The video game development company Obsidian Entertainment has always been known for developing sequels to great games and - most of the time - its products were considered to be inferior to their predecessors and lacking in technical stability. Whilst I agree with the latter statement, I tend to belong to the minority of people who often find Obsidian's sequels to be just as good, if not better than, their precursors. Perhaps due to the infamy they have gained for apparently "ruining game franchises", the poor folks at Obsidian decided to start anew with their own original IP. This was realized in 2010, with the release of Alpha Protocol - the very first game from Obsidian Entertainment that isn't a sequel of (or a spin-off from) someone else's series. The critics have generally given the game mixed reviews, with many wandering slightly into the positive areas of 60% and 70%, but not much more than that. Now I will tell you what I personally think of this game, by presenting to you my own opinion regarding many of its features.
Alpha Protocol's setting is that of a modern day world, plagued by tensions between national superpowers and huge corporations. Initially, the plot is quite simple as it revolves around the player character (Michael Thorton) and his recent induction into Alpha Protocol; a top secret American intelligence organization, designed for operations that cannot be linked to the US government due to the political pressure that may potentially occur as a result of such actions. After a few unconventional training sequences, Agent Thorton is sent on his first professional mission as a member of Alpha Protocol - the aim of which is to assassinate Ali Shaheed (the leader of the terrorist organization called Al-Samad) after an attack on a passenger aircraft in the Middle East.
Things seem fairly simple until a surprising plot twist happens, which I'm not going to spoil. Suffice it to say, things get very complicated as it turns out that Halbech Corporation had more to do with the missiles and the attack than anyone could have foreseen. From there, Thorton has to go to Moscow, Rome and Taipei to follow the tracks left by the disturbing company. Overall, the story of Alpha Protocol is really quite amazing and one of the best I've seen in any video game in a while. This is a sure contender with the likes of BioWare's titles and maybe even The Witcher series.
Furthermore, the game sports a brilliant cast of diverse, likeable and detestable characters. Since the game has plenty of RPG elements, the player can choose what she or he wants to say in every single conversation in the game, using the famous "dialogue wheel" from Mass Effect. Surprisingly, whilst the choices don't have much of an impact on the whole plot of the game, they do strongly affect the relationships that Thorton has with every character and the lines between ally and foe change drastically depending completely on your own choices during dialogue. Moreover, the plot has so much more to it than can be discovered during one playthrough. There are plenty of secret facts and alternate options that can be revealed only by completing the game more than once. The replay value for narrative purposes is stunning.
On the box of the game, it is stated that Alpha Protocol is "the first modern-day espionage RPG". How much does the gameplay of the title match this claim? Totally! However, just because it is well advertised does not mean that the game itself is fun to play. In reality, it's not always entertaining - Alpha Protocol manages stealth and third person shooter gameplay with varying degrees of success. The structure of the environments during missions is usually quite linear (with some exceptions), and so is the progression towards objectives, but there are always different ways to approach a certain situation. It is completely up to you whether you want to use lethal force or not. Yes, that means you don't have to kill anyone throughout the whole game. Even after you defeat an antagonist, you are always given the choice to finish them off or let them live.
The best part of Alpha Protocol's gameplay is actually the padding of the content and the RPG elements on the side, rather than the centre of it all; the shooting or stealth itself (which is both good and bad). There are plenty of gadgets, protective clothing and weaponry - all of which can be customized in many different ways - to craft your own perfect loadout for each mission. In traditional RPG fashion, there are stats, skills and abilities that work behind each and every move you make and piece of equipment you use, but they work more like the levelling system of Mass Effect, rather than something like The Elder Scrolls, so there is about as much action in the gameplay as there are RPG elements.
The mechanics of the gameplay itself work well most of the time, but not always. For example: the shooting cannot be compared to Red Dead Redemption, Gears of War or even Mass Effect 3. It is decent, but nothing extraordinary and doesn't feel quite as powerful as it could. On the other hand, the stealth system put in place is quite inconsistent in quality. It isn't broken or completely unfair, so let's just say that sometimes enemies spot you under the same circumstances under which they previously failed to notice you. In this case, Alpha Protocol's main problem is that it tries to be a stellar third person shooter and a fantastic stealth game at the same time. It concentrates on trying to do both so much, that it does neither as well as do its contenders from both genres.
Alpha Protocol definitely isn't a game you play for its graphics. Although it does have plenty of variety in its environments, characters, weapons, items and pretty much every single part of its visuals, the game simply doesn't look quite good enough (from a technological perspective) to be considered up to the standards of a game released in 2010. This wouldn't be so bad if the game had a distinct visual art style that it tried to present to the player through unusual graphics, but that is not the case. The game tries to look as realistic as possible. While the attention to detail is admirable, the technology shown in the game just isn't up to the job. Once again, this could be alright, but it isn't because the console versions of the game have even more problems.
When playing the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 version of the game, you will notice plenty of screen-tearing, a ton of texture loading and some drastic drops in frame rate during the more action-packed sections of the game. Do all of these problems hinder the overall experience? Yes, but they shouldn't stop you from enjoying the best parts of the game - the story, choices, consequences and characters.
How is the audio department of Alpha Protocol? The voice acting of the characters is what takes it into the "impressive" territory, as the excellent performances, given by the diverse cast of actors, express the emotions of each character well - even if they are partially limited by the aged facial animations. Everything else (the soundtrack and all of the sound effects) is good too. In fact, some of the awesome boss battles in the game make great use of unique and/or licensed music. A fine example of this is the fight with Konstantin Brayko; a young Russian mobster, who is obsessed with the western pop culture of the 1980s. The song played on the speakers of Brayko's disco during combat is a very unoriginal '80s tune that highlights the epic feeling and fast tempo of the battle.
Now that you've read an overview of what the game is like, let's summarize Alpha Protocol's best and worst features:
GAMEPLAY – 6.5/10 (Passable)
It's great when it works, but can get very frustrating when it doesn't.
STABILITY - 7.5/10 (Good)
Except for various graphical glitches that can break the immersion quite often, it seems that most of the bugs have been ironed out by patches since release.
STORY - 10/10 (Marvellous)
One of the best video game storylines I have experienced in a long while; the amount of choice given and the consequences that come afterwards are astounding.
GRAPHICS - 6.5/10 (Passable)
The graphics aren't bad, but they do suffer from some terrible problems and are almost unacceptable for a 2010 release.
SOUND - 8/10 (Impressive)
The performances of each voice actor are the standouts here; everything else in the audio department is good, but not much more than that.
LONGEVITY - 7.5/10 (Good)
Although there are many reasons for you to return and play through the game again without the need for a tacked-on multiplayer component, it's still a short RPG at around 20 hours max if you carry out all of the optional objectives and missions.
In the end, Alpha Protocol really isn't as bad as many people make it out to be. In truth, it's not bad at all. Most of the bugs that people complained about since release also seem to be fixed. It's an impressive role-playing game that does choice & consequences practically just as well as BioWare, but tries something new with its gameplay and doesn't do that well enough, which is where it slips and makes some mistakes. Still, Alpha Protocol should be enjoyed by most fans of the RPG genre for its brilliant story, even if nothing else.
OVERALL RATING – 7.5/10 (Good)
NEW GS RATING – 7/10