a super-secret government agency. Despite cliche's out the wazzoo, the story of Alpha Protocol is one of the greatest aspects of the game and the choices you make throughout affect the eventual outcome of the game.
I'll start with the negative points first. Alpha Protocol is a traditional RPG in the shoes of an action RPG. While it definately has the mechanics of other third person shooters, the shooting is handled by RPG-like dice rolls which do not translate well into a third person shooter environment. While it has a cover system and other TPS features, the skill based shooting brings the action right down. Once you get further into the game and you've trained in your weapon of choice, it becomes much more bearable but that forces you to handle a few hours of irritating gameplay to get to the good stuff.
In the pre-release trailers, the game was advertised as a stealth action game. This is true as you can handle missions in your own style by either kicking down doors and running in guns blazing or taking a more suave, stealthy approach. The problem with this is that the stealth while functional on it's own, doesn't function very well due to some poor AI issues. The stealth becomes less about the players skill, and more about abusing the poor AI and using skills at the right time which detract from the espionage atmosphere (Such as turning invisible on demand.) There have been numerous occasions where I have opened a door right in front of an enemy, and because they didn't actually see my character, they assumed some mysterious force had just opened the door so they decided to ignore it.
All of the pre-release materials showed that gadgets would play a major part in the game, but from actually playing the game they don't seem all that helpful. The only times I have used gadgets is when I have thought "Shit, I've picked up way too many gadgets, time to use them." When you do force yourself to use the gadgets you get some intense and fun moments, but there is no incentive to use them as blasting your way through with an Assault Rifle or sneaking through an assassinating people is a much easier alternative. An exception to this is the sound generator which is INCREDIBLY useful for setting up stealth kills.
The PC version is also riddled with issues. A lot of these can be fixed by tweaking things in the .ini files, but casual gamers might not have the time, knowledge or energy to do so. If you are a PC user I suggest that you apply these tweaks. Even with the tweaks annoying camera issues (Such as it getting caught in the corner of the room while you are being beaten to death by a guard) and extremely annoying stuttering at random inconvenient moments bring down the overall experience.
Now that the negative points are out of the way, I can get to the good parts of the game. The story being the main one. The game starts as you would predict any spy game to. You wake up in a sterile facility, and all of a sudden you are thrust into a daring escape. This acts as the tutorial level, describing how the game works and teaching you about all the buttons.After that, you arrive in Alpha Protocol's base which is the agency that you work for. Immediately you are thrown into Saudi Arabia to begin your mission. I'm not going to spoil anything more, but suffice to say that the story takes twists and turns which will keep you on edge for the entire duration of the game.
The conversation system of the game, similar to other action-rpg's that were released recently, is very good. Rather than giving an idea of what your character will say like in the Mass Effect series, Alpha Protocol will tell you the tone of your characters upcoming lines (Such as Professional, Suave or Flirtatious.) This is far more effective than Mass Effect's conversation wheel as you can judge what the person's reaction is going to be and don't accidentally say something sarcastic or too serious at the wrong time. To balance this out, you have a limited time to react to what the person is saying. This keeps the conversations flowing smoothly and can result in some fast decision making and intense moments.
The scale of which your choices affect the story is also incredible. If you let characters live or die and how people react to your choices all carry through the game and will affect the final outcome and everything before that. You may often feel compelled to go back to an earlier checkpoint and try a different choice, just to see what happens.
In conclusion, Alpha Protocol has a brilliant story and some incredibly intense moments but is brought down by lousy action (which partially sorts itself out midway through the game after you have trained your character up a bit) and technical issues. If you persevere with the game, you'll find an entertaining story full of twists and turns that is bound to keep you tied to the game. Also, for anyone who doesn't know, on the PC it isn't a full priced game as it is £25 (The usual price for new releases being £30 or £40.)