My thoughts on Alpha Protocol
February 08, 2017

I recently finished Alpha Protocol, which is one of the first games I purchased on my Steam account. For those of you who don't know or remember this title from 2010, it's a mix of third-person shooter, espionage and RPG developed by Obsidian and published by Sega. It features a man named Mike Thronton who's caught in a political plot orchestrated by an arms company. I'm not going to write a review for it, so I figured I'd share my thoughts in a blog post instead (similar to my post on Brutal Legend).


What worked

  • The game allows you to either take a stealth approach or a "guns blazing" one. There are plenty of games set up this way, like the Deus Ex franchise, but I've also played my share of titles that claim to do this and fail miserably. Mostly, they force you do one viably and not the other (to wit, 007 Legends). I played through mostly stealth, but also set myself up for a shootout if need be.
  • Wonderful voice acting, with actors who felt comfortable in their roles. Also, Jim Cummings (Darkwing Duck, Winnie the Pooh, etc.) offers some voice work as one of the villains.
  • Its campaign offers multiple paths and a variety of tough choices to make. During one mission, you have the option to either rescue a character or defuse a bomb. You can't do both. If you disarm the bomb, one of the villains kills hostage. There are also several events where you have the option to spare or execute your fallen opponents. Letting them live grants you story advantages and allies later on in the game, but doesn't give you the benefit of watching them die.
  • There are plenty of non-lethal options when dispatching foes. So instead of just tranquilizers like some games, you can either fist-fight or choke out the opposition. This is important because there are some missions where you need to knock out your enemies rather than kill them. This is mainly problematic if you're trying to remain on good terms with your handler (the person speaking into your ear during a mission).
  • Staying in good relations with your handler is important for a couple of reasons. For one thing, each handler has a perk that grants you a passive bonus. I used Mina most of my playthrough, and her bonus boosted my endurance. The more the handler trusts you, the higher a bonus you receive. For another thing, trust can alter the course of events and give you more speaking options. Because I was in good standing with Mina, I was able to form a romantic relationship with her. This helped me big time during the final showdown (see below).
  • One of the stealth skills basically makes you invisible. I know this sounds cheap, but when you consider how many games I've played with broken stealth, having an ability that allows you to walk right up to someone and punch him in the throat without being detected is pretty satisfying. Note that this ability is not passive. It has a time limit and a lengthy recharge time.



What didn't work
  • Hacking computers sucks, period. You have to do this a lot unless you stock up on EMP charges. Hacking takes you to a frustrating timed mini-game where you have a grid with rapidly changing alphanumeric characters everywhere. Two unchanging sequences lie somewhere in the grid. Corresponding sequences sit at the top of the screen, and you must guide them to those two positions and match them up. To make matters worse, the positions of the still sequences changes after a certain amount of time, so you're constantly scouring the grid to locate them. Believe it or not, it's something you get better at with time, but it's still a huge pain in the ass and could have been better executed.
  • Speaking options are sometimes limited or vague. During one occasion, you learn there's a woman named Madison trying to get in contact with you. When I told Mina that I wanted to get a hold of her, I saw the word "interested" as one of my selections. I should have figured choosing this would cause Mike to say she's pretty and he wants her number (thereby damaging my trust with Mina a tad), but I think they could have used a less vague word.
  • There isn't much variety for each weapon type. Assault rifles are pretty much all the same. You have to sacrifice stability for high damage, and it isn't worth it. The only way to make some of the more advanced rifles worthwhile is to overload them with accessories. SMGs don't seem useful either, and I didn't do much with shotguns. The early one I used sucked, but for all I know they could have improved as a category over time.



Double-edged sword
  • Enemey AI is all over the place. I've had missions where foes skitter around, dodging your bullets like professionals. I've also had my share of experiences where I caught an enemy standing still, staring at the wall. Needless to say, BOOM! HEADSHOT!
  • Some might bemoan that the storyline is melodramatic for a political game. I don't mind. I'm glad Obsidian didn't try to make this some overblown piece of fiction. Granted, they brought up some good points on destabilization, the US military-industrial complex and American interventionism (Spec Ops: The Line handled the last one perfectly), but it's not like they spun a complex tale around it. It's still aims to be more of a fun game than a chilling tale.



SPOILER NOTES
  • The ending I received was ultimately satisfying, albeit reductive and eye roll-worthy. Alan got away, Steve Darcy took a sniper bullet to the head, Yancy also took a bullet to the dome, Leleand was initially spared. After I spared Leland, a plot twist played out in which the game revealed Scarlet as an assassin and not a journalist as originally believed (she tried to kill the Taiwanese president). She also shot me Boy, am I glad I didn't make moves on her. I did, however, fall for Mina and I rescued her in the course of the final mission. After telling Scarlet that I would pay her to kill Leland, Mina showed up. I allowed her to gun down Scarlet, then rescinded my sparing of Leland by shooting him in the eye. After that, Mike and Mina got on a boat and sped away into the sunset while some pop/rock song blared in the background. Ugh...
  • Leland was a boring big bad. He had little depth and was your standard, arrogant asshole.
  • I would say that the members of Alpha Protocol, the agency from which Mike originated, were good villains, except they only appear at the beginning and end of the game.

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Feedback
overdrive overdrive - February 11, 2017 (11:01 PM)
One day I need to get to this one. I was going to a couple years ago, but when I opened my AP box, I realized that when I'd bought it, the dumbass at GameStop put Alone In The Dark for the 360 in instead. So I had to re-buy it, but was playing something else by then and haven't felt the urge to do this one since. And, no, I haven't and likely never will play Alone In The Dark unless I feel a need to for a contest or something.

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