Alpha Protocol – Review (PS3)

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.

Rating: 8/10

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Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker – Review (PSP)

 

Peace Walker is set in 1974 in Central America with Naked Snake returning – this time running a mercenary group called the Militaires Sans Frontières (MSF).

It’s a similar scenario story-wise, track down the latest Metal Gear iteration and destroy it before the bad guys have a chance to launch a nuclear attack.

You can recruit enemy soldiers and volunteers to help in the ‘fight’ and apart from coming on actual missions with you, they can also research new weapons/items or be sent on covert ops of their own to earn you cash.

The control system has been revamped from Portable Ops and it’s definitely an improvement but the sooner a PSP arrives with two analogue sticks the better – Peace Walker is around the 15 hour mark in length and there is only so much PSP Claw one man can take 🙂

Gameplay-wise there are options for both stealth and direct action, though stealth will almost always see you through sections quicker because no back up arrives!

One new addition is the Fulton Recovery System, which is most welcome. In previous titles to recruit enemy soldiers you’d need to physically drag their unconscious bodies back to a truck at the beginning of the level and dump them in there.

While realistic it meant if you wanted to recruit you’d spent ages dragging each soldier back. Now you attach them to the Fulton, which inflates and carries them up into the sky from whatever position they are in. Totally unrealistic but for once an instance where that is completely cool with me. 😆

Peace Walker isn’t without it’s flaws though. Some of the boss battles were ridiculously lengthy and occasionally the controls did get in the way of the experience. The AI on some of the enemies was pretty questionable – although the same could be said of many Metal Gear titles.

Graphically I’d say this is above PS2 quality, though without viewing them side by side I suppose it’s tough to judge properly.

As I mentioned above Peace Walker is a full game, with a run time that would put plenty of Playstation 3 titles to shame. The story is as convoluted as ever, especially with Hideo Kojima at the helm, but that is part of the Metal Gear charm for me.

If you like Metal Gear or are just looking for a meaty game to get stuck into on your PSP then Peace Walker could be for you. Despite it’s flaws this is one of the most impressive feats ever seen on the PSP.

Rating: 9/10

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Eurogamer Expo 2010

So it’s that time of year again, when the post E3 games roadshow hits London and we get to play some of the stuff that’s coming up in the remainder of the year and into 2011.

3D played a big part in Sony’s presence and I’ll discuss my thoughts on that aspect of things after we’ve been through the games.

So in no particular order, here we go:

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NEED FOR SPEED: HOT PURSUIT

I’ve quite liked the look of this one for a while as it reminds me of an updated version of the old classic Chase H.Q. Multiplayer for 8 people was on display here with you taking on the role of cop or racer (I was racer) and attempting to either finish the race (racer) or take out the racers (cop). You have weapons at your disposal in the form of road spikes or road blocks, among other things, that can help slow down the opposition and this game was fun. Not sure if it’s a purchase for me but I enjoyed giving it a spin.

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KILLZONE 3 (3D)

Thankfully my most anticipated game of the show lived up to it’s billing as I had the chance to play through two level sections of Killzone 3. The levels, which were shown at E3 back in June, were in 3D (more on that at the end of the article) which meant I wasn’t seeing the game running at it’s best but it was a blast gameplay-wise. With a slightly quicker control scheme and improved melee combat Killzone 3 looks set to improve on the brilliant 2nd installment.

* ‘KILLZONE 3’ : GREGHORRORSHOW’S BEST IN SHOW – Eurogamer Expo 2010*

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BULLETSTORM

This is a slightly more tongue in cheek, combo based FPS. The level we played saw us taking on several different kinds of enemies and having the option to dispatch them in various ways using the tools at our disposal. As well as your general weapons you also have an electrified leash that be used to throw enemies towards you (in slow motion) and the sole of your boot. Yep that’s right a good old fashioned kick sends enemies into the air (again in slow motion) so you can finish them off however you like. This one could be an interesting prospect.

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DEAD SPACE 2

More of the same from the Visceral guys and to be honest I’m happy with that. They have tweaked a few bits here and there in terms of movement in the air but the shooting felt as tight as ever and the sense of claustrophobia was back. Obviously judging from the trailer there will be more open sections of gameplay but making my way through narrow corridors with things jumping out felt as freaky as ever and graphically Dead Space 2 looked great.

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MOTORSTORM: APOCALYPSE

Motorstorm is a brand that usually delivers a top notch product whether that is PS3 (Motorstorm/Motorstorm:Pacific Rift) or even PSP (Motorstorm: Arctic Edge) and Apocalypse is no different. Right from the off things are as chaotic as ever, with buildings collapsing and the public taking the streets in panic. Meanwhile you’ll be trying to boost your way to victory in what promises to be a fun ride. Multiplayer should be a blast and this is a game that has gone from being on the radar to becoming a purchase for me.

