Alpha Protocol Review

AlphaProtocol1

Alpha Protocol (PC, PlayStation 3 [reviewed], Xbox 360)
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: SEGA
Released: May 27, 2010
MSRP: $59.99

Alpha Protocol is, generally speaking, a terrible game. The combat is thoroughly unenjoyable. The plot is incoherent and contains numerous continuity errors. The game’s branching structure provides only the illusion that your actions matter. The whole RPG side of things is laughably implemented and can, depending on the order you choose to do the missions, completely destroy the flow of the game. There are plenty of technical glitches, and the AI is, ah, well, not very intelligent, to put it nicely.

But I love Alpha Protocol, despite its efforts to the contrary.

Obsidian had two things right here. The first was the idea to do a spy game with a branching plot and dialogue options; that was, if nothing else, a good idea. The second was the characters; they’ve collected a stable of mostly compelling and fun characters to meet and fight alongside/murder. It’s all about the personality, because this game is as dumb as a truckbed full of phone books.

How dumb? In one mission, I infiltrated a Saudi airfield to plant some sort of bug, and I stealthily cut the throats of 15-20 as I sneaked around. After the mission, I was told the Saudis didn’t know anyone had intruded. The game thinks sneaking around without bothering anyone is the same as sneaking around and stabbing people without setting off an alarm.

And that whole “choice” thing that was talked up as a major dynamic? A lie. In Moscow, you’ll need to infiltrate the US embassy to find an arms dealer, and before you do so, the leader of a covert spy group called G22 wants to help, because they also want to talk to the guy. If you turn them down, they’ll assault the embassy when you go there. If you let them help, another group assaults the embassy, and the situation plays out identically.

alpha-protocol-screenshot-13The choices you make do have some slight  impact, at least, most of the time. If you, say, hit an informant over the head with a liquor bottle before going to the embassy, you won’t be able to smooth talk your way in, and being nice to certain people will net you some help on missions or some extra intel. It’s mostly cosmetic, though, because these things don’t impact, even if you get a wildly inaccurate picture of how everything fits together. Oh, and most egregious is that characters in the game explain repeatedly that the things you do with have consequences, and in many cases those characters lay out what may happen as a result of each choice. This is dumb, and it assumes the human players don’t understand humans or human interaction. It’s also a very explicit reminder that you’re playing a video game.

And all that RPG stuff, well, it wasn’t really thought out. The game is structured so that, after the intro mission, you have three locations to visit, and each mission flows in such a way that it would make little sense for your man to take a break and do one of the other missions. Yet that’s what you’ll have to do if you go to Rome first. There, you’ll get to the boss battle at the end and realize you aren’t leveled up enough to take this guy out. Then, despite there being an imminent bomb threat to take care of, you’ll have to go somewhere else and do a couple missions before you can finish the guy off.

And those glitches. You can take cover, but the bad guys can generally shoot you through it, and, sometimes, you can shoot back through it. The final mission in Taipei looked like it had lazer bolts flying all over the screen for some unknown reason. The frame rate is appallingly bad, at least on the PS3 version. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of technical issues on display in this game.

This brings me to the most offensive, or broken, aspect of the game: shooting things. Alpha Protocol takes the stat-based shooting of Mass Effect and Borderlands and goes hardcore with it. In those other two, vastly superior titles, you never felt like you couldn’t hit anything; you merely felt underpowered when fighting a higher-leveled enemy. But in Alpha Protocol, you do feel out of control. You can empty your clip in the direction of a baddie only to discover you hit only air even though you’re standing five feet from him. Mass Effect and Borderlands used the dice roll to determine the damage done to the enemy, but Alpha Protocol obnoxiously has it determine whether your shot hits at all before also doing a dice roll for damage. The result of all this is combat that is about as enjoyable as that of History Channel: Civil War.

01053872-photo-alpha-protocolSo why would I like this game? Because, as I said before, it’s all about personality. Your character, Mike Thorton, can be pretty hilarious if you choose the jokey dialogue options, even if half the things he says make little sense in the context of the game. Then, the folks at Obsidian crammed the game full of factions and outlandish characters and so many different ways they can influence the narrative. And the plot twists! There are two huge nonsensical plot twists that are awesome specifically because they are so insane and stupid. All the while, the combat becomes less painful as you level up, and I got sucked in.

Look, guys, Alpha Protocol isn’t for everyone, just like Uwe Boll’s House of the Dead movie isn’t going to be a good time for most people. It is a terribly constructed game, one that feels like it needed a serious revamp before release. If it were more polished, it could be thought of as a poor man’s Deus Ex, but, as it is, it’s just the drunk man’s Deus Ex.

