Obsidian Entertainment comes from a solid pedigree, developing titles such as Knights of the Old Republic II and Neverwinter Nights 2. Their latest title and brand new IP Alpha Protocol looks to bring a refreshing experience to the market. Does this modern spy role-playing game trash the competition, or fall under the weight of its lofty expectations.
To put it simply, Alpha Protocol is a buggy mess. Every technical issue known to man Alpha Protocol has. This is a shame because the core aspects and ideas are good, however the execution is terrible. Trophy’s refusing to unlock, horrific framerate drops, freezing, screen-tearing, texture pop-in. If you can name it; Alpha Protocol has it. It’s very difficult to enjoy the experience when these types of issues exist, and given the amount of delays I’m surprised how many issues plague the game.
In other games these types of issues are usually tolerable in small doses; however, so many issues exist in Alpha Protocol and in such frequency that it’s almost infuriating. Framerate issues severely hamper the combat and stealth sections. The framerate can drop so much that it affects the players aim and with such an emphasis on combat this is unacceptable. If Alpha Protocol’s framerate was locked at 30 frames a second it would be a significantly better experience. As it is, players will be treated to one of the biggest technical messes this generation.
The graphics are another disappointing feature of Alpha Protocol. Textures are blurry or pop-in way to often. Character models are a mixed bag. With the exception of your character Agent Thorton, all the characters are grossly oversimplified with stereotypes. Despite these issues the characters do have some charm and are presented well. The sound design is also uninspiring. Some of the gun effects are borderline comical, while others replicate the sound marvelously. The voice acting has some bright spots, with your character, Agent Thorton taking the top spot. His delivery is spot on, especially if you take a renegade approach to the conversation tree.
At this point in the review you’re probably wondering whether there is anything redeemable about Alpha Protocol; fortunately, there is. I mentioned the conversation system and I want to touch on that. Alpha Protocol features a shameless rip-off of the system used in the Mass Effect series. In theory, based on the actions you pick, whether they are professional, aggressive, or suave, effect the outcome of the relationships with NPC’s and the story. It’s not an original concept, but Obsidian have improved the formula and in some ways trumped the competition. The core aspects of this system are much stronger than Mass Effect 2’s, however it severely lacks the addition polish.
The story is very strong featuring good pacing, twists, and overall fantastic writing. Essentially, you play as Agent Thorton, an agent hung out to dry by the only organization you thought you could trust; this top secret organization is known as Alpha Protocol. I won’t spoil the story for those eager to play but rest assured, those looking for a great story will not be disappointed.
Alpha Protocol is very much an RPG and as such features a solid customization system. Your character can be customized to your liking, with a decent selection of hair and facial options. AP also features the ability to change your appearance at one of the many safe-houses you will encounter during your playthrough. These safe-houses serve several important purposes. You can buy new weapons, armor, and gadgets; as well as customize them. It’s a safe haven between missions and gives you the ability to check your e-mail. E-mail? Believe it or not, e-mail is an important aspect of Alpha Protocol. Checking it frequently will allow you to reap bonuses that normally wouldn’t become available. These bonuses could include getting discounts at the Clearinghouse (the weapon and armor distributor) or improving your favor with particular characters in the game. It’s a crucial feature and something many players could inadvertently skip over.
Alpha Protocol also features a handful of skills. When you level up by completing missions you are awarded points. These points can be used to spend on skills like Martial Arts, Pistols, Assault Rifles, Stealth, etc. Placing additional points into a certain skill unlocks particular abilities. My personal favorite is the flying knee in the Martial Arts category. It’s an incredibly satisfying way to take out enemies and I encourage you to partake in this skill set.
Alpha Protocol is an incredibly buggy, unpolished game; however it has a lot of redeeming features like the story and customization. If you can look past Alpha Protocol’s severe lack of polish I would advise you to give it a try or wait until it hits the bargain bin. It’s an odd feeling playing a game that feels so well put together and yet barely playable in some instances. The first few hours of Alpha Protocol are incredibly painful, but if you manage to get through it, you will realize that Alpha Protocol has a lot of depth.