Repost: Alpha Protocol Review

Alpha Protocol has had a long gestation before releasing this year. I saw a working build at E3 2009 and it was seen again at GDC 2010.

From what I viewed through videos and other news of the title, it looked like Obsidian was focusing on the story and espionage aspects of gameplay. But my greatest worry was the combat, something central to the tone of everything.

In some ways, the title is great. The promises of the dialogue system are there, but other things feel too unpolished.



Plot

Michael Thorton is drafted by an unknown United States special operations group to assassinate a supposed terrorist in the Middle East. Upon the completion of this mission, he is compromised and decides to find out the truth behind his new employers, Alpha Protocol, and what a major arms contractor is doing all over the world.

As vague as the description is, the title plays out much like a choose-your-own-adventure plot with the main storyline following one path with a lot of sub-plots that will affect the outcome of the title in the end. The description is only of the first mission, but be assured, there’s a lot more to his journey.

The Look

Alpha Protocol has its share of great looking cutscenes and graphics, but in the same scene there are a lot of smaller glitches that appear when least expected. Thorton does carry a lot of fine detail, along with all of the secondary characters that he will interact with. Generic enemies have enough variety that they’re not easily comparable except for soldiers, who all look alike.

The environments lack a lot of the variety of the characters, ranging from outside environments to bland interiors that don’t change much. Even with the world hopping adventures, Thorton will likely see similar interior architecture throughout, even if the exteriors mirror the influence of the cities they represent.

The long short of it is, it’s not the most highly detailed title, but certainly not the worst. It gets the job done well enough to be believe in respect to the world presented.

The Sound

One of the highlights of Alpha Protocol is the Dialogue Stance System. There is a lot of dialogue in the title, more than most action third person shooters. The DSS plays such a big role in the flow of the plot that it’s nice to see the voice acting performed so well. Each character is voiced with excellent flair and pushes the world of Alpha Protocol forward. The cast is huge, bigger than I expected, and even when characters only appear once, they have a personality.

Other than the voice acting, the music is the second best audio portion of the title. Pushing the action movie theme, it flows with the title and is even timed to disappear to add tension. Environmental noise like gunfire and interactions have that standard feel to them. Honestly, a shotgun can’t sound too different from a shotgun really does, can it?

Function

Alpha Protocol is all about diverging paths. The plot moves based on the DSS system and does allow for multiple plays with different possibilities. Even though some of the plot paths are easily noticed, others are very subtle and one different response can change objectives and motives.

The leveling system is a bit more difficult to get into. Experience is earned through completing objectives, finding hidden intel, breaking into computers and safes, getting positive reactions from secondary NPCs, and pretty much everything in the title. But even with the huge amount of experience that can be gain, actually leveling up is a difficult task. Alpha Protocol provides with a large amount of upgrade options, from stealth, weapon ability, to martial arts.

There isn’t a good balance of abilities, a double-edged sword, because it openly favors different player styles, but doesn’t allow for specific specialization. An example is favoring stealth will help sneaking, but the lack of weapon ability will easily cancel that. Active abilities are gained by leveling specific characteristics which can be used during missions, giving Thorton a small edge.

One of the major issues with the title is the combat. Sneaking is rudimentary, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Weapons can be upgraded through cash or finding hidden items throughout levels. Each upgrade has positive or negative effects on the weapon, and usually greater accuracy lowers damage potential? The upgrades really only help later in the title, but there are a lot of options. If one thing, Alpha Protocol give a lot of choice, for better or worse.

Since Alpha Protocol is a mix of gunplay and RPG, it does get weird during gun combat. Depending on who players are fighting, encounters are straight-forward cover-and-shoot instances. But when fighting soldiers, the title doesn’t work well. A shotgun blast to the face should do more damage than the pistol soldiers whittled away my health with. This unbalance creates easy and frustrating problems early and late in the title.

Alpha Protocol is great on options, but lacking on core gameplay.

Decisions

While the combat is a frustrating thing, it’s not a deal breaker with Alpha Protocol. The plot of the title is engaging and keeps players interested for the duration of the experience. Keeping in mind that the title proceeds differently depending on DSS decisions, there are multiple ways to conclude.

The DSS strength along with the variety of options makes Alpha Protocol a worthwhile experience. Players will probably not go through similarly and that is Alpha Protocol greatest strength. Just don’t get frustrated during combat.

Review Copy Provided by Publisher

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