Sunday, July 8, 2012

Alpha Protocol review

  Alpha Protocol is an oddball creation that I purchased for $7.95 from my local Gamestop. Was it a bargain? Yes. Is it the best game of all time? No. Could it have been the best game of all time? Maybe. That's the most frustrating thing about the game. This is one of the more entertaining games I've played in my life and should be up there with Skyrim and Max Payne. The problem is the flaws are numerous, glaring, and irritating. If the game even had a patch, which it doesn't, it might be up there with the greats.

    The premise of the game is simple. You are Michael Thorton, a mixed race protagonist who is semi-voluntarily recruited into a secret government agency called Alpha Protocol. Michael Thorton can be played in three ways; Aggressive, Suave, or Professional. This roughly corresponds to the three different sorts of spies which exist: Jack Bauer, James Bond, and Jason Bourne.

    The plot follows Michael Thorton as he's sent to investigate Al-Samad, an Al-Qaeda knock-off, which has been using next-generation missiles to shoot down American airliners. These missiles are manufactured by the world's largest arms dealer, Halbech, which you get no points for guessing is secretly evil. Thankfully, the game doesn't pretend this is a major revelation and reveals it in the opening scene of the game.

    Telling you anything more about the plot would spoil much of the game's plot. The story is intricately woven, having numerous twists and turns that include some genuine surprises. One of the game's selling points is you can complete any of the three major story arcs in whatever order you desire. A cool fact is that doing so results in changes to the way each of the arcs plays out.For example, if you complete Russia first, you can call on one of the companions you meet there during the Rome missions.

    The characters of the game are quite enjoyable. Mina, your Mission Handler, is a fun character who has a flirtatious but professional relationship with Michael. Leland, the Big Bad of the game, actually respects Michael if you handle things in a typically heroic fashion. I even liked the villainous killer Marburg. He's an ex-Alpha Protocol agent who got burned (in the Burn Notice sense) and has been carrying a chip on his shoulder ever since.

    If everything was like the characters and plot, the game would be a perfect ten. Unfortunately, the gameplay isn't bad but it's just good enough to make the flaws all the more glaring. The game system is a rough combination of Mass Effect and Deus Ex. You can play as a stealth character, a gun-toting maniac, or a martial arts master capable of beating up whole armies of mooks. If all of the gameplay was perfect, this would be awesome.

    The first major problem is the gunplay. The targeting sensor in this game is terrible, so that it takes four or five shots to take down anybody in the game except in the game of a head shot. Next, it's possible for the special abilities you've spent oodles of character points on to just randomly disappear. Finally, the minigames are improperly explained at the start. Given hacking, lockpicking, and security bypasses are a major part of the game this last flaw can turn a person off the game before it's even started.
    I managed to create a character which circumvented most of these flaws by accenting my character's talents as a martial artist and putting so many points in my "Toughness" score I could survive a helicopter rocket attack (and do at one point). Even so, there were places that I wasn't able to punch my way through problems and almost no warning when this was going to happen.

    Still, Alpha Protocol is worth the effort. I managed to beat the game with only some minor changes to my gameplay at varying points. I recommend the game to anyone who wants to play the role of a spy in a contemporary setting. Alpha Protocol is not 'realistic' by any stretch of the imagination but it's a lot of fun.

7/10 for the gameplay.

10/10 for storyline.

8.5/10 overall.

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