Should you answer the call to get Alpha Protocol?
So I traveled the globe, made some friends, a few enemies, chose to save a damsel in distress over a large amount of civilians in the roman museum to see if I could get a shot at love (let’s just say it went horribly wrong), found the gal that was right for me only to have her killed in the end, and then sought revenge on the people responsible for all the madness in the first place allowing me to rightfully save the world. Now this is one of a million ways you can choose to play the game once you step into Michael Thorton's shoes but the question still remains...Is the espionage RPG from Obsidian Entertainment worth the hustle and bustle along with your hard earned $60?
The Big PictureThe game takes place in the year 2009 (Yes, oddly enough we're going back in time) and after dozens of people along with the crew of a commercial airliner are blown up over eastern Europe tensions start to flare once it is discovered that the disaster was caused by a high-tech US defense missile belonging to the twisted corporation entitled Halbech that had fallen into the wrong hands. As mentioned above, you take command of Michael Thorton, the new kid on the block to Alpha Protocol, a hush-hush program designed for use with covert operations that are guaranteed to have no connections to the US government. On what appears to be your first genuine mission in Saudi Arabia to take out the leader of Al-Samaad you soon wind up getting thrown down a trail of mystery and betrayal in order to prevent world war 3 from occurring.
GameplayTo be honest, Alpha Protocol is almost like a kid inspiring to be like its longtime hero and in this case, its hero is the infamous Mass Effect. An abundance of elements from the Mass Effect franchise can be found in Alpha Protocol. Yet instead of learning from the mistakes that the original Mass Effect made it practically repeats them all over again. Now don't get me wrong, this game still has some heart to it , but instead of me blabbering on and on I'll just point out the key points of the game:
- The main ace in the hole for Alpha Protocol is your power of choice through the Dialogue System and throughout the entire journey of super-spy Michael Thorton your choices are constantly being thrown back in your face, regardless of if they're positive or not. This isn't a bad thing, but on top of that there is a timed meter ticking down so you can't simply walk away from a tough situation in the game, think about it over some tea, and come back later. Your choices have to be made then and there on the spot. Even though this may appear to be a poor choice on Obsidian's part I actually found that this small twist to the game added necessary tension in moments where it was needed. The dialogue options are also crafted in such a way so you won’t have to always read each dialogue option thoroughly at blazing speed. It’s broken down in a simple format of three attitudes, or "stances" as they are referred to in the game; Suave/Sarcastic, Aggressive, and Professional. But every character you encounter will react differently to each stance. So in some cases where your sarcasm and suave charms are key, others can find you to be just downright annoying.
- Alpha Protocol may appear to be a third-person shooter with SOME role playing elements included, but this game is more so an honest to God RPG than anything else. That means if you place all of your skill points earned through leveling up into your fancy dual-wielded submachine guns and little to none into your pistol be prepared to miss with the lesser of the two practically at point blank a lot, thanks to the unkind and relentless dice rolling mechanic that lies within the game as well. Luckily, you will have the option of purchasing attachments and better weapons through your arms dealers. This lightens the burden of the problem but doesn't make it go away on all counts.
- Like Mass Effect, there are mini-games included that are key when Michael needs to either hack into a computer's mainframe, pick a lock, or shut off an alarm that a guard has triggered. This would be completely A-OKAY in my book had the puzzle solving of each and every single one of these mini-games not gone from slightly confusing (yet do-able) to plain out asinine. This problem became so obvious near the end of my run with Thorton that I no longer cared if a guard triggered an alarm; I knew there was no humanly possible way I could shut that trivial thing off.
- The game takes you to three locations around the world; Rome, Taipei, and Moscow. (Four, if you include Saudi Arabia in the somewhat beginning of your adventure.) All except for Saudi Arabia can be done in the order you see fit. Each location has a safe house that you can use to either; check emails, customize Thorton to a certain extent, buy items and weapons, customize those items and weapons, and purchase sweet, sweet Intel.
- For those of you who have no clue what Intel is, it’s probably one of the most useful things in the entire game. It can be used for unlocking bonus objectives, showing where pick-ups and security cameras are on a map, weakening key enemies, and even gaining you a bit of leverage in a conversation with some of the characters you'll run into.
- You are constantly reminded of your choices. This makes the game amply entertaining, taking off a little bit of the stress that runs through the back of your head continuously wondering where and when a decision you made could come back to bite you in the hindquarters.
- The characters you run into are unique and some can be utterly insane. For the most part they can easily become your ally or enemy.
- The fact that you are being timed in your dialogue options (as mentioned above) can add the appropriate stress to a given a situation making the scenario more realistic.
- Though limited, you can somewhat customize Michael to make him at least look your own.
- Perks are earned throughout the game constantly by doing certain things or performing certain actions through dialogue. Perks, like any RPG, give you bonuses to your defense, attack, and etc. Unfortunately, you'll earn so many of these perks that you wont even bother to see what they do for you after the first 10.
The Not-So Great:
- The dice rolling mechanic in this game is down right HARSH. Michael Thorton is supposed to be a super-spy, even if you choose the back story of being the recruit, you shouldn't miss a target at point blank.
- The sneaking/stealth included in the game can easily rub you the wrong way thanks to the obvious gospel truth, that guards can easily detect you when you are quietly approaching them. It felt like I had to dedicate all of my points, not into necessarily what I wanted, but what could make this game less of a pain in the rump.
- The mini-game puzzles are not too easy on the eyes and can become bothersome if you screw up because once that happens, about 90% of the time an alarm will go blaring off summoning more irritating guards forcing you to waste more of your ammunition. However, let the record show that once you do successfully shut off an alarm you can easily just hit the A button to shut it off again in case another guard spots you.
The Things That aren't great at all and just leave a bad taste in your mouth:
- There are texture pop-ins left and right. From scrolling through your menus and items to even just walking in a room, it is impossible to turn a blind eye to this can of worms.
- The motion blur can be described as nothing more than odd, but you do have the option of turning this off though. (The motion blur that is, not the weirdness of it.)
- Michale can sometimes fail to take cover behind an object when needed, meaning you get to watch him die in slow motion with awkward rag doll physics when death could have been easily avoided.
- The enemies and guards in this game will ALWAYS be faster than you. From just they're shooting with inhuman accuracy, to the fact that even their melee skills are second to none, you'll be pulling your hair out left and right once you also realize that they can block and shout causing more guards to be alerted to your presence.
- Lets be honest and say that in more parts than others, this game isn't the best looking. To be frank I was slightly turned off even by the plane that takes off in the opening scene of the game. It isn't downright ugly, but it isn't handcrafted by the gods either.
- Call me paranoid, but I swear enemies can spawn in areas of the map that make the game highly unfair sometimes. I've lost count of how many times I try to pull off being stealthy during a whole mission, yet the whole thing goes to pot thanks to a guard that would have otherwise not existed had I not silently executed a guy.
- The mini-games and bosses can become so hard that it goes from being a merry ol' time to just making you want to punt your dog out of a third story window. Now I know this may be odd to say, but I don't feel that a game like this with no following or high praise to it had the right cause so much agony and frustration.