Alpha Protocol: The Espionage RPGESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
In-Game Dolby Digital
When I first saw Sega's newest game, and who the developers were, I was expecting great things from the beginning. Alpha Protocol: The Espionage RPG takes you on the wild roller coaster ride of an international spy. It is developed by Obsidian Entertainment who also developed Star Wars: Knights of Old Republic II, which is one of my favourite original Xbox titles, and one that I have played through and still own. So it should be expected that I couldn’t wait to pop this game in my Xbox 360 and start exploring the gritty and glamorous life of being a spy.
Visually, Alpha Protocol could use a bit a bit more polish. The levels, which are located in places such as Rome, Tai Pei and Moscow were, for the most part, nice to look at. Each location was brought to life with great recreations of the architecture and atmosphere of each unique country. On the flip side, each environment was filled with glitches. There were quite a few occasions where I could walk through objects such as large boulders and even walk off the map, which I did once by accident.
The in-game characters are nothing special to look at and lack emotion. This was quite evident given the minimal or awkward facial expressions found on the characters. On a more plus side, the little things such as weapons, armour, clothing, and headgear are varied enough on the characters to create distinct styles and in the case of other soldiers, their distinct factions. The main character, Michael Thorton, is customizable and you get to change his facial appearance which includes his skin tone, hair style, beard, hat, eyes and eyewear. The options are a bit limited and I think it would have been nice to unlock new appearance options as you progress through the game.
When you don’t note any glaring problems with the sound effects or music you know the developers did a good job with the sound or kept the game so exciting that you didn’t have time to notice. In the case of Alpha Protocol they did a bit of both, balancing great music with some detailed sound effects, but losing a little ground on the voice acting that was lacking and a bit disappointing.
Throughout the game the music is mostly instrumental and it does an admirable job of setting the right tone and tempo for each mission. One of the more memorable music moments within the game is during the boss fight against Brayko. This level takes place in the middle of a dance floor, with a sound stage and a few large speakers which are blaring “Turn Up the Radio” by Autograph.
The sound effects within the game are top notch, complete with guards yelling at each other when they are under fire, and even communicating to each other when something doesn’t feel right. Of course we cannot forget the explosions, gunfire, and grenades ricocheting off the walls. While in the game these sounds can cause a ringing in your virtual ears as a result of the nearby in-game explosion that happened next to you.
In the case of an RPG where dialogue is a large portion of the story telling within the game, you would hope for a pristine performance when it comes to the voice acting. Unfortunately, there was no chemistry between any of the characters and at times the emotionless voices took on a robotic tone which is surprising with the years of experience the voice actors have in video games and other mediums. If not for the great music and sound effects the sound aspect of Alpha Protocol would have been a total loss.
The story involves Alpha Protocol, a top secret organization that works outside of the jurisdiction of the United States of America. This grants them the ability to perform covert military operations throughout the world that profits the United States while giving them deniability. Enter Michael Thorton, a new recruit into Alpha Protocol who is ready to serve his country and protect its assets. Michael Thorton plays the main character and will be your eyes and ears as you play out the storyline.
The storyline is one of the stronger points of Alpha Protocol providing plenty of options through dialogue which uses a Dynamic Stance System. This system allows you to pick from an Aggressive, Professional or Suave stance which will determine the type of discussion takes place. What makes this unique is that when you choose a stance and the conversation unfolds, you won’t have the option to go back and re-do the conversation to determine a new outcome. Mind you, your answers won’t always say Aggressive, Professional or Suave, but they will be along the same theme with options like Flirtatious, !@#$ Off, and Sarcastic to name a couple off the top of my head. A fourth option sometimes appears which is influenced by the intel that you have acquired throughout your missions or on the black market.
Throughout the storyline you will visit Saudi Arabia, Taipei, Rome and Moscow. After completing your first mission in Saudi Arabia you will be able to travel to any of the cities at any time to complete missions, gain intelligence, and recruit allies to your cause. In similar fashion as to how your conversations will affect the outcome of missions, the order you perform your missions can also affect the outcome of the story as well. Literally, almost anything you do from taking innocent lives, assassinating potential allies, or leaving them alive can change the story and how your allies/enemies perceive you.
