The stereotype of a spy involves many things; a finely toned physique, nonchalance in the face of certain death, unmatched skill with almost any weapon and a silky smooth voice which instantly enchants anyone with two X chromosomes. A laser watch that can cut through steel doors is good too. It’s this stereotype which Alpha Protocol tries to tap in to, putting players in that most enviable of occupations; Secret Agent.
Unfortunately though, Alpha Protocol’s idea of what a spy is seems to differ wildly from what everyone else expects. Supposed super-spy Mike Thorton feels more like a CIA accountant than an undercover operative, given that he's barely able to shoot straight and bumbles his way through conversations with schizophrenic mood swings and overwhelming smugness. The opening of the game is terrible, overlong and delivered by a cast of characters that really test the limits of being dry and uninteresting.
Something has gone awfully wrong for Alpha Protocol, that much is immediately obvious. The premise is sound - it was one of our games to watch in 2010 - and the core story, while predictable, is sufficient to keep us interested… but it’s all muddied up by a method of presentation that makes very little sense.
Mike Thorton: Expert at Standing Stiffly
Segments of the story are delivered out of order and between missions you’re treated to flash-forwards that attempt to weave intrigue in where it really isn’t needed. Characters orate in monotone about things you’ve not been properly introduced to and the script feels like it goes to great length to remove any of the intrigue or coolness from the idea of being a spy. Basically, Obsidian has given what would otherwise be a case of evil corporations and missing missiles the ‘Lost’ treatment – and it hasn’t worked very well.
It’s infuriating, really. The plot doesn’t exactly require an intel analyst to understand; you play the newest recruit of the eponymous spy factory, Alpha Protocol, and are sent to recover some missing missiles after a terrorist attack against America. As you close in on the thief you unearth the beginnings of a conspiracy and it’s at that point that you’re betrayed. There’s a mole somewhere in your organisation and you’ve got to find out who it is and prevent a world war in the process, falling back on a network of forgotten safehouses and contacts to do so.
Little did Mike know, but his enemies had smeared the scope with boot-polish
As far as cloak and dagger mysteries go it’s pretty standard then; a classic case of betrayal and revenge with the fate of the free world in the balance. Why then is the opening bogged down by some of the flattest voice acting we’ve ever had to endure and the most pointlessly long-winded and flavourless dialogue ever? It’s practically impossible to like anyone in the cast, including your own ceaselessly smug Bond-wannabe.
Relationships between characters aren’t even consistent either, with some people fluctuating from insulting to flirtatious and back again in the blink of an eye. Your bosses do nothing but berate you in grinding monotone, then ask favours of you and say that they like you – wha? The entire spy community is both lifeless and schizophrenic, it seems.
The opening portions of the game especially feel disjointed, with Thorton waking up after having been drugged by Alpha Protocol itself, then trying to escape, only to be stopped when he goes past the boss’s office. Then you get a basic tutorial after sitting through a half dozen boring and identical conversations, because apparently a super-spy needs to be taught that he can bounce grenades off walls, but not how to use the unwieldy collection of radial menus. It makes even less sense than the fact that Thorton can instantly grow a beard by visiting his wardrobe at any point.