Alpha Protocol Game Review
Alpha Protocol tells the story of a clandestine agency (strictly under the radar as far as the government is concerned) and the role you play as Michael Thorton unravelling international conspiracies, political turmoil and uncovering various plots on a global scale. I won’t go into too much detail regarding the story as it may ruin some surprises and discovering the twists and turns are what makes this game so clever. It ticks all the right boxes as far as believable scenarios go and would not be out of place in an episode of Alias or Burn Notice.
Ready to Join the Agency?
As with any good spy game, the key is having a believable universe and to this end, Alpha Protocol absolutely excels. There were very few rare points where I didn’t feel like a spy. Often I would even be dreaming about infiltrating a building or planting a bug on a server – it’s a very engrossing game and world. From the ability to hack computers and read confidential emails, seeing your escapades appearing on the news with slight spin on the stories depending on how you’ve fared, to even accessing black market weapons dealers’ supplies. You really have the feeling that you’re the master of your own universe. You’ll be dealing with a handler, have access to a variety of weaponry as well as some gadgets in case you need to outwit your foes with technology. You can customise your look, your armour and your weapon loadout to make for a very personal experience.
As an agent you have a very free reign of how you develop. You acquire experience points (XP) through completing missions as well as other small tasks such as picking locks successfully, disabling electronic systems i.e. alarms, sub-missions or even silently taking down a certain amount of enemies. Rather than throwing XP around at you constantly the game gives it to you when you genuinely deserve it, making the whole levelling up process more gratifying than most. As you level up you can put receive AP (Action Points) which allow you to enhance certain skills such as Stealth, Endurance, Technical, proficiency with various weapons, Hand-to-hand combat and others. It’s a varied skill tree and you won’t be able to max out everything because eventually you will specialise into becoming a certain type of operative. My play style was more stealthy so I focussed on Hand-to-hand combat, Pistol and Stealth which worked well, but had more negative impacts when I was in larger scale shootouts meaning I had to be more skilled and precise than if I had more experience with an assault rifle for instance or technical with multiple grenade types.
Your Style, Your Choice
Being stealthy is one way of playing the game, but it can equally be played as a 3rd person shooter if you wish or a mixture. You choose how you want to play and events will play out according to your style. The game never forces you to play in a certain way as all styles have their own benefits. You can be like a shadow, sneaking in and out without anyone noticing and will be rewarded as such or make an impression going all guns blazing, making your opponents think twice before crossing you.
This level of choice becomes extremely in depth as you play as handling certain missions one way may have repercussions in future missions. It really is very clever actually. It’s one of the few games I’ve played where choice genuinely has a memorable and intriguing impact. One early example is whether I execute, detain or even release a wanted criminal. The result of your choice is often never 100% clear until you continue to play and find your game effected in many ways. Free them and you may find extra funds placed in your account or some key information transferred to you about other adversaries or missions, but why would you want to free a known terrorist? Instinct plays a large part as your decisions are timed so you often have to go with your gut.
Voiced dialogue and conversation in the game is first class. At certain points in conversations, you’ll have options on how to respond, ‘Aggressive’, ‘Professional’ or ‘Suave’ as well as sometimes additional options depending on intelligence/data acquired. As you play and meet various characters throughout the game you will start to build up a reputation for yourself and depending on how you respond, your reputation with that character can go up or down or stay the same. You’ll receive certain perks based on the levels you receive from the characters such as increased endurance in some missions, or extra firepower, tactical support, technical support and many, many others. Not all characters will react the same to your dialogue options, some may surprise you, other’s you’ll wish you never said but it makes your decisions and judgment of the situation more impactful. Each character has their own dossier which you can slowly fill dependent on how clever you are at information gathering which can give you hints onto their personality or organisation as a whole. One file I found was very interesting in that it mentioned the style of fighting of that specific gang, allowing me to adapt my approach for an upcoming mission equipping more appropriate tools.
The dossier files are also extremely interesting to read and actually worth your time. You'll be excited every time you uncover another shred of data on a person or organisation to know their quirks, strategy or simply connections. There are also secret facts about each one which can really help in your approach in conversations or miissions.
Rough Around the Edges?
As I said earlier, this game is heavily under-appreciated by many but it’s not without its faults.
Graphically it’s passable but not exceptional. The multiple locations that you find yourself travelling to vary from having interesting small touches to rather low textures and bland environments. Alpha Protocol seems to do indoor environments and lighting much better than outdoor ones from my view. The AI can be rather unpredictable, but notably different organisations do have different tactics. Boss fights are a mixture between enjoyably over-the-top to quite frustrating as you are often the underdog and outgunned. Certainly more painful if you are a stealthy character. This was a similar complaint for Deus Ex: Human Revolution funnily enough – another great espionage action game.
Alpha Protocol is a strange one. For every ‘wow’ moment where clever game design really makes you amazed that a small altercation 5 hours ago is still having an impact, there are some apparent bugs, occasional awkward camera angles and uneven boss fights. I would however wholeheartedly ask you to look past some of these issues and play one of the most memorable games of recent times. If you like the Splinter Cell series, Deus Ex or even spy shows on TV, this game will satisfy you with accomplished action, great story and meaningful choices, making you want to play it again almost instantly - which is a rare trait these days. Don’t let this one sneak by you.