Review: Alpha Protocol
My name is Michael Thorton. I used to be a Spy. Until... (phone rings) “We got a burn notice on you. You're blacklisted.” Alpha Protocol tries to tell a interweaving story about the world of espionage and the choices you make. Does it succeed in its mission or is it a double-o-dud?
The main thing Obsidian wanted the player to get out of this game is that the player's choices have consequences, no matter how small the choice. I was skeptical of this assumption by Obsidian until I played for a couple of hours and was then blown away at how the story changes based on anything you do whether it be in conversations or actions you take do during missions. Kudos to Obsidian for making it really seem like everything I did had a consequence on the (overall good) story.
The dialogue choices in Alpha Protocol are great because instead giving you stinted, robotic dialogue to pick from, you get to pick the emotion or “stance” you want to take in any given conversation. It also puts a timer on the choices so you have to pick fast or the game will auto pick a choice for you, almost an "instinct" choice. Not sure how some people will react to this implementation of conversation choice, but I found that makes you think on your feet and adds some realism. I mean, how often do you get to toggle between sentences before saying something to someone (IRL)?
Voice acting was surprisingly good and caught me off guard. There are times where Mike Thorton sounds a little mundane, of course, but those times are few and far between. Nothing sounded like it was cut and pasted together poorly like most games. Between the story and the voice acting I was hooked on Alpha Protocol. It was a delight... if only that held true through the rest of the game.
First thing you will notice is how unpolished and unrefined the game's overall look is. Even Obsidian said this game shouldn't have been released. Three years of development behind the sloppy look of this game equals VERY bad PR for Obsidian. There are tons of graphical glitches, unfinished character models, bad texture pop-in mixed in with broken A.I., and that's just the beginning. Somewhere, there's a designer hanging next to his favorite coats. There were times where the enemies were shooting each other instead of me or rushing me down, dodging my shots to punch me once in the face... before they would come back up to shoot me? Isn't it shoot first then melee for the kill? Oh, wait this isn't Halo... but still!
The gameplay is where most people will get turned off right away. Alpha Protocol is an RPG first and a 3rdperson shooter WAY second. Everything you can do is based off of your skill tree. Things from stealth, tech, explosives, weapons, and health are all based on a skill tree. By earning experience doing missions and completing objectives, you can spend your EXP on certain skills. Somehow, this doesn't apply to pistols. I tried leveling up my pistol skill all the way up and still couldn't hit anything at all. Perhaps that's more of this realism they're trying to inject into the game, but definitely realism that fails as far as the actual gaming experience goes.
Yes, this game has dice roll shooting mechanics. If you don't level up stats in certain weapon classes (think Mass Effect), you will miss most of the times even while dead center on a headshot. If you can focus a weapon long enough, while you are in a certain range, you can do a critical shot and one shot kill most enemies.
I was torn between the biggest issues I had with the gameplay. It was kind of a tie between the dice roll shooting and the cracked out movements by some of the bosses which made it nearly impossible to hit anything. You can always resort to melee attacks if you level that skill up enough, as you can actually pull off some pretty amazing martial arts. Unfortunately there's no block button, so while you are doing your best Karate Kid impressions on the enemies' faces, they can block anything you've got coming and turn around to whoop you like a punching bag (or shoot you). Also, it feels like none of the skills you can level up are worth doing except Stealth, Health and Martial Arts. Going that route will give you invisibility abilities so you can stab people in the neck while others watch in horror wondering how it happened. Some will say it breaks the game entirely but I would like to think of it as adding some comedic value to the game... which was appreciated after how frustrating the shooting was.
You can often forgive a video game it if it has a bad story, just as long as it's actually fun to play. How many of you are willing to flip the script and play for the story and not the gameplay?