Alpha Protocol Review
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Alpha Protocol is all ambition with little follow through. This espionage-RPG attempts to draw players into a world of lock picking, Saudi terrorists, and secret government conspiracies, but does it so ineffectively it is hard to maintain interest past the first mission.
- The control players have on how the story plays out
- An overall interesting concept
- The dialogue system
- The wretched cover mechanics
- The enormous amount of visual and animation glitches
- The poor camera perspectives
Last September we compiled a list of our most anticipated games for the remainder of that year. Coming in at 8 was Obsidian Entertainment’s espionage-RPG game, Alpha Protocol, which to our dismay was put on SEGA’s backburner for about six months. It’s unclear if the delay was strictly to distance itself from Modern Warfare 2’s chart dominance, or if Alpha Protocol needed some more refinement. Now, after playing through the game, we have to believe (and hope) the delay was simply a matter of time because instead of an interesting and unique take on the classic RPG formula that we were promised, SEGA has released a game that is severely flawed, and not in a way that is easily ignored.
Alpha Protocol is dubbed as “The Espionage RPG,” largely because it takes ideas from both genres and attempts to combine them into one solid concept. Released by publisher SEGA and developed by Obsidian, the game puts players in the shoes of Michael Thorton. As a new recruit of Alpha Protocol, an agency which runs different espionage contracts for the government, Thorton is not only on set out on a task given by his new employer, he is also seeking more information about Alpha Protocol, and why he was mysteriously recruited.
Right off the bat you are thrown into the best and worst Alpha Protocol has to offer. The opening sequence, after the initial cut scene, has you essentially auditioning to be an elite member of the espionage team. You’ll learn all about the dreadful duck and cover system, how to fire your weapons (which sadly underperform your martial arts abilities), and you’ll learn about the game’s several spy-style mini-games. There may be some people out there who enjoy these mini games, one of which has you staring at a screen of changing numbers, attempting to find a series that are not actually changing – painful to the eyes, but required. But for the most part, the spy mini-games hold a nugget of the general theme of the game, namely so many great ideas, yet so poorly executed.
The story in Alpha Protocol is pretty good on the surface. It hits all the hot buttons in today’s heated political climate, but fails to make the player care about the protagonist. As the game opens, you see a highly technical missile destroy a commercial airplane. Without uncovering too much of the story, your first mission is to travel to Saudi Arabia and eliminate whoever was responsible for the terrorist attack. Since you are such a good spy, you deal with the problem – or so you think. Everyone proceeds to betray everyone else, and Thorton decides to do a bit of globe trekking, hopping from Moscow, Taipei, and Rome in which ever order you decide. In each city, you have access to a safe house, complete with a TV that broadcasts nothing but relevant news, a computer with email access, and mini weapon stockpile. Alpha Protocol rides in style, and Thorton, while he may have gone rogue along his mission, gets to live the good life while he’s in his safe house.
That concept, progressing through the game as you decide, is easily Alpha Protocol’s biggest attraction. As this is an RPG, you get to call the shots in just about every situation. If you want to go do missions in Moscow first, go ahead. If you want to level up your pistol abilities before your SMG, go ahead. If you want Michael to focus more on martial arts and his technical aptitude, that’s your choice. If you want to disarm all the cameras in a level, you can try, or you can simply sneak around them hoping to hide in the shadows. As the player, you call the shots.
One way the game does a great job of drawing the player into decision making is through the dialogue system. We say system, because it really isn’t as simple as ‘click Triangle to say this.’ During conversations, you are given a few seconds to decide how you will respond. There are three choices (occasionally there is a fourth, but the fourth option is an action, not necessarily a response). You can choose to be suave (Square), aggressive (Triangle), or professional (circle). Your attitude will guide ... (continued on next page)