One of my worsthabits is procrastinating, so that means that often I review gamesout of order. In fact, I played Alpha Protocol before Front MissionEvolved, and FME before Bioshock 2, and of the three games I onlyplayed AP twice. Alpha Protocol was a game that I heard about, wasinterested in, but waited for the game to be on sale beforepurchasing it as the reviews for the game were crap. Is the gamecrap, or the reviewers? Read on to find out.
You are AgentThorton, a recent recurit to the secretive Alpha Protocol, andeveryone's out to punch your balls to the moon. Abandoned by AlphaProtocol and hunded by your own government, you need to stop aninternational conspiracy that could destabilize the world.
As Thorton, youhave a range of options in defeating your enemies. Sneak past them,go in guns-blazing, or kung-fu your enemies to an early grave. Thegame features an adaptive storyline in which your decisions affectthe world around you.
I'm going to startoff with the story of Alpha Protocol. Being a spy game, you'reprobably familiar with quite a number of double crossing and romanceand tough decisions. In general, the storyline is predictable butstill well told, and the characters are likeable.
One cool aspect ofAlpha Protocol is the real adaptive story of Alpha Protocol. Thosewho have read my review of Mass Effect 2 probably noticed how Ibeamed at how your actions of Mass Effect 1 had an effect on whathappened in Mass Effect 2. Well, Alpha Protocol takes that to 11. Thegame fills you with tough decisions, relationships, and choices thatdo matter. Be a suave player to everyone you meet and you'll gain areputation for being an immature prick, but be a professional toeveryone and it will precede you. Kill the wrong person in coldblood, and you'll find that you might have less allies throughout thegame. Do you let a terrorist go if he promises to help you expose agreater conspiracy? Do you choose between a woman you love or thelives of others? Protect a politician or his constituents? What ifprotecting the former will save even more lives by preservingregional stability? These choices you make in one mission, say inRome, will affect how character's perceive you in Moscow. I considerthe story of Alpha Protocol as somewhat predictable, but it's welltold and the details are well done. The adaptive story is containedin that you still have to follow your main objective, but the detailsand stories leading up to it is flexible. In my opinion, it's thebest example of adaptive story-telling that I've ever seen, with nogame really coming close.
Thorton'srelationship with other characters however is cumulative. AlphaProtocol relies on a rounded group of individuals who will interactwith Thorton, and these interactions are numerous, so yourrelationship with characters evolve over time. Having a goodrelationship with the last level boss, surprisingly, means thatyou're given the option to switch sides. Having a good relationshipwith some of the chicks in the game means you get to bone them ofcourse, and having a good relationship with certain factions andpeople means that you can call on their support for missions. Being asuave d!ck to a guy long enough and he'll want to kill you. Beprofessional to him and he might decide that he likes you enough tooffer you a job. If this sounds arbitrary at first (after all, whoknows who likes what?), the game is littered with collectibledossiers on personalities, which give a general overview ofcharacters' personalities. In general, you meet a well-rounded amountof personalities over multiple interactions, so you get a gist of howcharacters will react. I also found the characters to be more likablethan in say, Front Mission Evolved. In fact, I liked them a lot,because each had his/her own motivations, priorities, and distinctivepersonalities.
The game uses aconversation system similar to in Mass Effect's. Instead of seeingwhat Thorton will say, you have a selection of attitudes. Usually,they're Suave (James Bond), Aggressive (Jack Bauer), and Professional(Bourne). The only problem with the conversation system is that thegame sometimes forces you to make decisions quickly. One time Irestarted a level because the game made a choice for me because thebattery on my mouse died and the game chose a $hitty decision. Thisdesign is pointless, and serves no real purpose. It's a RPG, athinking-man's game. Let him take the time to think.
After your firstmission, you have can choose three other locations to go to: Rome,Moscow, and Taipei. You'll have to go to all of them, but you choosethe order, and from there you start off in a safehouse as a base. Ifyou've played KOTOR, then you'll get a general idea of how the worldworks, though missions don't cross cities. From each location, youcan pick and choose which missions to go and what order (yes thissometimes makes a difference). Thus, the game follows a containedopen-ended gameplay style.
To aid you, thegame offers you a solid variety of weapons and misc upgrades toassist you in your missions. The six primary weapons are your fists(CQC), pistols, SMGs, shotguns, assault rifles and grenades. The gamelets you bring two weapons into battle including gadgets (likegrenades). CQC is basic punch-punch-jumpkick-button mashing, butcatching an enemy unguarded is an instant KO/Kill. Because the levelsare closed enough, CQC is an effective option if you like corners.Pistols are the stealth weapon of choice, and SMGs, Shotguns andAssault Rifles are loud ouch-makers. Each weapon has multiple ammotypes, For example, Assault Rifles might have subsonice silencedrounds and Shotguns might have phosphorous shells. Alpha Protocolalso uses an effective grenade system in which holding down thegrenade button shows you how the grenade will bounce and land, and ifyou're next to a wall, you can usually turn that grenade into a sortof mine. The game also features a copious system of upgrades andmodels for the four primary guns, and attachments for your armor. Ingeneral, most of these items modify statistics like recoil andwhatnot, like a high quality reflex scope increasing bullet accuracy.Regular fans of my blog (do they exist?) will know that I'm a big fanof customization. The problem is that, in contrast to Crysis's weaponmods systems, there aren't any visible or real gameplay mechanicchanges. As I'll mention later, having impressive scopes won't helpyour aim too much.
