Obsidian is well known for taking on already developed franchises and expanding them; to name a few, Neverwinter Nights 2, Knights of The Old Republic 2 and now Fallout: New Vegas. Evidently they love their role-playing games. Alpha Protocol is their chance to impress with a completely new franchise developed by them, published by Sega. But is Alpha Protocol the game to show that Obsidian can stand on their own two feet and craft a masterful espionage RPG? Close but no cigar.
For the most part the storyline elements in Alpha Protocol are satisfying. You play as Michael Thorton a Spy scooped up by an agency known as Alpha Protocol, throughout your career as an agent you will be taking on global sneaking missions to uncover countless non-shocking conspiracies. You will meet a range of different characters throughout the game, who will react to you based on the choices you make. In a very Mass Effect style you will control Michael’s dialog, every dialog option will have its own unique effect on both the conversation and the other characters disposition towards you. The twist is that you only have seconds to choose which dialog option you wish to go along with, meaning you have to be swift with your decisions. Your decisions can spark a satisfying amount of different reactions; from females falling for you, to people dying or people being saved. It is one of the many features that give Alpha Protocol undeniable potential.
The downside to having this much control over story line elements however is that the characters themselves are too bland to even care about. While in Mass Effect you find yourself doing everything in your power to ensure your crew are content, you will hardly even care who dies or who hates your guts in Alpha Protocol. This is a shame, because if the characters were more emotionally driven then it would be easier to care for them. There is not much point having control over interactions if you are thinking “when do I get to shoot someone again” during the whole process.
Once you get a chance to try out the shooting mechanics, you may want to take that thought back. My main gripes with Alpha Protocol are the actual gameplay mechanics. Seeing as the game prides itself on being an espionage RPG, you would think that you could sneak all over the battlefield undetected and pick off your enemies silently. To an extent this is possible, but your chance of not getting seen is more pot luck than skill. The AI is so off that enemies will discover you even if you are perfectly hidden at times. This is an unfortunate flaw that ruins the whole espionage element of the game.
The natural adjustment to that flaw would be to just go into missions all guns blazing instead, even though it is not ideal it’s a tactic that will still get the job done. The sad part is that the shooting mechanics also suffer from some unforgivable flaws. You may as well throw the prospect of accuracy out the window right now, because Alpha Protocol makes it annoyingly difficult to get those clean head shots. You could be aiming the cross-hair right at your foe’s head, yet once you squeeze the trigger the bullet (or bullets) will still not hit their target. It can sometimes be very irritating to face multiple sentries due to the clumsy cross-hair system, which is another factor that lets the game down.
One thing gun nuts will appreciate is the weapon customization system. Alpha Protocol allows you to purchase new weapon attachments, gadgets and guns with your well earned cash. This is one system that is done very well, as you will have a variety of attachments to choose from when getting your equipment ready for a mission. Each attachment has its own unique properties that affect a specific weapons attributes, allowing you to mix and match to get the perfect balance that suits you. You may want to sacrifice a weapons rate of fire to add onto its accuracy for example, it lets you compliment the way you like to play.
One element that should never be absent from a game that wishes to call itself an RPG is developing your character, and Obsidian made sure they delivered in that area. Upon completing missions you will be presented with a menu allowing you to develop Michael’s skills. You will be assigned points depending on how you performed throughout the mission. You can spend these points on different skills such as, technician or hand to hand combat skills. Alpha Protocol also offers a few more treats to make Michael more interesting, such as his own hideout suite. When in the suite you can manage your weapon load outs, and customize Michael’s appearance.
You can also access a computer which allows you to read emails sent from your various accomplices. Many of the emails will be reactions to how you overcome missions or the choices you have made, adding more sense of acknowledgment to how you choose to approach the storyline. The computer also allows you to access Intel and the weapon store. Mission briefings are also very often given in the safe house via a television, which offers some fairly humorous programming if you switch it on randomly.
Games that are a lot less visually appealing than many high profile titles are usually forgivable as long as the game is good enough. Unfortunately that is not the case for Alpha Protocol, the graphics are merely another addition to the list of the games inconsistencies. It’s not that it looks terrible, it just looks very dated to the point that I’ve seen Playstation 2 games look as good. It’s too bad the game had other flaws, as many would have turned a blind eye to the visual presentation if the gameplay was of a higher standard.
When it comes down to it, I applaud Obsidian for trying something new. They had a fantastic vision that could have been a masterpiece. But it is clear that Obsidian was unable to deliver in the end. Lately details have emerged that there were some internal issues during the development of this title, which is likely the reason the game fell short of reaching its true potential. At any rate, Alpha Protocol is an acceptable game to pick up for someone for a different type of shooter. With so much competition, Alpha Protocol will find its way into the bargain bin in no time. If there was ever a game I want to be taken off of the shelves and taken back to the developers to be completely re-made, it would be Alpha Protocol. I feel that Obsidian would undeniably do the game justice the second time around, but for now Alpha Protocol will serve as a reminder of what could have been.