Alpha Protocol is a high-concept espionage RPG.Developed by Obsidian Entertainment, the team behind Fallout: New Vegas (PC, PS3, Xbox 360) and the upcoming South Park: The Stick of Truth (PS3, Xbox 360), Alpha Protocol is a high-concept espionage RPG. In the world of Alpha Protocol, you play an integral part, as you not only shape your own unique spy, but your actions affect other characters and the narrative itself. If you can forgive Alpha Protocol’s technical shortcomings, you will find a delightful RPG with compelling mechanics and ideas.
Alpha Protocol lacks polish in many aspects, but these quirks don’t dramatically affect your enjoyment of the options on offer. This is definitely a title in which the developer’s ambitious goals are let down by their execution. Outside of the concept itself, Alpha Protocol is more enjoyable if viewed as more than the sum of its parts. There is an intangible quality to Alpha Protocol, even as it bumbles through stealth and shooting gameplay. Players will find there is still a great deal to admire about Alpha Protocol.
Major characters, both friend and foe, are affected by your demeanor.One of the defining aspects of Alpha Protocol is its dialogue system. Featuring more depth than the Mass Effect series, dialogue impacts everything around you. Major characters, both friend and foe, are affected by your demeanor. Specific mission handlers will deride you if you are cocky, while others will reward you for your brashness. These effects provide boons such as shortening the cool-down time on your abilities, or enhancing your hacking and stealth parameters. Even bosses can be influenced, resulting in their early surrender or possible defection to your side of the struggle.
You can befriend rogue agents to gain distinct advantages over your enemies, or seduce corporate insiders to gain valuable intelligence for upcoming missions. You get bonuses for characters liking you, befriending you, or even hating you. As a master spy, you are also a master manipulator, which allows for a level of narrative flexibility unseen in third person shooters. No matter how you approach Alpha Protocol, as a suave spy, a clinical silent-type, or a mixture of the two, you will undoubtedly be impressed by the complexity of the relationships you form.
The dynamic plot in Alpha Protocol practically demands multiple play-throughs…Another highlight in the globe-trotting adventure is that after an admittedly by-the-numbers Saudi Arabia level, you are free to travel to and from Rome, Taipei, and Moscow, making contacts, thwarting assassination attempts, and the like. You can leverage sides against one another, and meet openly with your targets. Do you take advantage of your enemy’s trust? Do you opt to listen to their side of the story? Do you execute them the first chance you get? The dynamic plot in Alpha Protocol practically demands multiple play-throughs in order to see the complex machinations and double-crossings play out differently.
For a game about player choice, the actual gameplay—hiding in the shadows, gunplay, etc.—is limited at best. Through each level is somewhat “open” by design, to be tackled with all-out assault or careful sneaking, there is a very prescribed track most of the time. If you want to avoid confrontation, you’re certainly encouraged, though you will usually be confined to a rigid path. The stealth gameplay in Alpha Protocol is a far cry from the more unfenced likes of Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell, or Dishonored.
Despite having multiple weapons classes, the gunplay is arguably the weakest facet of Alpha Protocol.Since Alpha Protocol is a RPG, there are a lot of stats and numbers hidden behind the scenes. Despite having multiple weapons classes—pistols, shotguns, dual submachine guns, and assault rifles—and an extensive modification system (scopes, sights, grips, to the degree of Call of Duty titles) the gunplay is arguably the weakest facet of Alpha Protocol. Early on, your gun stats are disarmingly low, so accuracy, or rather inaccuracy is an issue, and may lead you to play differently in light of your ineffective guns. Of course, later on you’ll be nailing headshots and slow-motion chain shots (think Splinter Cell’s “Mark and Execute” ability) like any other third person shooter.
The graphics are serviceable, though rough around the edges. When first loading up a level, textures will slowly, blurrily fade into view, which can be distracting. Other glitches are harder too ignore: sometimes you get stuck on level geometry, like rocks or cover objects, requiring you to either reload a previous save, or worse, powering off your console and restarting.
Other, less hampering glitches see your pistol sometimes rendered upside-down when drawn. Animations are stiff and goofy, melee being especially comically awkward due to its roughshod implementation and collision detection. Sometimes too, after cutscenes or conversations, the game will default to a retina-burning, pure-white load screen. Alpha Protocol will stutter and pause for loading frequently, which is weird considering the simple graphics and small levels. Other oddities, such as inconsistent stealth and cover mechanics, and dumb enemy A.I. weaken but don’t altogether ruin the experience.
Alpha Protocol has some unique, memorable mechanics that standout.Developer Obsidian is frequently relegated to being the go-to “B” team for RPGs. They’ve done a superb job filling-in for Bioware for both Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II (PC, Xbox) and Neverwinter Nights 2 (PC); for Bethesda with Fallout: New Vegas (PC, PS3, Xbox 360); and for Gas Powered Games with Dungeon Siege III (PC, PS3, Xbox 360). In fact, in their 10-year career, Alpha Protocol remains the only original title Obsidian created from scratch. Although its rough-spots are hardly hidden, Alpha Protocol has some unique, memorable mechanics that standout, especially as this generation of games comes to a close.