Alpha Protocol, a game that was hyped up by many and after it’s released disappointed many. I myself actually did not hear much of the game or rather, was unaware of it (not sure if it is good or bad). From some researching it seems as the situation is that the game is under development for quite some years, around the year 2006 or so. Long development means better game? Perhaps, perhaps. Anyways, back to the review. This review is based on experience playing through the PC version. Do note that the game is out for the X360 and the PS3 as well. Without further ado, let us move on to the review.(p.s the review is pretty long. scroll all the way down for the round-up of the pros and cons)
You play as Michael Thorton, or Mike like many of the in-game characters call him, a field agent for the secret United States Government agency named “Alpha Protocol”. The plot begins as soon as you are sent to your first convert mission in Saudi Arabia. Things did not go the way it ought to go and soon you find yourself figuring out the reason and cause of a huge global conspiracy.
That is the gist of the whole story within the game. Not too bad, I mean even if it is like the ordinary hero saves the day kind of story, it does have its moments through the plot twists and turns along the way. The story is one of the stronger parts of the game. Storytelling is believable with characters with character and personality that are convincing to the player. It is as though you can understand and know one character after a few dialogues or so. There are several characters within the game, good and bad. Interaction with these characters is important and the way as to how you go talking and treating them results in different paths within the game.
The story cannot be said to be linear. I mean yes it seem as though you have to play through the same few missions go through the same few things but the thing is you have multiple paths and routes to take. Each route taken might eventually lead to the same outcome but it is worthy to note that there are other endings and conclusion as well. According to your actions and your approach to the different missions and characters, the story seems to effectively evolve around your character, making each of your decision count. You might regret later on not doing this or that, but that is the beauty of the game. One play-through is never enough, at least for the story.
I first have to admit that some of the gameplay concepts and mechanics implemented are rather unpolished and unbalance and I guess that is what hurts the game the most (as noted by several other reviewers). The overall gameplay works almost like Mass Effect 1. The similarities are quite obvious in the sense that after completing a mission, you go back to your headquarters and you move on from there. This cycle repeats itself within Alpha Protocol as it does in Mass Effect (completed mission, spaceship, mission, spaceship, you get the idea). You have the ability to purchase new weapons and stock items required before proceeding on. All in all it is not too bad, it makes the game a little more structured and easier to follow.
Mission selection is done simply by your own will. After the starting Saudi Arabia mission, you get to choose from 3 different locations with a choice of different missions within each location. Which and how you want to complete each individual mission is up to you. This comes one of the flaws of the game, the difficulty. The game itself is not very hard but some missions and bosses are. The very fact that enemies within the game do not scale with your level means that if you approached a harder boss at the start of the game, you are practically going to suffer and cry. If that really happens to you, do go for another mission first before returning back. I do know that some missions are relatively much easier than others and it is advisable to start from the easier ones.
Intel – Yay or Nay?
This brings us to the next flaw of the game, or rather one of the unpolished aspects of the game. There is intel within the game that you can buy or find. There are three types, one on characters, one on the different organizations and another one for missions. The intel acquired for characters and organizations helps unlock different routes and choices to make upon meeting some of the characters. For example knowing some of the facts about one character opens a dialogue option at a stipulated meeting and time. Intel for characters are the most valuable of all, as in it seem to have the most impact and effects on your game. Intel for organizations on the other hand is merely there for you to understand and know the background of the story better (at least for me, I mean I did not find much difference with knowing more or less). Intel for missions is almost unnecessary as it does not help you much. I tried buying some intel before proceeding on to a mission and then completing the mission without it, there is not much difference in terms of difficulty or story wise. Yes some of these intel bought allows you to have different takes on the mission but none really affect your overall story or gameplay much.
Weapons and Firefights
It is nice to have such an aspect (intel) but I hope to see more impact on the gameplay as it is simply as if it is not there at all. Speaking of completing missions, there are mainly two ways to complete one mission. One is killing them all and two is to sneak your way through, grab what you want and leave. Both approaches give you a different experience as well as outcome but both have some rather dubious and weak gameplay elements to it. First the gunplay is rather inconsistent and imbalance. There are 4 types of guns and only one of them works best (assault rifle). The others like pistol, shotgun and the sub-machine gun are as if they were not needed. Yes shotgun works better closer range, sub-machine gun good for spraying but when compared to the assault rifle they are practically useless. Pistol is great only for stealth as you can use a silencer with it, but other than that it is just the assault rifle.
The balance within the weapons is a must to encourage players to take different approaches. Those wanting a challenge can go for other weapon types but the thing is not with what approach you want to take, instead it is how these approaches work. It is similar to that of a class system within the game without obviously stating it but if one class is a huge ass monster and the others small tiny ants, who would want to try the others? Yes you might but it simply does not feel as if you have been fairly treated. A balance is greatly required for an impact to be seen within the game. There are also gadgets within the game such as radio interceptors to trick enemy into shutting off alarms, the usually grenades and stuff like that. Not really required as you can complete missions with or without them.