And of course, youhave certain abilities. Most of them don't make too much sensehowever. There are some that suddenly give your SMG unlimitedammunition, there are some that allow you to pause time for 30seconds as you pick your shots, and there are some that turn youvirtually invisible even if you slit peoples' throats. The jury's outon the abilities, but they're there.
The game is notwithout its fair share of problems, especially with its gameplaymechanics. The first problem is the stealth system in the game. Inother games, for example Metal Gear Solid or Thief, there's a systemthat tells you how visible you are. This is important because youreally need to know how far an enemy can see before you sneak acrossan aisle or try to sneak against an enemy. Alpha Protocol kicks thisto the curb, and forces the player to guess how far an enemy can see.Early on the game, you're going to be frustrated at how well yourenemies' senses are. Later on the game a stealth-focused characterwill have no problem, as you'll probably gain a better sense of howthe game mechanics work. Until then, you're pretty much boned. Thismay seem minor, but think of it; this is a spy game, so wouldn't yoube playing a stealth character? Having a broken stealth systemseverely handicaps the game. Interestingly enough, the game does showthe visual range of CCTV cameras.
You might ask, “noproblem, I'm a stealth sniper anyways” in which case the gamepunches your crotch. The only sniper rifles in the game are levelspecific, and controlling them is incredibly inaccurate and overlysensetive. What I mean is that your target is to your right, so youmove a bit to the right and then the enemy is then too far to yourleft. Yes, that annoying kind. Are there long range weapons? Sort of.As I mention, the game provides you with pistols and assault rifles.The problem with them both is that the game refuses to move away fromthe third person so you're always stuck in third person. Zooming indoesn't bring you up to iron-sights or the scope, but just a closerover-the-shoulder view with Thorton's head covering half the screen.At lower levels, you must be extremely close (several meters) foryour aim to focus, if not you could be aiming right at an enemy'shead, fire, and the bullet will be off and hit the body, annoyingyour enemy and attracting attention. At max levels, this is less of aproblem as your aim can focus from further away, but noobies willdefinitely be in pain. There's a pistol focused skill that allows youto pause time and aim at heads, but since it's a skill, there's acooldown. So yes, the ranged/stealth aiming in the game is brokenalso.
Supported OS: Microsoft Windows XP®or Windows Vista®
Processor: 2.4+ GHZ Intel® or 2.0+GHZ AMD™
Memory: 1 GB RAM (Windows XP®,) 2GB RAM (Windows Vista®)
Graphics: NVIDIA® GeForce 6 series(6800GT or better,) ATI™ 1300XT series or greater (X1550, X1600 Proand HD2400 are below minimum system requirements)
Hard Drive: At least 12 GB of freespace
Sound Card: DirectX® 9.0ccompatible sound card and drivers
The game runspretty well, and on max settings runs above 35-45 fps. Unfortunately,I didn't run FRAPs long enough to get a good run on the performance.It is smooth, but the game does run into a slowdown problem, though Ithink it's more a bug than anything.
When AlphaProtocol was released, it was slammed hard for being a bug-riddenmess of a game. Considering that I'm playing the game several yearsafter it was released, it's expected that the game would be fullypatched. Unfortunately, Obsidian only released one or two patches,and it's still considered an overall buggy game. Fortunately for me,I didn't actually notice any real noticeable bugs...probably becausethe first few patches cleared up the most obvious ones. The only realbug I noticed was this really annoying slowdown when I turned mycharacter too swiftly...and I think it's a pretty common reportedproblem. Obsidian has officially given up on Alpha Protocol, andbecause the game is not moddable, you can only play Alpha Protocol asis. I didn't notice any problems when I played, but I certainly wouldnot be surprised if you did.
I purchased thegame on sale on Steam for $5, which is a fair price. Steam, thoughinaccurate as is, lists that I've spent over 23 hours on the game,which is fair for two playthroughs. Both playthroughs produceddifferent results from the adaptive story.
Alpha Protocol isan Obsidian archetype: great story, great premise, but poorexecution. The game features a focused (if not somewhat predictable)but adaptive story that works with characters that you can like. Inaddition, the overall game does strike a good balance between combatand stealth. But like other Obsidian games, there's a problem withthe execution, in particular its stealth/aiming mechanics. Theseproblems are significant enough to really kill the game of a higherscore, and will be understandably frustrating to new players to thegame (ie, everyone). What's unfortunate is that this game, if givenenough time, would make a great sequel (assuming Obsidian insuresthat the game mechanics work). So how about it Obsidian?
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