Alpha Protocol – Espionage Stumble

Alpha Protocol could have been a masterwork of an RPG, the story, setting, and non-linear way of interacting with the narrative and characters I think is still unmatched to this day… but. The mission/level gameplay outside hub-area sauntering is absolutely awful. It’s both a major disappointment, because of the could-have-been, and baffling – how could it even turn out this bad? It’s not unplayable in any way, it’s just that it’s not very fun, especially since making a comparison to other games in the stealth genre the feeling gets so much worse. Imagine a Splinter Cell with this kind of narrative and the roleplaying elements from Alpha Protocol. It would be nothing less than a dream coming true, and oh so close we were to that dream.

You play as agent Thorton, a new recruit for the clandestine organization Alpha Protocol. From here on out, without spoiling anything, you will be sent on secret missions spanning multiple international cities – from the cold of Moscow to the sweltering heat of Rome. This tale of backstabbing, under-the-table deals, conspiracies, and questionable loyalties is a magnificent roller-coaster ride of emotions and intrigue. It’s a pure joy to follow and take part in, especially the latter since you will have direct input in almost all major plot changes. Your decisions will drive the narrative forward, and in a classic RPG manner, it’s heavy on the C&C (choice and consequences).

Sorry, only one man with red beret can exist

As an RPG, your character will have stats, and perks – with some perks being earned depending on your actions dynamically throughout the game. Your stats determine how good you will be in different weapons, and skill-set, like for example pistols and technical aptitude. Leveling up will have you gaining points that you spend in these different categories, all depending on what kind of agent you want Thorton to be. At certain spots in the upgrade tree, special talents get unlocked – notable actions you can take during combat. Some are more ridicules and useful than others.

Scarlet is my kind of girl

Now, for the actual gameplay – the mission infiltrating, and two words that I find appropriate to describe this are; bland, and flat. Flat, as in the graphics even for the time is incredibly minimalist, and not out of a stylistic choice. The environments, both interior, and exterior are void of any detail – long empty corridors without breaks, and outside areas lacking any kind of life. Visuals are one thing, you could always view it as a PS2 throwback to alleviate some eye-soar, with that I mean, it’s much easier to ignore this than the more-in-your-face floaty and bafflingly bad moment-to-moment gameplay. It has the standard third-person sticky cover-shooter mechanics, which by this point in time was an established feature – so it’s a weird thing how Obsidian could go so wrong with this aspect of Alpha Protocol. It’s just a terrible iteration of something that has been made much better many times before – a totally bland experience with poor AI to boot and insta-disappearing corpses. The game is even made on an engine (Unreal 3) famous at the time for its military third-person cover shooters – how does this even happen?

Is it all bad? No, it’s playable, and the combat can even be enjoyable at times, though, most of the time it will be chaos thanks to its semi-non-working stealth mechanics. What saves Alpha Protocol from the endless abyss of bad games are its excellent non-linear gameplay, story, and its outstanding player-based interaction with the narrative. The setting is great, and I do wish we could see more games like this. Stealth espionage thriller is a genre with way too few games, in my opinion. Do I recommend it? Yes, despite the lacking gameplay, as it is, this is a one-of-a-kind game and should be played regardless.

Thanks for reading.


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