Obsidian tries again to recapture their former glory, yet fails miserably. Those expecting Deus Ex had better stay away.
Try as they might to reclaim their past, Obsidian never managed to capture the elitist cred they did with their previous games. KOTOR 2 was unfinished (Though admittedly, that wasn't their fault) and Neverwinter Nights 2 was plagued with bugs and several very poor design decisions (Requiring hakpaks for MP modules, no data streaming online, very poor net code, troublesome DRM on its last expansion). Understandably, this has greatly hindered obsidian's efforts to rise back to the top of the CRPG mountaintop.
Alpha Protocol was suppose to change that.
When I review games I have certain criteria I adhere to. I always complete the game and if I cannot complete it, I at least spend 20 hours with the title before passing any judgment. Sadly, I found Alpha Protcol to be so emotionally draining that I could barely hit the 10 hour mark before I began getting physically ill while playing it. Much like a certain other "painfully bad" game developed by this team (Descent to Undermountain), it was so hard to enjoy that I couldn't even force myself through the first half just to write a proper review.
So what's so hideously wrong about Alpha Protcol?
Those who defend Alpha Protocol are quick to point out how many of its so-called poor design decisions are also shared by Deus Ex. Most notable of these is the abysmally bad ranged combat. They claim that the fact that you can't hit the broadside of a barn at 5 feet away with an assault rifle is much the same as Deus Ex.
In Deus Ex, that wild spray of lost accuracy is only seen on the long range sniper rifle, and even then it is easily rectified by putting a single point of proficiency in rifles after the first mission. In Alpha Protocol I attempted to remedy the horrible accuracy by putting my first FIVE points into assault rifle...and laughed myself silly as I realized no change was noticeable in the horribly inaccurate "spray". It was so bad that unless I was only a few feet away from any enemy the vast majority of my rifle bullets ended up in the scenery rather than my opponent.
While the game does discourage combat by goading you into doing missions completely under stealth due to the higher experience point totals staying silent gives you, I found the "run and gun" option so under-developed that I basically forced myself into going through most missions stealthed. While I understand you are roleplaying a spy, other games that revolved around secrecy and subterfuge (No One Lives Forever 2 comes to mind) don't have such limitations. Even other FPS/RPG hybrids with stealth options, such as Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines and Deus Ex, do not share this same problem.
As for the story, it was promised to be something worthy of novelization...especially since it was penned by Chris "Planescape Torment" Avellone. Sadly, most of the dialog comes off sounding dry and lifeless. While a lot of this is due to the less-than-stellar voice work, it's hard to blame the actors when the lines they were given are so flat to begin with. For a spy game, you'd expect more intrigue and "cleverness" than what you find in Alpha Protocol. Though some of the main characters "casual" replies are funny, the humor feels forced into the conversations and rather unnerving at times. Unlike the occasional smart-aleck comments heard in classic James Bond films you simply can't laugh at Thornton's one-liners due to their flat and predictable nature. It's as if the writer learned everything he knew about spy flicks by watching the Charlie's Angels remakes.
Invariably, comparisons to Deus Ex will arise when this game is played by someone old enough to remember Warren Spector's masterpiece FPS/RPG hybrid. While some may not think it to be fair, I think that after ten years gaming should have progressed far enough to surpass such an old game. Sadly, Alpha Protocol did not learn from the mistakes of its forebears and also refused to adopt any of the clever gameplay additions of its more successful genre cousins.
It lacks VTM: Bloodline's clever dialog, Deus Ex's wildly non-linear plot structure and System Shock 2's exemplary character creation. In reality, you could craft a review for Alpha Protocol that was nothing but a laundry list of lacking features and you'd probably have enough words to fill up your average college book report.
Others will say that holding a game up to other successful titles in its genre is unfair, but to me it is anything but. With shooters inter-mingling with RPGs and RPGs finding their way into everyday shooters, it's getting to the point where old diehards like me are beginning to get tired of seeing our favorite genre watered down to the point of impotence. As a PC RPG fan since the mid 80s, I hold my games to a higher standard than those who entered this hobby in the past decade or two. I expect more and I demand more. Simply put, Alpha Protocol does not give me what I want.
After having lost 60 dollars to this game, I've begun to wonder if Obsidian's Fallout sequel, New Vegas, will be worth picking up. Alpha Protocol has not only damaged my view of Obsidian, but it has made me think differently about gaming in general. As a *former* stuck-up elitist RPG nerd I have devoted the past couple of years to playing games I normally would have stuck my nose up at. Thanks to this new attitude I found games that I loved (Mass Effect 2, Borderlands) that I would have at one time avoided. The downside to this new attitude is that I'm also being subjected to games that are killing my love of gaming.
Alpha Protcol has left a taste so sour in my mouth that I haven't even walked into a Gamestop since playing it. While that sounds like jaded reviewer hyperbole, it's actually the truth. Even writing a review about the game is painful to me.
I cannot recommend Alpha Protocol to anyone. It is a failure on nearly every level and should be avoided by anyone who has even a modicum of intelligence and/or taste.