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Alpha Protocol Review

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This past year has been a frustrating exercise in expectation control. I have had to constantly lower my expectations, or posthumously accept the sinking realization that almost none of them are going to be met. With the exception of a few isolated experiences there hasn't been a game this year that has blown me away, and made me remember why I spend so much time in virtual worlds to begin with.

Alpha Protocol probably sits somewhere in between all of those misfiring ideas that don't seem to even be able to become congruous enough to convey my silly point. It's the ultimate frustration test, and serves to remind some of us, that “when it's done” may not necessarily be a bad idea for certain titles as it pertains to development. Alpha Protocol is a game that promises the player that they will be able to live the life of the ultimate Robert Ludlow inspired spy Micheal Thornton in a modern tactical espionage RPG. The game takes it a step further, and promises intricate character interaction, and dialogue on par with the best offerings from BioWare and the like, and also promises far reaching consequences based on how you handle every interaction within the game. The finality of all of these overarching ideas is murky, and not in a way the would make Ludlow, or Tom Clancy smile.

The problems begin almost immediately as you find yourself having to make your way through a staged imprisonment scenario. You quickly realize that basic things like snapping into cover, sneaking around, and enemy AI are all woefully glitchy, and sensitive things. If you're trying to accomplish something so simple as sneak up on a guard, and perform a stealth attack, you will have to rely on an environment that will almost never function in the way that it is designed to, creating a far more deadly and constant threat out of the very ground you literally trespass on. Any hope of these issues being resolved in later levels should be prematurely abandoned, as I can tell you from an immense amount of tedium and frustration, it isn't. In fact, in later areas like Taipei, and Rome the problems become such a persistent problem that they border on fourth wall breaking. It's almost completely unbelievable that the character, or the environments seem to disobey even the most basic principles of physics. These things drawn under a microscope in the face of more modern sneaking games, become even more conspicuous.

Incredibly the combat fares even worse. Even though the game is an RPG there is no option outside of an ability that can be earned later, to perform called shots AKA turn based combat. This tethers the player to rely on aiming manually, and their own abilities to take down guards, except not really, because the size of your reticule, and your ability to not hit anything but air, is based solely on your weapon skill. I suppose in the terms of RPG logic this makes sense, there's the artificial incentive to pump AP points into your character's ability to wield firearms. But in the basic framework of the game, it's intensely unbalanced, instead forcing the player to play early levels using the aforementioned broken stealth mechanics, and it leads to a lot of moments of me screaming obscenities at my ceiling. What would have saved this game so easily, would have been the inclusion of something similar to VATS from the Fallout series, without a prerequisite ability to utilize it. Just some kind of turn based alternative that logically rolled the die based on your stats, would have not only been nice, it would have made a hell of a lot more sense.

What's worse is that both of these things come to dramatic odds with each other when the game puts you in the position of taking down bosses, and other key characters. Blow your cover, and almost any semblance of an RPG being somewhere in the game you will suddenly find yourself playing, are long gone. The game instead becoming a bizarre mash-up of Mass Effect, and Metal Gear Solid. By the time you get to the end of the game, the true challenge has become having to fight the game constantly for control over Micheal and it's unrelentingly stupid level design, and uncooperative environments. Oddly enough, if that's all the game presented, I would actually be happier. I could simply dismiss the game as the sum of some poorly executed ideas, or just another victim of publisher deadlines. But that's not where it ends at all.

In an effort to test the limits of my sanity, the game has an incredibly complex and multifaceted dialogue interface that could only be described as innovative. And while the story itself is nothing more spectacular than a season of 24, the method of delivery is unarguably captivating, with hundreds of different character interactions possible, and the culmination being something else to behold. And that's the real crux of this thing called Alpha Protocol. It's got so much potential that it is almost a great game based simply on how many things it tries to pull off, but that same ambition is it's own detriment. The game's supports buckle under the weight of it's own ideas, and at the end of the day, this title is crushed by it's own inability to bring ambition to the point of fruition.

And in case you needed that in one sentence... I want a sequel.

Alpha Protocol was developed by Obsidian Entertainment, and published by SEGA. It is available now for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC*.

This Review was made possible by

Steve Sawyer
Editor in Chief

*Of special note. The PC version of this game is plagued with even more glitches (as if that were possible) and is at times almost unplayable because of a severe camera glitch. This glitch can only be corrected by buying an Xbox 360 controller for Windows, but otherwise, it can make the game almost impossible to finish. The one saving grace was the ability to disable motion blur as this game seriously takes Mass Effect's previous reigning crown of “Blurriest Game of All Time” on Xbox 360.

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Updated 11-09-10 at 10:09 by SteveSawyer



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