Alpha Protocol Review

Written by Joe Martin

May 27, 2010 | 08:30

Tags: #alpha-protocol #alpha-protocol-review #rpg #spy

Companies: #obsidian-entertainment #sega

Beta Directive

Ostensibly an RPG at heart, Alpha Protocol also suffers a bit from the way it attempts to fuse this structure onto a shooter frame. It wants to be a new Deus Ex, but poor balancing and over-simplified mechanics mean it feels more like Invisible War at best.

The RPG-side of the game isn’t all that well presented or interesting either – basically a case of dropping a point into weapon skills to get an accuracy boost or recoil adjustment. All out action characters will unlock a range of bullet-time abilities, while those who want to be a bit sneaky are lumbered with endless minigames and terrible pistols.

The only place where the RPG system starts to gain ground is when it comes to perks, which reward you for specific interactions with other characters or for fulfilling bonus objectives. If you win the favour of your espionage instructor, for example, then he might reward you with a tiny boost to your stealth ability, while making an enemy of reporter Scarlet Lake may see prices on the black market rise in reaction to your unpopularity.

Alpha Protocol Review Beta Directive
She's taking this very calmly

The perks littered throughout the game are numerous and are therefore useful for improving Mike’s initially poor skill set, plus, since you never know for sure what response your actions might provoke, they encourage you to consider your actions carefully. The longer you spend with Alpha Protocol the less you’re able to take the safe route; you have to piss someone off eventually – though that would be more of a dilemma if the entire cast wasn’t stiffer than a mummified Pharaoh.

Undermining this slow and gradual improvement of Mike’s abilities is the simple fact that Alpha Protocol is full of features that don’t make much sense to even the most casual of observers. Things like regenerating armour and cameras with big green light-cones on them to show where they are looking really do make it hard for us to take Alpha Protocol at all seriously as either an RPG or spy game.

Balancing is a problem too and to say that the difficulty curve is all over the place is a huge understatement. Silenced pistols do pitiful damage unless you score a critical hit, which is done by holding the crosshair still for four or five seconds before firing – even if you’re at point blank range. Your fists on the other hand are capable of beating nearly enemies with just a bit of button mashing and, while Thorton has issues with pistols he’s bafflingly adept with rocket launchers by default.

Alpha Protocol Review Beta Directive
His fists really are lethal weapons - more so than most of his guns

Supposedly and according to the promotional material we’ve seen in the past, stealth and evasion should play a big part of Alpha Protocol, with Mike able to hack into enemy computers and lockpick his way into new areas of the map. In reality though, that’s just not the case – partly because the minigames which govern these actions are impossibly hard (well, for hacking anyway) and partly because the levels are both small and linear.

To be clear, some of the minigames are actually pretty good. Lockpicking, for example, entails using the triggers to carefully line chambers up with you pick and fits nicely and logically within the world. The hacking minigame though is just annoyingly difficult and tedious; basically displaying a big grid of flickering numbers that mask specific blocks of code. It’s your job to highlight these two blocks of code before the timer runs out, a task made hard by the size of the grid and the fact that the blocks move every ten seconds or so. The swear words we’ve yelled at this minigame would number enough to fill this page if only we were allowed to type them.

Without a decent and consistently useful stealth or tech path through most of the game, Alpha Protocol steadily devolves into a straight up shooter with a couple of awkward extra features stapled onto the side. We tried to get through levels coolly and calmly, harvesting info from emails, bypassing cameras and using sound generators to lure guards away from their posts – and with enough persistence and outright stubbornness you could maybe manage to do that sometimes. On the whole though, these tactics just aren’t worth effort and often aren’t realistically achieveable. Instead, we ended up charging through with assault rifles, exploiting the dodgy AI and collecting the duffel bags of money that are lay on the floor every couple of steps.
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