Alpha Protocol review
What starts out as an atrocious mess instead turns itself into a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of a game. One moment, players will scratch their heads at any one of the jarring technical issues. The next, they will be smiling from ear to ear as they blow up anything and everything that stands in their way. Labeled as “The Espionage RPG”, Alpha Protocol oddly has limiting stealth elements due to the poor enemy AI and cover mechanics. Much more of an in-your-face-and-blow-crap-up title, Alpha Protocol shines when it doesn’t take itself serious.
The restrictive beginning may scare away RPG fans, but deep down, there’s a gem of a game waiting for a crafty developer to shine it up and place it on a mantle for all gamers to see. The main problem with the slow start is that patience is not a vital asset that many gamers have nowadays; they want quality and they want it the minute they press the start button. With a lull in action midway through the title, Alpha Protocol is all over the board with high and low points that would give a nurse fits if it was connected to an EKG machine.
Let’s begin with the high points, some of which may have not been intentional. Leveling up in Alpha Protocol is similar to what has been found in BioWare’s critically-acclaimed Mass Effect series. Experience points are earned throughout the game for actions performed within missions. Whether it is lock picking or finishing an objective, Obsidian Entertainment gives players an overabundance of Experience Points to unlock Advancement Points to spend on skills. In total there are nine skills to master with 10 ranks (three of which you can level up to 15) to create the best Michael Thornton, the hero of the story.
Having a deep involvement in the role-playing aspects, Alpha Protocol also employs a dialogue system with conversation trees that attempt to connect the player to the characters. Each conversation has a timer for dialogue choices to keep the players attentive on whether they want to be suave, professional, or casual when speaking to NPCs. These three are among the most represented dialogue choices, but there are a handful of others such as being direct, trying to attack or flirt with a target and much more. Whatever players decide, they have to be aware that it’ll affect their reputation with contacts that could either hinder or help the obtainment of information for future missions. If players become bored with the conversations and would rather skip to the action, they can always fast forward with the right trigger.
Army of Two fans will have a fond appreciation for the plethora of weapons, gadgets, armor and accessories available. Players are able to purchase and upgrade their two weapons (pistol and a SMG/shotgun/rifle) with new barrels, sights, magazines and accessories. The weapons locker is in-depth, but it’s never overwhelming; especially since snipers, rocket launchers and the heavy weapons aren’t able to be equipped prior to missions.
The last mention of the amusing moments throughout Alpha Protocol deals with the hand-to-hand combat. It’s so atrocious that it’s turns out to be superb for laughter. More often than not, I would barge into a room taking bullet after bullet until I got close enough to button mash the melee button. Three to five hits and the enemy would be disposed of and I would continue onto the next enemy without ever lifting my gun. Not only is this preposterous, but it takes away from any realism that Obsidian Entertainment may have been aiming for. The action ends up being a parody of the espionage and action genre, though, that’s not necessarily a bad thing in the end since, sometimes, it is indeed hard to turn away from watching a train wreck.
Even though the graphics weren’t outright terrible, the same can’t be said for the ragdoll physics (enemies’ legs getting bent backward over their head after a single shot to the arm), framerates that continuously chug along, screen-tearing showing up during conversations, and random leveling up pop-ups that removes the player from the action. To cap it all off, the voice actors seemingly didn’t give a squat about their lines and are uncharismatic during their delivery.
If Obsidian Entertainment truly was attempting to create a spoof, then they should have taken the ball and ran with it. With unexplainable duffel bags of money and dossier information lying about levels, Alpha Protocol could have been a hilarious title to enjoy from beginning till end. The list of technical issues plagued the title right from the on-start and continued until the ugly ending. Whether it was one enemy mysteriously multiplying into three enemies before my eyes (maybe he was Marvel’s Multiple Man?) or enemies running in circles around platforms for no good reason besides chasing their own tail, Alpha Protocol is a good lesson of how not to create a video game.
I laughed, I cried, but with Alpha Protocol, I didn’t have a good ole’ time.