By William Shelton
Release Date: June 1, 2010
Systems: PS3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Metacrtic Score: 64(PS3)
I really wanted the critics to have been wrong about this game. I had been interested in the game since I saw it on the cover of Game Informer back in 2008 and for two years I eagerly awaited it’s release. When it came out with poor to mediocre reviews, I decided to save my money but I always wanted the reviewers to have been wrong about this one. I mean, it was a globe trotting RPG about spies. It was “James Bond” with a leveling system, how bad could that be?
As it turns out, this is one of the worst games I’ve played.
You play as Agent Michael Thorton, the newest member of an elite and secret government agency designed to undertake covert missions while granting the US government plausible deniability. While on a mission in Saudi Arabia to recover stolen missiles, you learn that the defense contractor they were stolen from in fact sold the missiles to the terrorist group you’ve been confronting. And if you know anything about spy fiction, you know that upon learning this, Thornton becomes an enemy of the state, on the run from his government and has to clear his name. Am I the only one who misses the old James Bond formula of “Go here and kill the bad guy because that’s your job”?
The one positive I can say about the games story is that unlike other “choice” based games your actions do have some noticeable effects on the world. NPC’s will bring up previous missions in dialog and how you treat others can effect missions down the line. Unfortunately for the game this doesn’t make up for my complete and total lack of investment in either the characters, the story or the world the game sets up. Early on in the game having to stop and make choices became a chore as I just wanted to skip all the bullshit and get back to the game, not that actually playing makes it any better.
Game play wise Alpha Protocol resembles a shittier and more stealth focused “Mass Effect”. The action is all real time, cover based shooting with game pausing powers that need to recharge after every use. Also like with the original Mass Effect, as you preform actions you gain experience and level up, allowing you to put points into different skill trees that open up new powers. Unlike Mass Effect, none of this works. The basic shooting is bland but passable, but it suffers from being connected with some of the worst cover work I’ve had to deal with in a long time. There is no indication as to what you can actually stick too. This lead to more deaths and restarts than nearly any other game I’ve ever played. And once you’re in cover, moving around is still a pain. While the game says you can hop between one peace of cover to the next, this more often led to me jumping out from cover altogether, most of the time right into enemy fire.
The RPG mechanics are also pretty useless. There are nine categories you can level up and only two that are worth investing in. The powers the Pistol upgrades offer you plus the ability to add a silencer to it makes it the only weapon you will ever need as you can aim and get critical hits from cover and mark and execute targets in an instant. Most of the fire fights ended up just being me using these special powers and waiting for them to recharge. Unfortunately, a few of these skills caused the screen to take on this ugly yellowish tent that too often hid my opponent from me, usually forcing me to restart from my last checkpoint as my shots would miss while I essentially blind fired in slow motion.
And then there’s what the game tries to pass off as “stealth”. In most stealth based games you are given the tools necessary to keep yourself hidden or at least know how visible you are. Not so much here. In Alpha Protocol being stealthy means “putting points into the stealth tree until you can turn invisible”. While the invisibility is by no means unlimited, sneaking my way through levels was basically the same as any of the fire fight: use invisibility until it runs out and wait for it to charge.
Even though this is an RPG, meaning your abilities will always be tied to your stats, it’s hard not to think Obsidian could have handled this better. For example, maybe instead of turning the player invisible have each rank of the stealth tree offer a more traditional stealth mechanic? Like at rank one you get a “Splinter Cell” style visibility meter? Maybe down the line you could get a “Metal Gear Sold” style mini map that shows enemy position and after than getting to see their vision cones as well?
That gets to the core of why this game is so bad. There are so many good ideas here that when you squint your eyes you can see the artistic spark that could have made this one of the great modern Role Playing Games, but in the end it’s so bad you almost have to think the creative team just didn’t care. Someone at Obsidian wanted to make a great game, but they clearly were not given the means to do it either do too low funding or poor talent.
The sound is as bland as the gunplay, but voice acting is also let down by some shoddy lip syncing (though all the animation in this game is pretty awful). None of the guns sound like there’s any real force behind them, but to be fair I was aiming to be as silent as possible so I’m not sure if I can really say that’s an issue.
This is a game where getting from one checkpoint to the next was all I could ever manage to do with out getting tired and bored of the whole thing. My play session with this game often only lasted 15-30 minutes long, and I always felt like I had wasted far too much time on this game. While many games have let me down in the past I’ve never felt so goddamn stupid for believing in a games potential.