Obsidian Entertainment had been promising to bring us a whole new experience with their espionage RPG Alpha Protocol. A delay from October 2009 until May of this year sparked panic as to whether the game would live up to expectations. So how does the game stack up?
Let’s start with the negatives, because Alpha Protocol has felt the wrath of a few reviewers and while I feel some points are justified the overall response seems harsh to me.
Alpha Protocol is glitchy – there is no other way of describing the game. In one of the opening levels an enemy I needed to kill to clear the area and move on got stuck in the wall and I was unable to damage him, leading to a frustrating reload of the game.
Even worse than that was when a certain event didn’t trigger at the checkpoint, I was left wandering round the level with no idea what was going on or what I’d missed. The icing on the cake of that glitch is that it’s linked to your game save so you’d have to play through the whole 40 minute mission again
As a quick aside anyone who is planning to or already is playing Alpha Protocol, for goodness sake run more than one save file!
The enemy AI isn’t great and at times seems completely insane but to be honest the game isn’t about the challenge of the enemies, it’s more about you and your choices of how to take enemies down.
The controls are pretty appalling. Just all round janky and not very user friendly. I stumbled my way into the odd death here and there just from bad control design but overall it was more of a pain in the ass than a game breaker.
So from reading those initial negative points you may be thinking you’ll give Alpha Protocol a miss, that it may be too annoying to play through? Well in my opinion that would be a mistake. And here’s why.
The game Alpha Protocol reminds me of the most? Heavy Rain.
Unlike a game such as God Of War 3 or Mafia II where your character’s destiny is pre determined and you are playing through *their* story, with Alpha Protocol you are creating your own version of Michael Thornton’s life.
And the choices you make have serious repercussions down the line. Whether that is mission choice or just the way you interact with other characters.
For example one of the characters on the box art I never even met because I had enough intel from other missions to intercept my target and never had to do that character’s mission.
You even have the chance after most of the boss battles as to whether you spare or kill your enemy – a choice which can cause ripples through the game.
In an absolute touch of genius Obsidian sets up standard spy genre scenarios – do thing A or thing B. In movies and some games you would do A and then have a dramatic crack at B, ending in success. Not so here – you can really only do one of them, as I found out with some unfortunate consequences.
The interaction with other characters via conversation is well handled, with you choosing a style of response (professional/flirty/agressive etc) rather than a set line of dialogue. The best aspect of this system is you only have 3 or 4 seconds to choose or the computer goes with whatever the cursor is highlighting. So no more sitting pondering what would be the best answer. I’d like to see more games tackle conversation in this way as it felt pretty dynamic and made you make snap decisions.
The story is much of a muchness – secret agent gets double-crossed and goes rogue (the Alpha Protocol of the title) in an attempt to clear his name/get the truth out there.
You can level up your character in various abilities (stealth/guns/hacking/martial arts etc) to help you along the way which means most people are likely to get a different experience during their time with the game.
In my comparison to Heavy Rain one thing I noticed about Alpha Protocol was that it was a bit more daring than Quantic Dream’s title in that Heavy Rain often gave you multiple attempts to get out of a situation. Whereas Alpha Protocol was a lot more realistic in it’s execution of the story. Once you make a choice it’s done – there is no going back.
Alpha Protocol is one of those rare games that after I finished I found myself thinking on in the days afterwards. Pondering my choices and the fact that on more than one occasion my actions led to the death of a character. That to me is the sign of a great game experience – regardless of whether the controls are off or that the enemy AI isn’t that great. In giving the game a rating I can’t forget those problems but I can most certainly forgive them.