'Obsidian Entertainment' heads into the murky underworld of international terrorism to brings us 'Alpha Protocol: The Espionage RPG.'
'Alpha Protocol' is an ambitious take on stealth-based action that tries hard to wear many hats. In one hand you have an experience that is trying to be a full out action game, and in the other, you have a game that wants to be a deep role-playing endeavor. 'Alpha Protocol' puts this all together in a convincing package. However, some unavoidable technical issues hinder it from being the game it wants to be.
When firing up 'Alpha Protocol' for the first time you will be counseled into selecting a backstory for your agent. This choice is important as it will affect your initial skill set and likely change they way you approach the game. Each choice has a different history for your player along with a different classification. The different classes you can pick from are: Soldier, Field Agent, Tech Specialist, and Freelancer, with two additional histories Recruit (suggested for gamers looking for an additional challenge) and Veteran (unlocked after you beat Recruit). For my first game, I went with the 'Field Agent,' described, as "no stranger to covert operations--- being a charismatic presence one moment and an inconspicuous shadow the next," sounds cool, no?
After your background is settled an ability menu will pop-up for you to fine-tune your skills. The skill selection for your agent is fairly deep for an action styled game, hence the attachment of RPG classification. The skill tree has a list of attributes and abilities that can be upgraded earned AP during the game. This includes everything from different weapons to your toughness in one tab, perks in the second (yes, like Fallout) and a whole whack of random stats in the third. You will become vary familiar with this menu as you level up in the game. This system is impressive for an action game, giving you enough variance to alter how you will take on each mission. It is not quite as deep as a stand-up role-playing game, although it is surprising to see this much thought put into an a stealth action game. Once this is done, you are off, ready to submerge yourself in the world of covert espionage.
The Agent Awakens
'Alpha Protocol' starts in similar fashion to (surprise) -- 'Mass Effect 2.' Disoriented you awaken off a hospital bed unaware of your surroundings. Fighting your way out of a secured set of rooms you will learn that you’re not only an intergalactic Specter who once saved the galaxy, but you have been rebuilt by a mysterious corporation after a near death experience... or is that some other game?! Jokes aside, you are 'Michael Thorton,' and you have been drugged by your own agency, 'Alpha Protocol,' which could be the earthly start of ‘Cerberus.’ Apparently, as you find out, they (the Alpha Protocol higher ups) drugged you up and staged an elaborate escape mission to test your skills, an odd prerequisite before you become an agency soldier. This continues with multiple training sessions that gets you up to speed with all the controls and nuances of the gameplay. Then once you are confident in your skills, it is out to the field.
The whole introductory aspect of 'Alpha Protocol' is a little dragged out, which is tragic because I can see a lot of gamers putting down the controller before the game has a chance to sprout. It was an intelligent approach to teach “everything” about the game right from the get go, but it is a little dry and takes around a hour before your really get going. A more piratical "on the field training" might have been a better way to go.
It is up to you, Recruit
Michael starts in the typical role of a “mysterious mercenary,” a member of an equally cryptic ‘Alpha Protocol,’ a secret organization that operates outside the jurisdiction of the United Sates government. As a young recruit, you have to head out in several missions that include the normal range of espionage behaviour from bugging locations, sabotaging equipment, saving hostages and more. ‘Alpha Protocol’ starts you off in Saudi Arabia, however you will have the chance to visit Rome, Moscow, and Taipei as well. In some instances, Michael Thorton starts to feel like an old familiar gaming stealth star ‘Sam Fisher,’ with a twist. In a estranged way Thorton has more personality than Sam, however, Alpha Protocol’s dip into the stealth world doesn’t stack up to the mastery of Tom Clancy. It is good for an introductory effort, but it's not going to hold you like a Tom Clancy game, most notably ‘Splinter Cell.’
