You ever wonder what constitutes a bad video game? Yeah there are really terrible games out there like “Survivor: The Interactive Game”, “Superman 64” and even “E.T The Extra-Terrestrial.” that are notoriously bad. But there are also games that fall into the shady gray area, something about the games are endearing , but it has major flaws that hold it back from being considered good.
“Alpha Protocol” is one of those games. Developed by Obsidian Entertainment, the makers of “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II”, “Neverwinter Knights 2” and the upcoming “Fallout: New Vegas,” “Alpha Protocol” is there first original I.P, and already has a dubious reputation. Mired by delays that have lasted over a year, “Alpha Protocol” was toted as an “Espionage RPG” that puts the player into the shoes of Michael Thorton, a fresh face to the titular spy agency that involves itself in various espionage missions across the world for the betterment of the United States. As Thorton you will fight, sneak, steal and talk your way out of sticky situations, all the while unraveling a compelling web of intriguing plots that could only be found in a high end James Bond movie.
The game basically plays like “Mass Effect 1” in terms of it’s gameplay. You run and gun using cover and stealth at your discretion, you have multiple pathways you can take that lead to your objective. There is also a simplified version of the conversation system seen in “Mass Effect” that has you pick either a suave, aggressive or professional answer when speaking to NPC’s, a tool that will be used a lot in this game.
“Alpha Protocol” definitely lives up it’s namesake as an RPG. Obsidian is really keen to put a ton of minute, stat building details on the weapons and equipment you can use are not only impressive, but in the later levels vital to the success of the mission. You can carry two weapons at a time, and with the special attachments on certain weapons you can upgrade them to fit your needs, so going all out with two sub-machine guns with extended magazines is as acceptable as using a silenced pistol in that regard, depending on your play style. There is also a ton of spy gadgets you can use, ranging from shock grenades to sonar devices that emit sounds to confuse enemies. The variants of weaponry is really well done here.
And perhaps the best part about the game is the aforementioned conversation system. While you only have three choices in terms of dialogue, the three choices actually have an overarching effect on the game’s overall story. For example, being professional to one of your contacts, instead of going aggressive, can yield not only new weaponry or items, but also another piece to the story’s puzzle and unlock a secret objective in the next mission. Being smooth and suave with another co-worker could piss them off to the point where they may refuse to help you, forcing you to turn to an enemy in the game. Your relationships with characters late in the game, something you build in the very first levels, can change your progression of the overall story mid way through, forcing you to use even more unconventional methods when dealing with your enemies. These sections are also timed, so it adds a degree of challenge in getting your preferred response in before time runs out.
Sadly, the best bits end there with “Alpha Protocol.” While the RPG section of the game is of high quality, it is the overall gameplay experience that fails expectations. Controls are a bit sketchy and loose, the mini-games for disabling alarms, hacking computers and picking locks are extremely repetitive and become annoying as time goes on, and the actual stealth part of the game is rather difficult thanks to a wonky camera. Your basically forced to mainly focus on using your guns over sneaking behind enemies. It also doesn’t help that the enemy A.I is pretty terrible, often waiting for you to shoot them first before they fire back, making some sections of the game terribly easy. There are actually a number of noticeable glitches too that begin to hinder the experience immensely after a while.
The game also needs a lot of polish. Many graphical glitches and pop-up issues become a distraction, and the lack of polish on the in game graphics is really noticeable at times. The environments, while varied, fall into the same linear trap of “corridor shooters” that can almost be a throwback to “Goldeneye” in a way. The character models also look pretty tame when compared to other games out there, although they are not too bad when compared to the obtuse and really cumbersome menu’s that you will constantly navigate while upgrading weapons and equipment.
Thankfully the music and voice overs are much better. The score is rather subtle, going for the cutting edge route instead of the bombastic spy-movie sound. The musical score is also notable because it is done by acclaimed musician Brian Transeau, or BT as he is known. Voice wise, everyone but Michael Thorton has a good voice actor. Don’t get me wrong, the guy voicing Thorton did decent, but everyone around him steals the show easily with well played performances and strong deliveries that add some weight and resonance to the overall plot of the game.
It is a shame so much is holding “Alpha Protocol” back, even with the constant delays it was not fixed in the end. While the game is technically a bad one, the overall package is still impressive to say the least, in particular what the developers at Obsidian are good at, RPG and story-telling. While the gameplay and technical glitches hinder it from greatness, it is at least worth a go around if you’re an RPG fanatic, and if you want a quick weekend fix before a second play through of “Mass Effect.” Overall though, “Alpha Protocol” is a rather mediocre game that, if given a sequel, I would wager would become something bigger than it was.
Final Score: C