Alpha Protocol: The game I hate to hate.
Alpha Protocol makes me cry inside. To witness so much wasted potential for this to become one of the greatest games of 2010 and a great mark for other modern shooter RPGs to follow is truly one of this generation's most disheartening tragedies. What founded these tears, specifically, are thanks to how poorly it plays, the astonishingly sub-par graphics, clumsy animations, bugs, glitchs and just the overall coat of crap that reaches across to every corner.
Alpha Protocol is an Action/RPG very akin to the likes of the original Mass Effect, although Mass Effect had a fairly strong balance between both the shooting and RPG elements, Alpha Protocol favours greatly with the RPG aspect of the genre. Which was in fact one of the parts of the game that I enjoyed; I liked the idea of watching super-spy Michael Thorton grow, gaining new abilities and such. But with the gunplay and how it's affected with this RPG regime can make it laughably unplayable at times.
Overall the gameplay portion consists of stealth and below average third person shooting. The stealth's fine, but I say that because it's your only alternative to the abysmal shooting. If the action was more refined, the stealth would then look to be equally as bad as how the action is in reality. Bad AI with guards who seem to completely lack any signs of peripheral vision and some who will conveniently be placed staring at a wall for you get the stealth kill, and a cover system that's just as likely to get you caught as it is to hide your presence. When that's what you want the most of when it comes to gameplay, you know your game isn't delivering much in the way of quality.
Unfortunately, the game can't be completely tackled with stealth and you will inevitably be forced into shoot outs. Here the AI is just as bad really, but much like the stealth it's all for the better just because of how awful the shooting is. Again favouring the RPG approach, all shots are determined with the invisible dice rolls; it's this factor that can literally have you think you're shooting blanks, with bullets sometimes having zero effect. The pistol at least can be upgraded to be a useful asset, with the likes of pausing time allowing you to time your shots, to even scoring one hit kills with a quick blind fire. The rest, though, fall short with their annoying inaccuracy and weak sound effects. The shotguns in particular always had me baffled when I'd unload 12 rounds close-range into an enemy only for him to still have snippets of health left.
At the beginning of your player character Michael Thorton's career, he's virtually useless. But once he levels up he'll have points to spend on a number of variables, be it his specific gun skills (which I'd advise you stick with the pistol), stealth (which is a downright necessity), melee fighting, endurance and your efficiency with your gadgets (like, grenades... ?). It gives you the impression that Alpha Protocol offers a wealth of different ways to play, but really the only style I had fun with was going as stealthy as possible with the pistol. You'd do well to invest points in your tech stats as well, to help with the multitude of lockpicking (Mike may even be fitted with a beret as well I must add..), hacking and other such ways of theft you'll do along the way, which'll reward you with cash, weapon mods, bonus objectives, intel on other characters and organisations and so on.
If there is one thing I have to praise this game for when the gameplay is concerned, there's a damn fine amount of collectibles to hunt for.
What all this rubbish stands in the way of is some genuinely cool ideas, too. The missions themselves do offer up some variety, like scoping through a sniper to identify a particular target, to riding through a Mafia Bosses' mansion in an APC. Even the environments themselves are all well designed usually giving you at least two ways to proceed through the larger areas, with a dozen optional hacks to commence and cash bundles to collect. What the game really has going for it, though, is its story and characters and how you can interact and influence it all.
Much like Mass Effect once more, Alpha Protocol first starts with you giving Mike his personal background, be it an experienced soldier, tech expert, spy, or maybe a fresh recruit with only 6 months experience to show off. It's mostly superficial, but can still give some uniquity into Mike's own background that other characters will comment on occasionally. Alpha Protocol also of course allows you to choose pretty much everything Mike will say to characters - though it's all generalised to moods, such as giving you the option to give an ''aggressive'' response, or a ''confident'' one. Like Mass Effect as well, depending on what choices you make can impact the story, but Alpha Protocol goes on a whole new level with which you can influence the overall arc. Gaining friendships to making enemies, it all depends on you and how you choose to interact with them. Many characters lives will rest on your choices also. Hell, your past decisions will even impact how future characters will perceive you. It's all surprisingly deep and offers an amazingly flexible story with your own cast of leads.
It even lends itself to the gameplay at that, with it potentially determining which allies you can call upon for some backup during certain situations, or allies who can offer you added intel for your upcoming missions. Despite the game itself being pretty darn awful, the incredible flexibility with how the characters and their allegiances can unfold has had me play through the game twice already with a possible third run through on the way. It's just that awesome and well done. I especially like how during the downtime between missions in your safe-houses, you'll begin to notice memento's of characters past strewn about - most often trinkets from major characters you may have killed amidst your mission.
The story itself is also surprisingly well done, with some really sharp writing and brilliant voice acting pulling in a lot of veterans such as Fred Tatasciore, Jim Cummings and the ever popular Nolan North. The rest of the presentation as said before doesn't nearly handle itself as well, unfortunately. The graphics are... serviceable, if I was to be generous, but putting it more bluntly they're simply bad. The facial animations are where the game showed the most effort but even they can look silly--and most notably with that creepy half-grin that virtually every character seems to express exactly the same. The animations overall are pretty silly, with minimalistic movement during cutscenes, and Mike's own crouched animations make him look he's doing some sort of obscure disco dance.
With all this said, it really pains me to stand back and witness what the overall end product of this tragedy stands as: An ugly, sluggish, technically broken yet well written, and potentially influential Action/RPG.