Alpha Protocol - Review Flood #1
The Alpha Protocol review avalanche has hit and it's a ridiculously mixed bag. The scores and opinions are contradictory (even on the same issues), although "unpolished" is a common theme. I'm going to break out some bigger reviews and line list the rest. Note that most of these are console reviews.
Eurogamer has what reads as a balanced article, with a score of 7/10. They say they weren't impressed at two hours but really enjoyed the game at eight hours. Here's a snip:
As the cast list expands and the action abilities opened up by the levelling process become increasingly cartoony - two favourite unlocks are an evasion skill which allows you to go unnoticed for a few seconds even if you absolutely blow your cover, and a temporary shotgun boost that lets you knock down enemies as you hit them - Alpha Protocol starts to come to terms with itself as a slightly tongue-in-cheek enterprise. Helpfully, the script has plenty of classy moments, both in terms of the cut-scenes and the text, if you're willing to plough through the emails you'll constantly receive from both friends and enemies. Even the action, formed from pieces which are only really second-rate by themselves, eventually comes together into something that tugs you forward with surprising insistence.
And while it's a linear adventure at heart, the game takes its commitment to player choice fairly seriously. It offers plenty of moments where you have control over the big things - who lives, who dies, who becomes an ally and who becomes a boss battle - as well as the little things, like how your approach to a mission changes what your handler thinks of you.
VideoGamer says AP "plays like a sub-standard third-person shooter" but it's still "more enjoyable than it should be". Graphical issues, texture pop-in, frame-rate and other issues hit hard and the score is 6/10:
Despite borrowing the mechanic from BioWare, the dialogue system happens to be one of the game's strongest assets. Obsidian is well known for its talents in the dialogue department (KOTOR2 being a shining example) and Alpha Protocol has been treated with the same care and attention. How you decide to react to different situations determines what missions you're given and what characters you're likely to encounter. Supporting this branching narrative is an impressive 30+ endings, and the mid sections will differ dramatically from game to game, too. To see everything the game has on offer will take a serious investment of time. [...]
Thorton's mission is orchestrated out of several safe houses acting as the hub for real world locations including Tai Pei, Rome and Moscow. As far as spy-pads go, these safe houses are pretty swanky, offering services to check email, change weapon load-outs and even watch the news. It's the kind of place you imagine James Bond chilling out with a Martini before a mission. This is one thing that Alpha Protocol does reasonably well: it makes you feel like an undercover agent. Whether you're flipping through enemy dossiers on your PDA, catching up on new emails or tinkering with your equipment – you'll feel suitably like an employee of the secret services.
1Up says 'B+', which is a certainly a decent score. They describe the action as competent but are really taken with the dialogues and choices. The article uses a spoiler as an example (be warned), so here's a quote straight after a situation that impressed the writer:
I like this sort of thing. It's always left me a little bit dismayed that the modern definition of a role playing game has been "pretty much any other kind of game, except with a lot more numbers in it." Alpha Protocol has XP and skills to level up and whatnot, but the dialogue is what has me paying attention. I don't have a lot of patience for cut-scenes, but cut-scenes where at any second I may have to make a snap decision that will determine how a good chunk of the rest of the game plays out, as well as how other characters will relate to me? That's the textbook definition of roleplaying, which doesn't enter into games all that often, and almost never in a context that doesn't involve elves.
Going to to the other end of the scale, Destructoid hated everything and the score is a brutal 2/10:
The game is supposedly able to be played one of three ways -- using stealth, using brute force, and using gadgets. Stealth is no good because the enemy AI is so unpredictable and spotty, not to mention the useless camera and poor graphics make spotting enemies ahead of time difficult, and the complete lack of hiding places negates the idea of sneaking around. The gadgets are a cool idea, but nothing too innovative, and playing strictly as a gadget-based character mostly means throwing grenades around. That leaves you with a combat-oriented character, but combat is so crap that it's not really very fun.
It seems as if Obsidian tried to mix RPG combat with real-time shooting action, and it doesn't really work (what a surprise!). All it means is that sometimes the guns will miss even if the reticule is dead on target. You can stay still and watch the reticule close in an enemy for a critical shot, but the opponents are running around like the aforementioned decapitated poultry, so good luck with that. Steadying one's aim is next to impossible with the insane characters who are either running towards you, running in circles, or running nowhere, with Thorton stuck in the middle of this chimp's tea party surrounded by grenade spam and broken cover systems.
More middle-ish ground, with GameSpot finally posting their 6/10 review. As noted yesterday, they describe "astounding intricacies" but "clumsy gameplay mechanics":
Playing Alpha Protocol is like putting together a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle with 500 pieces missing: You get a sense of what the big picture should have been, but the final product is still maddeningly incomplete. This intriguing role-playing game boasts an extraordinarily flexible plot, in which your choices have real consequences both on the story and on the gameplay. Sadly, almost every other element has been skimped upon, resulting in an awkward amalgam of half-baked gameplay elements that never come together. On paper, Alpha Protocol sounds thrilling: You can go into each mission guns blazing, sneak up on your enemies to take them down before they see you coming, or mix and match methods as you see fit all while hacking computers and picking locks to uncover the enemies' deepest secrets. In practice, none of these mechanics work out very well. Terrible AI, a too-close camera angle, and other annoying inconsistencies make the stealth route feel random and unsatisfying. These issues, along with the unreliable cover system and a number of bugs and weapon imbalances, make shooting feel equally clumsy. It's easy to appreciate Alpha Protocol for its high ambitions; it's just not that much fun to play it.
Let's take a higher one, with NowGamer scoring 8.1/10:
What sets it apart is the time limit: every answer must be given and every decision made in little more than five seconds. It doesn’t sound like much, but it invests almost every discussion with a heightened sense of drama. If you missed something through not paying the game your full attention there’s simply no time to recall the details, and if you don’t make the call, the game will make it for you. That’s one thing when you’re only deciding if Thorton should make a lewd comment to a beautiful investigative journalist, but quite another when you’re asked to choose between saving a friend’s life or disarming a bomb that will kill dozens of innocent people. Alpha Protocol is short for an RPG, but it boasts a disarming number of no-win situations that can radically alter the path of the game.
On a personal level, things are no less complicated. Obsidian might have taken inspiration from Mass Effect for its conversations, but the way other characters form opinions on Thorton is more granular than Bioware’s blunt paragon/renegade split. The way he responds to someone - in person or through the game’s well realised e-mail system - will effect how much they like or trust him, allowing you to choose Thorton’s allies and enemies on an individual basis.
Information aboutAlpha Protocol
Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PS3