Here’s what I recommend: Wait until it hits the clearance bin for $10, then grab it. On the way home from the store, pick up a cheap handle of vodka, if you’re old enough (if you’re not old enough, well, don’t play the game, I guess). Then play it on easy and choose all the douchebag options. Now you have the blueprint for the best weekend of your life. You’re welcome.

The question now is: what score should I give this? I thought about being gentle since I do love it, but because I love it despite it all being terribly annoying, I can only be harsh.

Pros:

  • Hilarious

Cons:

  • Worst. Combat. EVAR.
  • A pile of technical glitches
  • Incoherent plot
  • Dumb internal logic
  • Choice is an illusion.

Overall Score: 35/100

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6 Comments on Alpha Protocol Review

Shawn

On June 8, 2010 at 5:31 am

Great review Phil.. oh, and choice is an illusion in all video games.. I’m spending my weekend with that handle.. oh you forgot to mention it should be GOOD vodka.. otherwise you’ll be confused as to what is causing you to worship the porcelain god.

I wanted so desperately to like this game, so desperately. Obsidian does it again.

Steve

On June 8, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Pretty much my thoughts as well, Phil. It’s a very frustrating game that, given the right gamer personality, you will end up loving to play.

I almost didn’t make it through the “tutorial” Alpha Protocol base level. I took three breaks, where in the meantime, I near clicked the uninstall button before committing to the sadism that is this game is once again. The game has such a piss poor introductory. I can see how people are being overcritical of this game. The game really, intentionally or not, tries to piss you off to the point of unistalling it, ejecting the disc, and flipping the DVD over and using it as a coaster. Scratch, scratch, scratch…

PC version here though. Framerate is through the roof. Never dips below 60 fps ever. That’s probably because the graphics are on par with Rainbow Six Vegas 2, which was one of the first UE3 engine games. Alpha protocol has dated graphics, period. RBSV2 had erratic framerate on the PS3, iirc.

The PC controls are HORRID. I mean, I’m pretty forgiving when it comes to bad controls but this game even made me drop below my standards. Dead Space’s controls rock compared to this game. I really think it’s just the crappy animations that ruin the controls.

And while we’re on the subject of animations, Obsidian, if you are listening, please either fire your current animator or hire a good one. It’s as if the main animator left the project right in the middle of development and they literally hired a monkey to take his place. I haven’t laughed at animations in a supposid triple AAA title like this since Jade Empire. And even JE puts this game to shame in production.

I also couldn’t get my 360 controller to work 100% with the PC version. What little I could get to work made playing with the mouse seem twice as bad. A shame really. Oh well, at least the game never crashes. I’ll give Epic credit for that though.

I’m on my second playthrough and doing to complete opposite of the first(basically being a murderous unstealthy ). That’s pretty much the extent of replayability. The missions barely change. Only the way you react and the perks you get change.

Steve

On June 8, 2010 at 2:20 pm

And comparing this game to Deus Ex is an estrangement in itself. They both have (by todays standards) bad animations, bad graphics, and incoherent plot. I’m not sure if comparing Alpha Protocol to it (in any degree) is a compliment to Deus Ex?

Deus Ex is so old now that it’s living off pure nostalgia with gamers. Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of my all time favorites. But that’s why we establish standards for modern games. If every shooter cloned Doom today how boring would that be? There’s a reason Serious Sam HD is a $20 title, and it’s not because it’s just a reskin.

HonestObserver

On June 10, 2010 at 11:36 am

Ah, but Alpha Protocol is not simply Deus Ex. It’s also Vampire: the Masquerade Bloodlines and System Shock 2. As written by Chris Avellone, the man behind Planescape: Torment.

Crimsonblade32

On August 18, 2010 at 5:58 am

Well, I have to stick up for this game! Yeah it’s by no means perfect and needed some more polishing before release, but it did dialogue and choices spot on in my book! And whats up with bashing the shooting like that? I had no problem with the shooting mechanics at all. The longer you aim, the more accurate the shot, and as for CQC, fight instead of shoot! I love this game and will playthrough multiple times. Your review was a bit off.

Aedelric

On October 27, 2012 at 7:12 am

My God that is a pathetic review, probably the worst I have ever read on this website. Did you even play the game Mr. Owen? Because almost all the complaints have little to no basis if you actually played the game through from start to end.

Generally speaking I like this website, but such baseless ill informed reviews make me question my stance. But I guess it can easily be resolved by avoiding all your future articles.

Scores;

Mr Owen 35

Metacritic 72

User 75

Who is wrong here? I will go with player opinion over a self proclaimed games reviewer who loves to type hyperbole but cares not to analyse and carefully craft an informed intelligent opinion.