With a decent amount of hype behind it, Alpha Protocol seemed like it had some potential to kick off the usual summer drought of games with a bang. Unfortunately, low production values and clumsy game mechanics make Alpha Protocol one of the worst games I have played in quite a while and is the biggest disappointment of 2010 so far.
The overall design is actually a pretty unique approach to a 3rd person action game: using the action, stealth and gunplay mechainics of games like Syphon Filter or Splinter Cell, but mix in the dialog and story option of Mass Effect. The first impression is definitely inspiring but winds up being nothing more than a frustrating and incomplete gaming experience.
Alpha Protocol’s biggest gimmick is the dialog system. Whenever the story progresses through dialog, the player has the option to select from a wealth of responses, all of which will generate a different end result. Using intimidation, respect, mockery, politeness, flattery, suaveness, rudeness, and comedy are gameplay tools that the player must choose from. Conversations can end in many ways, including an execution or even some sensual physical contact. And because there are so many dialog options, the game contains dozens of different endings depending on selections that are made throughout the campaign.
Just like Mass Effect or KOTOR, the dialog options are a very important aspect to the game. Unfortunately, this system is not exactly user friendly as the player only has a few seconds to determine which response to give. As soon as the NPC has finish speaking, the game will select a dialog option whether the player is ready or not. How is the player supposed to properly select an option when the game does not give the player any time to think about a response? Sure, this keeps the conversation flowing, but a single mistake in conversation can put the player down a specific path for the remainder of the game. This dialog system sounds cool on paper, but is executed quite poorly in the final product. Forcing the player to choose a response before the NPC has finished speaking just does not make any sense.
Like the dialog system, the other elements of the gameplay such as combat, mission structure, level design, and the menu system are also hollow and incomplete. The shooting mechanics are broken and almost unplayable, further hindered by a terrible cover system. Using the left trigger, the player can aim down the sight of the gun and the longer the position is held, the more accurate the shot. But when it takes four, five, or even six shots to bring an enemy down, it makes gunplay tedious and unfair. Giving the game the benefit of the doubt, the player has the ability to increase the stats of each firearm with advancements such as precision and power. But this system might as well have been removed from the final products as there is basically no difference when use a weapon that has been powered up.
Instead of trying to snipe enemies from afar using the broken aiming system, I realized that it was actually more efficient to mindlessly run up to an enemy and use the never failing three-hit B, B, B combo of death. You know the game’s balancing is broken when a button-mashable three hit combo is more powerful than six shots from a pistol. Playing through each level stealthily is almost impossible as the level design is not well thought out and requires enemy encounters.
Furthering the terribleness that is Alpha Protocol, the game is laced with bugs and graphical errors. On many occasions, enemies were actually running away from me but were magically shooting bullets backwards through their own bodies. My character got caught up on invisible walls around just about every turn. Textures pop up constantly throughout the game. Enemies would get stuck/trapped on random objects. I supposedly reached a checkpoint, as the “checkpoint reached” text popped up on screen, but after I died, I had to start back at the beginning of the level. The game decides to load at the most inconvenient and awkward times. I even experienced a dying animation where my character landed and got on his head in an upside down vertical position; it would have made for a good youtube moment. These are just a small amount of errors I experienced during my time with the game. Technical marring shows its ugly head constantly.
Perhaps the most annoying aspect of all is the horrendous camera system. The camera is way too close and never moves at a decent angle. In fact, the player has to constantly move the camera even if the most subtle movements occur. Let’s use a recent game as comparison: in Final Fantasy XIII, the player has control of the camera via the right analog stick, but even if the stick is not moved, the camera still slightly moves with the player. In all honesty, I have seen better camera movement in early N64 and PSOne games.
The graphics and audio departments are a joke. Animations are stiff and lifeless while character models and environments are low poly, ugly and non-interactive. The initial character customization option is weak and pointless too. As bad as the visuals are, it really does not come close to the horrendous voice acting, sound track, and sound effects. Not only is most of the script downright painful, it is also presented with sub-par acting. The main character is such low-grade rip off of Commander Shepard it will probably offend ME players.
About every three to five minutes, the player will tediously be forced to play one of three lame mini-games, the worst of which is computer hacking. I actually want to take this time to declare Alpha Protocol’s computer hacking mini game the worst computing hacking mini game I have ever played. The screen is filled with moving letters and numbers similar to the Matrix green code effect everyone has seen. The player is tasked with lining up two lines of code in this giant jumbled mess using both analog sticks. First off, finding the specific two lines of codes is nearly impossible unless you are Superman or can use the Sands of Time to slow down time. Secondly, even if you did manage to find the right code, the player must use the analog sticks to position the code in the correct space. But moving the code is so frickin’ slow, that the timer will run out or the code will actually move to a new position. And if this sounds confusing, that is because it is. The game gives the player a basic tutorial on how to complete this mini game, but it sucked so bad I actually had to reference the instruction booklet to figure out what I was supposed to do. And keep in mind if you fail, then the alarm will sound and enemies will rush your position. As if the game’s other problems were not enough, the computer hacking mini game alone has potential to keep players away even before the game’s opening tutorial is completed.
Alpha Protocol sounds like a great game that has it all – the combination of a high action stealth adventure but with the level progression and dialog options of an RPG. However, just about everything about this game screams “rush job” even though it was in development for quite sometime and experienced numerous delays. Simply put, the entire game is one huge mess that is caked with technical problems which makes the game boarderline unplayable and definitely not entertaining. .
Better Than: Taking a shotgun blast to the groin
Worst Than: Rogue Ops
Time Better Spent: taking care of a pet rock
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