Review by ninjast4r
"My god, what a let down"
Alpha Protocol seems totally unfinished. I know the game was held back from release a few times, but it really seems like all of the bugs and kinks that are present should have been ironed out long before it was deemed playable. It could have been great, but the game was most definitely rushed. Let me expound:
Graphics: The visuals are sub-par at best. I could have sworn I was playing a game on the WII, or a PS2, and not a PS3. Textures are bland and uninteresting for the most part. There is a good deal of pop up, and it seems that sometimes the game has a hard time loading all of the necessary pieces of the scenery, causing textures to blur and suddenly appear several seconds later. I'm no hardware wizard, but it seems like this game was constructed in a rather slap-dash, get it done yesterday fashion. The animations seem rushed as well. Characters in game, outside of cutscenes, have limited ranges of motion. They walk like robots with no feel or humanity. When on patrol, they twitch and blink in different directions rather than simply turn, or they somehow magically change direction. Their feet also don't appear to hit the ground. When they are killed or subdued, they fold up in an exaggerated rag-doll fashion that makes this game seem like a relic from eight years ago. It seems that the player character's animations were at least given some thought. Thorton (the protagonist) runs and walks passably, but my jaw hit the floor when I saw the protagonist's so-amazingly-bad-it-can't-possibly-be-funny stealth-walk/scuttle.
Controls: There are some issues with the control scheme, but largely they are sound. Thorton doesn't have a great variety of moves to memorize, but some of the ones he does have are buggy. Taking cover comes to mind. Thorton doesn't have too much trouble hitting cover, but there is an option to move from cover-to-cover that only works about half the time. Several times I commanded Thorton to roll from one side of a doorway to the other, and he stops mid-roll and exposes himself to gunfire. It's pretty hit or miss. Sometimes he does it, sometimes he can't/won't.
Sound: If anything, Alpha Protocol's sound is far better than anything else. The music is suitably Bourne Identity-ish, with tense action-y beats when necessary, but I didn't really notice it at any other time. That's okay. I'd rather have minimal soundtrack to a bad one any day, but Alpha's soundtrack can't step to Assassin's Creed II or Red Dead Redemption's. The gunfire and explosions are passable, but not great, but it seems that the player character makes tons of noise that seems counter-intuitive when one is trying to be stealthy. Enemies don't notice, but more on that later. The voice acting is pretty good, and could be a lot worse. I enjoy the banter between characters, and the sheer level of choice makes the cinematics pretty enjoyable, rather than cringe inducing. But there are moments where I could've heard more emotion, but whatever. Beggars can't be choosers.
Gameplay: This is the meat of a game. If a video game's graphics or sound sucks, then it relies on its playability to carry it through. Unfortunately, Alpha Protocol's gameplay is buggy and flawed. The game's crux is all about choice. In the words of one of the characters, there are no wrong answers, only results. Basically, how you play the game affects everything that happens. Your character can interact with several 'handlers' to influence how they react to you. In talking with them, you can respond in one of three ways: aggressive, suave, or professional. Certain characters react better to certain tones of voice. This makes the talking parts fun and engaging. Unlike other multiple-choice dialog games, you only have a split second to choose what you are going to say, instead of having all time you need. This can lead to mistakes, until you get used to the whole idea. You can learn a glut of information about people to use you your advantage, and there is an emphasis on recon and intelligence that I found to be pretty neat. Some of the intelligence you gather can make missions easier, others provide dialog choices that can further influence characters. There are several mini-games such as hacking, or lockpicking that add to the tension. Some are suitably hard, but not overwhelmingly so. However, the entire game isn't all about talking, hacking computers, or reading. It's about action, and it's the action parts that suck.
This game is fundamentally an RPG. There are several character classes to choose from, each specializing in a particular field such as Soldier (like a fighter) , Field Agent (like a rogue), etc. However the RPG elements make the action awkward, meaning that things such as sneaking, or shooting are governed by a system of probability rather than logic. For example, you are aiming at a terrorist's head with a pistol from a few yards away. You aren't particularly skilled with a pistol, so you incur penalties. You shoot, and even though it would have been a clean shot to event the most amateur marksmen, you miss, blowing your cover, and setting off an alarm. Instances like this happen far too often early on in the game with no real workaround other than blasting your way through, or loading checkpoints (which are few and far between). You gain XP for doing things in the game, like other RPGs, such as killing enemies, advancing the plot, obtaining objectives, etc. You gain levels, and can put points into certain skills like stealth and weaponry, amongst others.
Personally, I feel that the RPG elements could have taken a backseat to the action elements because simple things like the example I posed make this game harder than it should be early on. I hated that I had a seasoned field agent who, despite having training with handguns, couldn't hit the broad side of a barn because he didn't put enough points into that track. Using guns becomes a chore until you have enough skill in weapon types that can successfully hit things, forcing you to rely on Thorton's martial arts skills in the meantime, which are, admittedly, pretty cool. The player can execute wicked combos on enemies, and watch them crumple unnaturally like rag-dolls... oh, wait. You also have a number of takedowns, both non-lethal and fatal to use while sneaking. Watching these are pretty neat, until you realize there are only 3-4 animations available.
The game's AI is bad. Enemies are so stupid, they're psychic. They can home in on you even if you are supposed to be sneaking out of sight. This makes stealth hard to maintain because they usually will find you, and a stealth mission will invariably degenerate into a messy fire-fight far-too often. You are given a number of gadgets and tools that James Bond would be jealous of, but some of these are pretty much useless, like a device that is supposed to make noise to distract an enemy, but instead leads them right to you. There are many weapons use and outfits to wear in this game, each with several customizable parts that increase performance or mitigate disadvantages. Some clothes offer more stealth, others have great protection. The same thing goes with guns. Some guns are more precise, others are all about firepower. You can attach silencers, laser sights, and a whole mess of other things. I might argue there is too much customization available. There is literally something for everyone. But since the shooting sucks, there is little reason to care.
All in all, I have to say Alpha Protocol is a huge bummer. I wouldn't recommend buying it at all. A rental might be worth it, just to get a feel for a great example of a lost opportunity.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 06/09/10
Game Release: Alpha Protocol (US, 06/01/10)
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