Alpha Protocol PS3 Review
Alpha Protocol is one of the best “failures” to come from Sega in quite some time. According to Sega, who published the title, it sold poorly and reviewed too low to be considered a success to the point where any hope of a sequel has been currently cast aside. As they say, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” and that’s exactly what has happened here with Alpha Protocol, as I found the game to be fun despite areas many considered flaws. This stealth action experience is very original and the game is one of the more fun RPGs this generation.
Players are dropped into the role of Michael Thorton, a new recruit to the secret organization known as Alpha Protocol. Michael is not given much choice as he is quickly tossed into action for the organization and must travel to various locations throughout the world in order to uncover the truth behind why an airliner carrying US citizens was shot down. A key component to any good spy novel, movie, or in this case game, is that things are never as they seem. The characters Michael encounters throughout the game do a good job of being neither good nor evil, and instead paint themselves as varying shades of gray. Developer Obsidian has done a great job of allowing gamers to really play the role of Michael Thorton and decide how they want to act.
There are around twenty different characters to interact with during the game and how they are handled will impact the way the story plays out. Befriending one character might cause another to hate Michael. At the same time, a third character might start to like Michael more for the same reason. During conversations, Michael can reply with dry professionalism, aggression, or sarcastic (sometimes charming) quips. Different characters will respond to these in their own way, mostly depending on the situation, but there is no right or wrong path to take. So while the basic story will remain pretty much the same throughout, the way things go down can vary greatly depending on who likes and dislikes Michael, and most importantly by how much. Taking a middle-of-the-road experience will net one outcome while aiming for either side of the extremes will also offer differing outlooks. It is possible to select certain options and experience things that playing differently might not have shown, so not seeing a resolution to a story branch or having a plot twist at a certain point is just the way things work. Alpha Protocol offers a depth in terms of replayability that is rarely seen.
While the story in Alpha Protocol is rather engaging, one possible reason the game struggled to succeed is that the combat system is not what it appears to be on the surface. Battles look like full-on third-person action affairs, but this game is not a run-and-gun as all systems have stat-based RPG mechanics. As players level up, they can allocate skill points into different areas including stealth, different types of guns, sabotage, and more. Leveling these areas up will make Michael more effective in them, so stats play a large role even if the game looks as if it would be totally dependent on the player’s skill like an action title. Shooting an enemy at point blank range isn’t as important as having the stats leveled in the type of gun being used, so it can be disconcerting for those looking for fast action, but is helpful for those who don’t want to or can’t rely on reflexes alone. In fact, it is very possible to avoid shooting for much of the game if players take the stealth path and merely sneak around taking down opponents before even being seen.
Those who have focused no skills into any gun types or who have spread their skill point distribution too thin might have a harder time than those who have specialized in just a few areas. Each weapon type has its own unique uses with pistols being ideal for headshots and shotguns being perfect for handling crowded areas. However Thorton is developed, the game’s boss fights will require breaking away from the stealth approach and becoming involved in direct gunfights. Along with merely improving skills and upgrading weapons, sometimes the key to winning a battle will take place before the fight even starts. Players can purchase intel before embarking on a stage and sometimes the benefits gained via this information end up weakening a boss before the fight begins. In short, it’s best to treat Alpha Protocol like a spy would, fighting the real battle before bullets start flying.
Mini-games in Alpha Protocol play a large part in the overall experience. Players will be forced to play matching games in order to hack into computers or unlock doors and safes. While they are a neat distraction at first, they become tedious near the end of the game. There is not much to mention in terms of the presentation other than the fact that the visuals and sound quality are pretty standard fare. One thing of note is that the game did freeze in one area multiple times, though avoiding the single action that caused this problem was possible and no other issues were encountered.
Alpha Protocol is a very unique experience, as there is nothing quite like it in the RPG field. It pulls off the spy experience wonderfully, as all choices made really impact the current situation instead of just working up to give a good or bad ending. While the overall plot might not change too drastically, the path to get to the end does enough to make playing through the game more than once feel like a new experience. It’s truly a shame that more people didn’t give Alpha Protocol a chance, though I can completely understand why. It was delayed repeatedly, it gave the appearance of being a more action-focused title than it was, and fell into a media hate frenzy before it even hit stores and therefore sold accordingly. Regardless of what non-RPGamers might have thought about this one, as an RPG Alpha Protocol succeeded in many ways. This is a great game with room for improvement. With a few tweaks here and there it could have turned into a great series, though sadly it looks like Michael Thorton is destined to be disavowed.