Thursday, June 3, 2010

Initial Thoughts: Alpha Protocol

So I've been taking some time off modding (please don't lynch me) to have a little gaming fun in the form of Alpha Protocol over the last two evenings.  My initial thoughts are that it's not too bad, despite some lambasting it received in a few reviews.  This isn't to say that it's fantastic game, but I'm definitely enjoying it. Don't take this as a definitive review of the game, as I'm still not a long way into it, but I've racked up enough hours to get a decent impression.

Obsidian have taken the cinematic flavour of Mass Effect and moved it to a modern setting, and done something that I've been waiting for in an RPG for quite some time: Smooth flowing conversation. You don't have the opportunity to analyse your decisions - they have to be made within the natural flow of the conversation. In a style akin to Mass Effect, you're given three options in conversation (occasionally you might be given a fourth "special" option, but that's not the norm). You get to pick a charismatic/friendly response (which sometimes fails and comes out as sleazy), a blunt/aggressive response, or a professional 'to-the-point' response. Your choices are presented as a one-word option which gives Mike Thorton (your character) the "style" of response he should give.  It makes the conversation flow very naturally, and makes the role-playing aspect of the game much more natural and immediate. For better or for worse, this also means no "skipping" of dialogue.  It definitely adds to the cinematic feel - it's the FIRST game on which I haven't turned subtitles on, so that's saying something. The choices also appear as though they will have some real tangible effects on the game as it progresses, which earns big points in my books.

Outside of the dialogue, the game is a stealth shooter. Unfortunately, this is where the game falls down a little, as there are a number of polish issues that let the game down. The first is a pet hate of mine: magically appearing enemies. Personally, I consider this terrible game design, especially when enemies appear in areas behind you that you've already made sure are clear. Unless your game is in a fantasy or sci-fi setting that allows teleportation, enemies must not magically appear out of thin air. It's that simple. They also should not disappear... which has happened on a few occasions, most frequently after loading from a save. The shooting/aiming mechanic is a bit average, requiring to "lock on" to a target for a long time to line up your shot.  It's also possible that you won't kill an enemy with a headshot - though it's not as bad as the stupidity that was a juggernaut in Modern Warfare 2. There's also three minigames: hacking, lockpicking and security bypass which actually aren't too bad. The variety means you don't get bored with repetition a la BioShock's pipemania, and the difficulty is high enough that you're definitely on your toes while doing them. Some people have also complained about the graphics, and I agree that they're not great, but they're certainly not "PS2 standard" like some reviewers have erroneously complained. I'm reaching the point where the complaints of "bad graphics" in games are starting to annoy me - as though everything has to have graphics like Crysis, Mass Effect 2 or a CG movie.

I'm a big fan of stealth, and so I attempt to use it in games whenever possible. Typically, it's not useable because enemies spot you from half a mile away behind cover, you know the games I mean. How no one has managed to implement stealth at least on par with the original Thief, which is now many, many years old, I'll never know.  So, stealth in Alpha Protocol? Well, it actually works. There's no fancy use of shadows, as you stay hidden merely keeping obstacles between you and your enemies while crouched, but it is actually a serviceable mechanic. It's just unfortunate that Mike looks ridiculous (and that's probably being kind) while walking around crouched. Again, it's by no means perfect, and occasionally you'll get sprung when you shouldn't (magic enemies as a prime culprit), but it is functional, and that alone makes me happy.

So overall, from what I've played I'd call Alpha Protocol an interesting and enjoyable game. It's unfortunate that Obsidian have sold themselves short by not delivering a polished product, but it is still good, despite some irritating flaws. Don't expect a shooter, it's not one, and don't expect a dialogue heavy epic like Dragon Age, because it's not that either. It might walk an unhappy medium for a lot of players, providing neither the depth in either category, but for me, it borrows from several genres I really like with some fresh ideas.


  1. I had been meaning to get this game since it was Obsidian's own IP but I lost track of it after Dragon Age came out. Thanks for reminding me!

  2. The magic spawn has been a long-time hate of mine too:

  3. You had subtitles on for batman and DA? Why???

  4. Haha, I played Rainbow Six: Vegas (can't remember if it was 1 or 2) very briefly and got to a point where I was in a casino, guys came through skylights, and as I was mopping them up, two terrorists popped out of a SEALED room I made sure was empty beforehand. It didn't get played after that.

    Eguintir: With DA (and RPGs in general) I don't spend time listening to all the dialogue, and there are some times where I just wanted to hear what was being said and move on. As for Batman, I turned them on after missing part of a couple of lines.