RETRO – Alpha Protocol was a complex spy thriller role-playing action game. It was the only game, which was set in modern times from Obsidian, the maker of Knights of the Old Republic and Neverwinter Nights 2. We had to wait a lot of time for this game – was it worth it back in 2010?
These days it’s rather difficult to make something original out of the secret agent theme. The James Bond style is outdated: even 007 himself needed a makeover to be taken seriously. Instead of Bond, Jason Bourne, 24, and other realistic spy thrillers are in vogue. So that’s why Obsidian Entertainment has chosen this style over the charming, cocktail drinking, and fast car driving super-spy style. The keyword in their latest game, Alpha Protocol, is “realism”.
The hero of this spy thriller is Michael Thorton, a young rookie secret agent, who wakes up drugged in a spy training building. As he goes through the training, so do we: after making his way into the building, we learn the basics of the dialogue system, as well as the shooting and gadget controls.
Early in the game, it’s obvious that Alpha Protocol is very similar to the bestseller of BioWare: Mass Effect, only with spies this time. It’s not a bad thing in itself since Mass Effect was an awesome game. For example, in the dialogues, we can choose a variety of different answers: sarcastic, professional, suave, etc.
What I didn’t like is that we have a limited time for this: I prefer thinking over each choice without being rushed. However, I did like how each answer really affects our relationship with the characters and the story. There’s no right or wrong answer: only our choice matters.
As with dialogues, the action is reminiscent of Mass Effect as well. Michael can use a different kind of weapons on the battlefield and there’s a distinct difference between them. In our secret base, we can buy a plethora of gadgets for those weapons: laser sight, silencer, etc.
You may think that it’s useless to buy weapons since we can get them from our fallen enemies, but in this game, we can’t. Also, the weapons are not cheap: we must spend a lot of money just to buy a good rifle or gun. By the way, we won’t get any kind of money from our boss (only occasionally), so we must loot cash wherever we can in the missions.
As in other stealth games, we are better to fight in the dark, kill silently and move on, but it’s pretty hard to operate this way here since it’s an RPG and Thorton has such a low spy level at the beginning. Also, the MI sometimes can hear and see almost everything we do, and when we are spotted the whole base is alerted. So occasionally we have the impression that we are controlling the most inept Sam Fisher in the world.
Fortunately, fist-fighting is always an option. Thorton is pretty good in close combat and a silent attack on an enemy is almost always successful.
“Do you expect me to talk?” – “No Mr Bond, I expect you to have a stroke!”
Besides rather enjoyable gunfights and stealth action, there are also some maddening bugs and bad design flaws. The AI is either super intelligent or super dumb: sometimes they try to corner us, sometimes they take cover immediately, or they just stand aloof waiting to get killed.
But the bugs are not the only maddening failures in this game. I have no idea who was the Einstein that designed the codebreaking part in the game, but he managed to piss me off as no other game could so far.
Adding to the pain is that when we miss a try, the alarm system goes off, and if we want to shut it down we must take part in another annoying code-breaking sequence. Besides bugs, the game looks really outdated, and plain fugly sometimes. Even if the design of the game took so much time, they should have still done something with the graphics.
Body of Lies
Still, there are some saving graces in this game: the role-playing and storyline are both excellent. We can level up our spy the way we want, just like in Mass Effect, or other good RPGs. There’s a plethora of specializations and special skills to develop and it’s really fun to use the latter on the missions.
The story is top-notch, with well-drawn characters, exciting missions, double crossings, backstabbings, and many other surprises as well. So should we buy Alpha Protocol? Well, if you are itching for a good spy thriller with tons of customizations and a cool story, and if you can pass by its glaring design faults, then this game is clearly for you.
+ Interesting spy story
+ Lots of RPG customizations
+ Stealth is kind of fun
– Stupid AI
– Hit and try gameplay
– Code breaking is maddeningly bad
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Genres: RPG, adventure, action
Publication: Jun 1, 2010