This isn’t an apology. I don’t think I was wrong to originally give Alpha Protocol a 4/10 review, slating nearly every aspect of the game from the combat to the script. I look back at that review and I compare it to the game that I’m playing through again now and I still have to admit that those flaws exist.
Admitting that to myself is pretty difficult though, because I’m actually enjoying Alpha Protocol an awful lot at the moment. If I could rid it of some graphical glitches and little bugs then it could be a contender for one of my top five games of the year, though it’s never going to best the likes of Mass Effect 2 or Flotilla.
It’s all the fault of Craig Lager and Richard Cobbet who, on an old Gaming Daily podcast I was listening to for some reason, spoke out in favour of the game. They told a few brief anecdotes about their experiences, noting where the tales diverged – who had died, who had lived and the tiny ramifications it had wrought.
A long time ago I once heard some friends having a similar conversation about a different game and, curiosity piqued, I decided to give it a play. That game was Deus Ex. I installed Alpha Protocol and hoped that my original review of it had been wrong.
Please, just shoot him
Sadly, I don’t think I was wrong (gee, that sounds bigheaded). The game is still more than a little broken and, playing it again on the PC, I’ve spotted even more issues than I did when I reviewed it on the Xbox 360. My favourite bug is one with permeable checkpoints – I’ve died in boss fights and had to reload, only to find that the loaded game places me after the fight, congratulating me on a good kill. I’ve used it to bypass some of the harder battles.
So; still broken. Worse than that, I know that the game underneath the bugs still isn’t all that great. It’s woefully balanced, schizophrenically paced and the plot is about as interesting as putting powdered glass in your eyes. Agent Thorton’s pursuit of not-Haliburton really couldn’t be duller if it tried. So, how can I possibly like it now?
Part of it is to do with a shift in expectations. The first time I saw Alpha Protocol I was so blown away with it that I compared it to Deus Ex directly. I had high hopes. This time I’ve approached it knowing its faults and, ironically, have changed the way I play to more easily fit a game where the key feature was supposed to be ‘play it the way you want’.
Alpha Protocol is ridiculous
My new version of Mike Thorton has been crafted with the limitations of his virtual reality in mind. He’s a secret agent with deadly Kung-Fu, but he can’t even holster a gun without shooting his own nuts off. He knows that nobody in Alpha Protocol has a decent sense of humour and he’s aware just how ugly everyone must think he is – the Suave and Joking dialog options are essentially locked off.
It’s evolution, in a sense. The new Thorton is perfectly adapted to his environment, with enough stealth upgrades in place to confer temporary invisibility but without the wastage that comes from specialising in anything absolutely (except Martial Arts, which is the single most powerful skill in the game). He’s a Mike of all trades.
What I’m enjoying most about Alpha Protocol this time around though is, oddly enough, the script – one of the things I got so grumpy about in the original review. The first time I played Alpha Protocol I accused Obsidian of having a lead character who was ‘ceaselessly smug…a Bond-wannabe [with the] flattest voice acting we’ve ever had to endure and the most pointlessly long-winded and flavourless dialogue ever.’
This time around though, well, it doesn’t bother me as much. I’ve approached it with a character in mind and have stuck to that role quite strictly – the fact that my Mike is a humourless, charismaless killer means that I don’t have to cope with him spewing those grimace-worthy one liners. In fact, by making him more offensive and mean he actually ends up coming across as a far nicer person.