The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
During the course of a single mission, Michael Thorton is betrayed by
his country, framed by his superiors, and cut off from his support.
This pivotal moment in the story is clearly where things go wrong for
the super-spy hero, but I wish it were as easy to pinpoint exactly where
Alpha Protocol falls apart as a gaming experience. The espionage-themed
hybrid of third-person action and RPG leveling is a baffling cocktail
of outdated design and technical problems, with only a handful of bright
spots illuminating how good the game could have been.
spy stories have magnetic, capable protagonists you love to cheer for –
just look at genre icons like James Bond and Jason Bourne. Michael
Thorton is an unlikable idiot by contrast. Maybe it’s the fact that his
personality is a collection of rote secret agent clichés, or the way
tense situations elicit no reaction from him beyond dull resignation.
Whatever the reason, I never warmed up to Thorton or thought he was
cool, and I got more entertainment watching his failure than I did his
success. Super spies should inspire excitement in an audience, not
You could argue that Thorton’s lack of charisma was
partly my fault, since Alpha Protocol’s dialogue system lets you steer
conversations based on how you view the character. However, I refuse to
accept any blame for his wooden performance. You aren’t given nearly
enough opportunities to interact in a non-combat situation, and when you
are, your replies are usually simply labeled “suave,” “aggressive,” and
“professional,” so you never encounter responses that tempt you to
deviate from a certain attitude. The conversations may seem similar to
Mass Effect’s on first glance, but where that title keeps players
engaged with constant choices, Alpha Protocol doesn’t put the system
(and, by association, the characters) at the forefront.
between the player and the events makes it impossible to care about the
generic “shady defense contractor out for profit” plot, and the gameplay
does nothing to salvage your interest. Whether you choose to be a
stealthy spy or a guns-blazing soldier, the mechanics are archaic and
unaccommodating. You can’t vault over cover, you can’t block melee
strikes (bad guys can, though!), and the enemy AI makes the dumbest
James Bond minions look like rocket scientists. The bosses, on the other
hand, are on the opposite end of the chump spectrum. Don’t
misunderstand me – they aren’t smart. They’re aggravating and poorly
designed. One left me speechless, since I couldn’t think of profanity
foul enough to express my frustration. Throw in a lot of loading
(sometimes mid-firefight), pervasive texture-popping, and a
preponderance of dumb minigames, and you have a lack of polish that puts
a nearly impenetrable wall up in front of your enjoyment.
Protocol’s jumbled mess of mechanics is tragic, because some aspects are
genuinely well done. Thorton’s progression is handled excellently,
allowing plenty of flexibility to tailor his skills to your style. The
abilities you unlock as you level – like invisibility and auto-targeting
– are satisfying rewards for your investment. I was also immensely
impressed by how the narrative naturally conforms around your choices.
Events flow seamlessly regardless of when you complete a mission, your
chosen allies, and who lives and dies. Characters often reference your
previous actions and allegiances, which is pretty remarkable considering
all of the factors on the table. This adaptability would add to the
replay value – if the other facets of the experience were good enough to
warrant completing the game once.
With a history including games
like Knights of the Old Republic II and Neverwinter Nights 2, the team
at Obsidian Entertainment knows role-playing. Alpha Protocol isn’t
necessarily a counter-point to that expertise; the RPG systems under the
hood are solid. I just wish that I could experience them in the context
of a compelling espionage adventure, not a last-gen third-person
Email the author Joe Juba, or follow on Twitter, Facebook, and Game Informer.
Lacking the suave demeanor of James Bond or the terrifying persona of
Jack Bauer, agent Michael Thorton is a painfully ordinary man caught in
an extraordinary situation. Thorton’s vanilla personality is an allegory
for how underdeveloped the rest of the game is. The abominable AI is
Obsidian’s most glaring oversight, but missing textures, a half-baked
cover mechanic, and a maddeningly restrictive character moveset also are
noteworthy failures. The game provides occasional moments that make you
feel like a true secret agent, but they come few and far between. I did
enjoy allocating experience to personalize Thorton’s evolution, as well
as the various tech-centric minigames. Sneaking dirty cash so not to
leave a paper trail back to the agency, purchasing dossiers or ancillary
intel to unlock bonus objectives, and customizing my arsenal were also
highlights. Ultimately, however, Alpha Protocol is a game riddled with
missed potential. Just like Agent Thorton, Alpha Protocol performs much
better on paper than out in the field.