Better Working Conditions Required
'Alpha Protocol' has a lot of work to do refining its game engine before it feels like anything close to a ‘Splinter Cell’ game, or any modern game to put it bluntly. ‘Alpha’ is very rough around the edges and is ultimately held back by its dated game engine. The action is as basic as you can get, with mechanics that feel like a first generation Playstation title. Interacting with the world is not fluid and can only be done when a marker is present. This includes jumping off crates, climbing ladders, or even jumping over a 2ft high sandbag. It is all old school, and not a good old school either.
Michael fumbles almost all his actions, which takes a lot of fun out of becoming an triple-A action star. Shooting has an interesting accuracy ring, but aside from keeping it steady, it’s poorly executed. Even worse is the hand-to-hand combat, which is a strong focus in the game. The animations are limited here, so expect to see the same takedowns, kicks and punches repeatedly. It has been a long time since I have played a game that made it so hard for you to like, and it’s a total shame because it is clear that ‘Alpha Protocol’ wanted to be so much more.
You're a Strange Animal, That's What I Know
The opposition doesn’t help things along either. The mercs hired to take you down need to go back to basic training because they are a slow bunch of soldiers. 'Alpha Protocol' sets you up with enough turned backs that you will never have to fire you weapon-- and if their backs aren't turned they are running around like they are on some strange alienating drugs. Don't be surprised to see the A.I. behaving oddly, actions like running up a ladder to kill you, reaching the top, and turning around to head back down is a standard routine -- say what? I have to say one thing, the run straight at you, punch to the face, run back and shoot maneuver is an interesting tactic, its not too effective, but it is damn funny.
Now You're Talking
The high notes in ‘Alpha Protocol’ come when you put down your gun and stray away from becoming a low-rate martial arts star. The real gem is the dialog among characters, character relations, and the weaving plot line. The dialog system is intuitive in how it builds relationships in three stages depending on your attitude during a conversation. Conversations are played out in real-time similar to the dialog tree in ‘Mass Effect 2.’ You will several responses that usually come down to aggressive, suave, and professional answers, although it is switched up from time to time. Having conversations run in real-time feels more like a real conversation making it a leap above other games that use a similar system.
Helping along this sense of realism is that you don’t always have be the “good guy” to everyone. Having someone on your bad side can work as well, which makes experimenting essential. Conversations feels more natural to a real life situation. While interacting with men, Michael will usually try to be the alpha male while having a sweet spot for the ladies. Character reactions are shown on screen when they fluctuate making you aware status with the other person. If things are going wrong you might want to steer them a certain direction, or you can play like me, on the fly. I was really happy with the unconventional routes my relationships took, as my game followed some interesting paths. It is really outstanding how ‘Obsidian’ put this all together, it just a shame that it seems like a waste.
Disarming with a Smile
Rolling along with more good, 'Alpha Protocol' has some interesting hacking mini-games that break up the gamplay. These mini-games come into effect when you attempt to hack a computer terminal, disarm an alarm, pick a lock, or crack into a safe. Each mini-game associated with a certain activity is a lot of fun, and dare I say, some of the best we have played. In comparison, the lock picking is a lot more natural feeling then the old ‘Splinter Cell’ bungler, and the number matching, circuit board play is better then a ‘Bioshock’ puzzler. Anyway you have it, you will get a little bit of joy trying when you hit them up during your travels.
'Alpha Protocol – The Espionage RPG’ might need some personal, psychological help. It is obvious that we are dealing with a classic case of a split personality. In one hand, you have an interesting role-playing game with some innovative and standout features, and in the other you have a broken action game that seems light years behind the competition. ‘Alpha Protocol’ sure makes it hard to enjoy, and the second you start to capture a vibe, it breaks.
If you can look past the negatives, ‘Alpha Protocol’ has some intrigue that will pull you in, and quite possibly interesting enough to play through twice. However, that is only if you can accept the lackluster mechanics, broken action sequences and dull production values. I'm not totally discounting 'Alpha Protocol.' It deserves an "A" for effort. However, as a buy or a rental, this one comes down to a cautious rental.
Gameplay:5.8, Graphics:5.5, Sound:7.0, Innovation:7.5, Mojo:6.6 Final: 6.5 / 10
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy | 06.12.10