Stealth – Hardly seen or felt
Stealth within the game is yet another unpolished aspect. There are basically no ordinary stealth elements like hiding within the shadows and stuff. All you do is use a skill, make yourself invisible and then go kill somebody head on. The only stealth element, besides the skill to make you invisible or run without noise, is sneaking behind the enemy’s back. Other than that there is not much else to do. You cannot drag bodies, dispose bodies to prevent enemies from alerting etc, none of that. You do however have the ability to use certain objects to create distraction or so but it is definitely a hit and miss for most players. It simply does not work well enough as it is way too simple and forgettable.
There are 3 different types of minigames within the game. One a lock picking minigame, two differently styled a hacking minigame (one is matching numbers with numbers and the other selecting numbers in sequence). The minigames are a nice addition to the game and it makes the game setting and atmosphere a little more believable. With you being a secret agent, you do have to do some computer decryption, hacking and stuff like that right? The rewards of completing minigames are rather insignificant except for the ones where they give you intel or so. Of course there are the compulsory ones where you have to complete in order to complete your objective.
Stupid Enemies – The Case of Terrible AI
The next and major let down to the game is the enemy AI. With poor or rather terrible AI, stealth already being disappoint becomes even worse. Enemies move and fight as if they dropped their contact lenses. One moment they engage in a firefight and the next you see them running around in circles for no particular reason. Some even start climbing ladders and let you openly shoot them. Boss fights seem to have certain perhaps glitches or exploits which allows you to easily kill even the hardest ones. The most irritating of all is how you can simply wait in one corner as you alert the enemy and see them flowing in through the door letting you shoot them down one by one. There are times when the enemy is smart (like throwing a grenade into the room if you are hiding there) but they are simply too far and few in between. The AI being inconsistent and horrible for most of the time makes the fight a little more unsatisfying.
Character Development and Skills
Character development within the game is alright. You get to choose from different active and passive skills from different categories. There are some skills that are much more useful than others and some not having much justification to even have them there in the first place. The sense that your character is growing more powerful as you progress is there as the skills given at the later stages are rather powerful. Hit critical shots and do damage as you active some of the skills make players feel the sense of achievement towards the end of the stage. It is as though you play through the life of the character, growing and learning together with him. This growth results in him becoming one of the best agent within the game, and the ability to able to identify this growth is certainly satisfying.
Dialogue System and Reputation
The dialogue system is pleasing and great. It really helps in the storytelling and exploration of the different paths. There is basically a timer that comes up with choices for you to choose from. Choices differ by the way and style you wish to reply to the character you are talking with. For example you can reply in a “suave” manner or “aggressive” whichever fits your style. You can also choose according to the personality of the character you are talking to. Choosing the right and acceptable manner to reply will result in the other character liking you more. There is a timer which makes it kind of more realistic since you do not take 10 over minutes just to reply to one question. The problem with this however is that sometimes non native language speakers find it hard to choose. The good side is the smooth transitions between dialogues and with that it continues to uphold the high quality storytelling.
Reputation within the game is gained or lost mainly by the way you talk to the different characters as well as the way you carry out your missions. Killing civilians will result in a loss of reputation with a particular handler while replying in an aggressive manner gets some people to like you even more. Sneak your way through missions and gain the liking of those that loves the low profile style of action. The reputation system rewards users with perks within different missions. Missions also vary accordingly to whomever you are friends and ally with.
Graphics & Sound
I decided not to separate both because I only have one comment on the graphics: dated. Textures and animations in the game are one of its weaker points. Considering the length of development, I believe more details should be done. The sound effects, music and voice acting helps to lift the game up. Atmosphere and setting is made even more believable with the music and firefights being already quite frustrating is made slightly better with the believable sound effects such as gun fires and explosions. The voice acting makes the storytelling enjoyable and seriously the story is what drives the game through.
The game story alone is worthy to be played at least once. Playing more times results in more surprises as you find out the different consequences that come from the different decisions you make. Once you get through the horrible AI and imbalance aspects of the game, the game is really not that bad.
Rent it or buy it, whichever it is at least try it. The gameplay mechanics might put off some, but for me it was not great but passable. It is sad to see a game of such great potential under the guidance from a rather reputable developer go to waste. I mean it is average when it could have been a lot better. As to which version to grab, choose whichever you are comfortable with.
- Great storytelling with believable characters
- Choices play a part in the ending and your gameplay experience
- Dialogue system is fantastically smooth for me, might require lengthening of time though
- Character development feels personal and grows onto you
- Story has multiple routes depending on choices. Makes it rewarding to have a second play-through.
- Unrefined weapons and skills result in some being totally omitted
- Stealth mechanics unpolished and not satisfying
- Terrible AI results in a game about secret agents and stuff a little less believable. Results in poor firefights and stealth
- Dated graphics