Game Review: Alpha Protocol
Release: June 1, 2010
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
ESRB Rating: Mature (Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Sexual Content, Strong Language
Website: Alpha Protocol (age requirement)
Here’s the WHAT: Cross Splinter Cell with Mass Effect, and you have Alpha Protocol.
Below is the WHY.
You are Michael Thorton (not misspelled, trust me). You are the newest recruit into a covert ops agency. Many believe that this agency is called ‘Alpha Protocol,’ but they are wrong. After your training (tutorials), you are given an assignment with little possibility of success. Once you think you have the operation completed, someone throws a curveball your way, and the fun begins so to speak.
As Agent Thorton, you will visit a handful of locations (mainly Saudi Arabia, Rome, Taipei, and Moscow) looking to stop a corrupt corporation from attempting to start another Cold War (or a real war, for that matter). During the events that follow, you will enter into many situations where your decisions will have an actual impact in the near future or much later in the game. For instance, you can choose to execute an arms dealer during your Saudi operation, preventing him from dealing weapons to groups that cause harm to others in the future. However, you will lose the ability to purchase arms from this person as well as track his movements and all other useful information that he can provide. That information can mean the difference between living and dying in future missions in the game.
You will also be able to build reputations with the people you interact with. These reputations (both positive and negative) will impact what will transpire as well. As your director states at the beginning: ‘If your handler likes you too much and places emotion before the mission, the mission may fail because of that.’ You can upset people on purpose, through your dialogue, so that they aren’t exactly thinking straight, then use that to your advantage as well. While the majority of the game will be you moving through an environment trying to complete a set of objectives, the real ‘meat’ of the game occurs during the interactions. Heck, there’s a mission in Rome where all I did was talk my way through it. No need to hide or to fire my gun. Gotta love diplomacy, right?
Now for the pros. Front and center is, without a doubt, the dialogue mechanics. This isn’t like Mass Effect, where you have ‘Good Cop’, ‘Bad Cop’, or Neutral. Here, you are given a ‘stance’ (system is called Dynamic Stance System, or DSS for short) of ‘Suave’, ‘Aggressive’, or ‘Professional’, and, on occasion, a fourth choice, based on prior information gained or if a situation warrants it. This is where reputations are built (or destroyed, if you want) as well as how you can avoid (or cause) conflict if you so choose. As the developers said, ‘in Alpha Protocol, your weapon is CHOICE.’ Another strong point is the depth of character customization from a skills and ‘perks’ standpoint. As you go through the game and gain levels, you gain points that you can put toward skills in various proficiencies that Agent Thorton has available. You also gain ‘perks’ (not like Modern Warfare) by accomplishing certain goals. When bugging the CIA listening post in Rome, I was given the ‘Professional Courtesy’ perk because I didn’t kill anyone. The perk allows me a discount on future purchased intel from certain sellers. Finding all of the perks will take several playthroughs, as different perks unlock when different actions (or sets of actions) are taken. It’s like an Easter Egg hunt, but without all of the girly colors (no offense to girls or fans of Easter Egg hunts intended).
The storyline rivals most of the best spy novels and films in my opinion. Thorton is an extremely dynamic character who can both play it cool at times and bring the heat when necessary. You have dozens of paths that you can take to customize Thorton the way that you want, but be careful with the choices that you make, because you can’t redo a conversation if you screw up (unless you save the previous checkpoint saved, that is). Each turn in that path creates another dynamic string of choices that truly makes Alpha Protocol YOUR espionage action story. The voice-acting is surprisingly good, considering the only name that I recognize on the credits is Nolan North (who did NOT voice Thorton, by the way; he voices a contact in Taipei). Personally, I had no issues with the cover system, or the stealth components, which is a good thing, considering this IS a spy RPG, after all.
From an improvement standpoint, no game is without its flaws. Even Mass Effect 1 certainly had flaws (inventory system, elevator times, etc). Alpha Protocol is, by no means, a perfect game. The graphics are on par with 2008, although the title uses the Unreal Engine. If you have a top-of-the-line HDTV, then the game will look nice. Those of us stuck with standard definition, unfortunately, have to deal with substandard graphics.
The aiming system has a learning curve that some may not like. Until you get your accuracy, recoil, and stability traits for your weapons to a good level, it’s better to just go hand-to-hand in my opinion, as you can’t really hit anything unless you’re within 15 feet, which is the last place you want to be if you’re a spy. Taking the time to hold down the left trigger (brings up the reticule) and wait a few seconds for the crosshairs to line up for that all-important critical hit can feel like an eternity, given that you are exposed, most of the time. I’ve also come across a couple of bugs that are minor and haven’t crashed my game. I simply had to reload the previous checkpoint from my autosave.
Taking everything into account, I would highly recommend buying Alpha Protocol to anyone who believes that story and interaction should come first in a game. If you want the best graphics and amazing gameplay, you’re probably already playing Modern Warfare 2, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, or Mass Effect 2, so this would probably be a game to take for a weekend spin from Gamefly, just to see if the story and dialogue is enough to warrant a purchase.