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Saturday, 18 March 2017

Alpha Protocol.

Alpha Protocol.

I have fond memories of Alpha Protocol. While it was commercially and critically unsuccessful, I adored it for how it managed to create a sense of your choices actually meaning something (Telltale Games, take note), and for some actually fairly solid gameplay. So when I went back to it to Let's Play it, it was always going to be interesting to see how it held up now that I'm older and wiser.

The answer to the question? Not terribly. It's not as amazing as I remember it being, but I still hold that it wasn't as bad a game for its time that everyone seems to think it was.

An espionage RPG, Alpha Protocol puts you in the shoes of Michael Thorton, an operative of the secretive Alpha Protocol, who ends up on the run after the organisation attempts to kill him with a missile, at the behest of weapons manufacturers Halbech. Travelling to Rome, Moscow, and Taipei, Thorton attempts to thwart Halbech's plans and clear his name, with the help of his handler, Mina, and a slowly growing army of allies.

What nice armour.

 The crux of the game is the conversation system, which gives you three options: Bond, or suave; Bauer, or aggressive; and Bourne, or professional. The problem with this conversation system is that Thorton is creepy, smug, and self-satisfied, and so they come across as 'creepy mouthbreather, creepy aggressive guy, and creepy mouthbreather #2.' Thorton is, in fact, a supremely unlikable main character, making the fact that everyone he meets seems to take a shine to him.

Backing this system up are the combat gameplay and a set of minigames. The combat is pretty much your standard third-person shooter (with some melee attacks), while the minigames are fun, but lose their novelty quickly. You can theoretically stealth through levels, but the stealth system is so borked as to make it not even remotely worthwhile. Luckily, the game doesn't detect when people have noticed you, only if you kill people, so if you sprint through the level punching everyone unconscious (easier than it sounds), you'll get people talking about how Thorton was 'like a shadow.'

The story is extremely modular -- you can globehop and do each area in any order, or even some of the missions for one area and then some for another -- and as such, each area has a variant on the same story: Halbech wants to do something bad -- smuggle arms, commit terrorism, assassinate a political figure -- and you have to stop them.

Come on, he'll show us the computers.

The game does take some steps towards making you feel like you're in a coherent narrative, however, by having your choices impact conversations and missions afterwards. Characters will reference things you've done before, or speak to your more familiarly if you've already met them, and so on, and so forth. The other big advantage of this is that it makes you feel like your choices actually mean something, instead of just being undone by the game immediately afterwards.

Missions all tend to be very short, each one taking maybe ten to twenty minutes, which is fine because they're also not all that varied: Almost all of them are 'go into this place and beat people up until you reach your objective.'

That ties in to how the game itself is actually pretty short. My playthrough took all of about seven hours, which even by today's standards is a pretty uninspiring length of time -- and at the time of release, certainly wouldn't be sufficient for a £40, ostensibly triple A title.


Graphically, the game is fine. It looks odd and clunky for today, but for the year the game came out in (the far flung past of 2010), it was neither terrible nor amazing. The soundtrack is okay, as well, and the voice acting is usually passable. Nobody in the game is putting on a brilliant performance, but nobody is overtly terrible, at least -- well, except Josh Gilman, who plays Mike and seems to always be doing his best to make me hate both him and the character.

So that's Alpha Protocol: Technically competent, neither the best nor the worst game on the market. The one thing it does do well, though -- making you feel like your choices are impactful -- it does really well, and for that I do think it should be at least a somewhat celebrated game. 

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