Alpha Protocol Xbox 360 Review

June 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, Xbox 360, Xbox

Publisher: SEGA  Developer: Obsidian Entertainment  Genre: Action RPG  Players: 1

Age Rating: 15+  Other console/handheld formats: PS3

With Alpha Protocol, Obsidian Entertainment must have been delighted to finally knock together a game that’s completely of their own envisioning as opposed to once again working on an existing licence as they had so often done in the past. The team not only opted to do this, but also to cover a theme that has largely been ignored by RPG developers: espionage.

Whilst to many, Alpha Protocol will appear to be a straight action game, such people will soon realise that initially their well aimed headshots and such are coming up short, and this is because that much like Mass Effect – but to a greater extent – underlying RPG stats are the determining factor of accuracy and such, and it’s only once you start to level up and modify your weapons that your accuracy and other aspects of lead character Michael Thorton’s performance will start to improve.

In regards to narrative, Alpha Protocol has all the excitement and intrigue that any good spy story legally should and the game itself does a good job of making you feel as if you’re a secret agent: there are dossiers you can read, allowing you to read up on the characters and the organisations you meet. The social side of espionage isn’t ignored either, so you’ll sometimes get the option to deceive your enemies and such, though sadly this aspect feels underutilized compared to other facets of the game.

Like a spy should, though, you must make some difficult choices along the way. Through these choices it’s you whom decides of just what sort of character Mike will be. It’s a very flexible story where potentially significant characters can completely disappear from the story through your actions and, whilst it’s not the longest RPG, it’s certainly one of the most worthy of repeat plays because of this.

One of your abilities allows you to remain invisible even when an enemy is facing you.

There’s no morality system in place. Instead, your actions influence the perception that other characters have of you, allowing you to make friends or enemies with whoever you desire, though it’s rather inconsistent of if it actually has a noticeable effect on your relationships: some characters that are meant to hate you will talk to you in the same way that they do when you’re friends with them for instance, which not only pulls you out of what is largely a believable world, but also gives you little cause to make them hate your guts.

Similarly to many other western RPGS, conversing with these lot allows you to choose your responses, though less typical is that you’re giving a small timeframe to choose what you’re going to say, which keeps conversations flowing smoothly as well as offering a welcome degree of tension to some of the nastier encounters, although, since your options are listed as simply angry, happy and such, it’s not always clear of the effect that your choices are going to have, and you have little time to pause for thought about the matter.

There are multiple countries to visit during the course of the game and these can be handled in whatever order you desire. There’s no wandering around towns and such though, which, despite taking place all over the globe, makes the world feel smaller than it otherwise would have, and this could be disappointing for some.

The focus, however, lies on the action side, and there’s scope to play Alpha Protocol as either a stealth or action game. Going down the stealthy route shows the game in the best possible light, as the flawed enemy AI isn’t highlighted in quite the same way that it is when you go in all guns blazing, whilst the somewhat unreliable cover tactic isn’t required as often either and then, of course, there’s the fact that it makes you feel more like a real spy, albeit one with some superhuman abilities. Mechanically it’s not strong enough to offer a great game for either style of play, though it’s largely adequate enough both ways.

XP is earned by defeating enemies, hacking computers, lock picking doors and completing other tasks. Once you level up, you’re granted points of which you can spend on improving on an area or 2 out of a choice of 12. It’s this process that allows you to transform Mike into the character you want him to be. So, for example, if you want a sneaky character you should concentrate on the stealth aspect, whilst if you want to go all Rambo, you should be looking to improve your toughness (of which increases your health and gives you an armour ability amongst other things) improving your skill with guns and your melee for those up, close and personal encounters. Weapons and armour can also have mods and parts fitted into slots, which will enhance them in various ways.

Shooting doesn’t feel as good as it should, but it does its job.

Perks on the other hand are awarded based on your actions: Defeating 20 enemies with melee attacks or hacking 10 computers for instance. Perks will grant you various stat enhancements and other bonuses, and on each mission you’ll have a handler of which will also give you additional benefits. Mina for instance will give you a cooldown bonus on all of your skills.

In between all of this fighting, sneaking, chatting and deliberation over stats, you’re most often in your cosy safe houses, which essentially function as hubs. In these you’re able to purchase equipment from the black market for upcoming missions and Intel, which will grant various boons, making certain missions easier, as well as occasionally allowing you to get optional tasks.

The visuals are largely hideously ugly. There are low quality textures, dead-eyed character models, weak explosions and sloppy animations. Needless to say, Alpha Protocol doesn’t have the polish of a Bioware game or Bond himself. Occasionally, there is some mildly impressive lighting effects and after two runs through the game, I didn’t come across any serious glitches and that is of more importance than impressive visuals ever could be.

As an RPG, Alpha Protocol does a respectable job, and its most considerable strength is undoubtedly its open narrative, but, when it comes to the action side, things begin to falter slightly, ultimately leaving Obsidian’s game as a likeable but deeply flawed hybrid of a game that is worth – be it via a reduced price or through a rental – a look, but one that really is crying out for a sequel that could refine the mechanics and better reach the potential of an espionage RPG.