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MEDAL OF HONOR

There were a few games that going into Eurogamer had to impress me to have any chance of me picking them up. Medal Of Honor was one of them. We played the multiplayer, team deathmatch with (I think) 8 players a side. Graphics-wise this looked great, especially for multiplayer. It played well enough – essentially it’s Battlefield: Bad Company 2 but with the control scheme of Modern Warfare 2. The problem was it was a small map and turned into a bit of a frag/rocket fest which isn’t something I enjoy. Better than I thought it would be but not different enough to Battlefield to prompt me to switch. Will certainly rent this at least and give the singleplayer a go though.

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SOCOM: SPECIAL FORCES

Having only played the previous SOCOM (which was online only) a handful of times I don’t have much experience with this series. However this turned out to be one of my favourite experiences at the show. Firstly let me say this demo wasn’t without its problems – crashing on the loading screen, giving the wrong button prompt and freezing up seemed to be issues but on the presumption that those types of things will be fixed by next year’s release let’s focus on the gameplay. The shooting felt a little loose but the controls in general were well executed and played to a fairly tried and tested method for the most part. With rumoured 4 player online co-op this could be a brilliant game to play through with friends. I’ll be keeping an eye on this one for sure.

* ‘SOCOM: SPECIAL FORCES’ : GREGHORRORSHOW’S MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE – Eurogamer Expo 2010 *

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CRYSIS 2

From the most pleasant surprise to the biggest disappointment on show at Eurogamer. Crysis 2 was another title I wasn’t sold on prior to the show and the demo I ‘played’ here has done nothing to change that view. The problems were insurmountable on the XBox 360 build of the game. Of the four screens where I was playing, three of them ended up dying while I was there. At least SOCOM’s problems were in the loading etc. Crysis 2 would load up and just be a black screen. You could hear your gun firing and the game would be going on but you couldn’t see anything. The guy playing in front of me had the floor disappear for a good 30 seconds or so and overall this just felt broken. Surely it would’ve been better to not show the game (or do it just for PC) than subject people to this? Everyone who played it left before the demo finished (or it died on them). Hopefully all these problems can be addressed – otherwise I won’t be picking this one up.

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 GRAN TURISMO 5

Gran Turismo looks wonderful. The trailers look great and the game matches up in that respect. It was a short play – you weren’t even given a full lap (perhaps because it was in 3D?) but it was fairly difficult to control and pretty much played as expected. For me this game will live or die on how much fun it is collecting cars or playing online. The PSP version has shown it can be a nice experience without being too harsh on the driving front and I hope the PS3 version follows suit.

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BRINK

One of the few games I needed to be convinced on that delivered – Brink is a futuristic first person shooter that allows you multiple objectives to earn xp as opposed to just blow this up/shoot everyone etc. It took me a few minutes to adjust to the game in terms of shooting because it seemed to take an age to down an opponent (perhaps to inspire people to go after the objectives rather than the enemy directly) but on the whole this was good fun. It was nice to play something not set in the modern day and the character customisation looks deep enough to keep everyone entertained. Definitely one to watch out for.

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THE SHOOT

This was my only experience with Sony’s new Move hardware and it was the only game with that support I was interested in trying. One of the problems with doing this stuff at an expo is that you often can’t calibrate the games how you’d like. So I was stuck with a gun that aimed much higher than it should. The game itself was fine – just blast everything away and I can really see titles like Time Crisis (confirmed) and House Of The Dead (rumoured) being a huge hit with Move. If the gun controller had been set up for me I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed it more but as it was it was a fun little game.

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3D – GREGHORRORSHOW INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

I’m not a big supporter of 3D in games (see this article) just because I feel it doesn’t bring enough to the table. It was Sony that highlighted 3D at this event with the following flagship titles available to play: Killzone 3, Motorstorm Apocalypse and Gran Turismo 5.

In my opinion Motorstorm had the best use of 3D but even that had it’s problems. The gameplay itself was fine but the cut scene intros had cars that looked like they were cardboard cut outs! It may be the same in 2D but knowing the pedigree of the previous Motorstorm games I’d presume not.

Gran Turismo 5 added a bit of depth to the car but the effect wasn’t that noticable. Perhaps I picked the wrong track for it as there wasn’t much surrounding it.

Killzone 3 was a weird one, a couple of times the 3D did look really good but generally it just added a bit of depth to everything.

And that seems to be the issue – with 3D cinema things fly out of the screen at you. With these games that doesn’t happen, bullets, dirt or whatever comes at you but ends where the screen ends.

I expect in 4/5 years we’ll see some really great implentation of 3D in games but until then I’ll be steering well clear.

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Overall then a great show with a chance to play some brilliant upcoming games. I would’ve liked to have seen Infamous 2, Rage and Homefront but I think other that those titles everything else was covered. Roll on next year!

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