One of the first choices you make in Alpha Protocol is your history. These histories fall in the categories of Soldier, Field Agent, Tech Specialist, Freelancer or Recruit. Each history has its pros and cons and each has its own focus. Soldiers are weapon specialists, Field Agents are perfect for covert missions, Tech Specialists lean towards the sabotage and hacking side of missions and you get to pick and choose your strengths because you are a Freelancer. Finally, Recruits, which is probably the most challenging history to select, is where you start off with a clean slate, earning your skills as you progress through the game.
As with most RPG’s you have skills that you can train. In Alpha Protocol you can train in the following skills: Weapons, Stealth, Sabotage, Technical Aptitude, Toughness and Martial Arts.
There are four weapons that are available to you throughout your adventure, including pistols, submachine guns, shotguns and assault rifles. Each time you upgrade a weapon you increase how well you handle it and the damage it causes. If you continue to upgrade the weapons you will eventually unlock special abilities which are specific to each weapon. For example, with pistols you can unlock chain shot which slows down time and allows you to take a specific moment to target your enemies for optimal damage. Weapons can also have four accessories, one per accessory slot, which can affect things like damage, recoil, ammo capacity, or accuracy. Sometimes there will be a negative effect associated with the accessory, so it is best to play around with the accessories to balance out your weapon to your liking.
With the rest of your skills the same format applies, the more your upgrade your skills the better you perform with each skill and further abilities will be unlocked. It is best to read about each of the skills to determine the type of abilities that suit your style of play.
One more feature to tie in with your skills and weapons is your armour. Armour doesn’t have any skills or abilities associated with it but you are able to purchase a variety of different types in the game's Black Market along with armour modifications. A piece of armour can have up to four modifications which can provide you with mods like better armour, increased hacking skills, or more ammo capacity.
Overall, the gameplay controls work well. Aiming is straight forward with a point & shoot functionality which is combined with the strengths and weaknesses of each weapon type (e.g. pistols and shotguns working well at close to mid range or SMG’s working well on crowds). Melee attacks can be performed in a hand to hand situation where the enemy knows of your presence, or you can sneak up on your foe and take them down without killing them or slit their throat with your trusty army issued knife should you desire. It is up to you how deadly you are.
When it came to the gameplay mechanics and the AI of the enemies, there were quite a few glitches that were downright frustrating. An example of this is when I was involved in the boss encounter with Konstantin Brayko. The battle takes place in a large room with a stage centered in it. During the battle Brayko enters into a fury and can deal out a great amount of damage, and like any good spy I have learned when to evade and evaluate the situation (a.k.a. running away like a pansy). During my avoidance I ended up on top of the stage and Brayko ran to the bottom of the stage directly below me rather than coming up the stairs to attack me. As I continued to evade him and took some cover I noticed he was still trying to run onto the stage from the bottom and seemed somewhat stuck, even after I shot him numerous times. He didn’t move until I took down his health to about 25%, where his strategy changed and he was able to move again. Mind you, this was by far the hardest boss I fought the whole game and it was nice to be able to take him down, but it would have been better if I had done it without a broken section of the game making it easy for me.
Another frustrating moment was when I lined up a shot with my assault rifle behind a tree, the branches and leaves were blowing back and forth but I was still able to see the head of a soldier manning a machine gun. With a critical shot to the head lined up, I pressed the trigger only to have a leaf save his life by blocking the bullet. Collision detection issues like this should not exist in a game that has had plenty of development time. Argh!!!!
The storyline is ultimately what kept me playing Alpha Protocol. The thirst to find out how the story would end and how my decisions would affect the outcome of the game was really quite an addiction. There are multiple endings and I am on my second play through as a Recruit on the hardest difficulty. Playing through a second time really lets one see the differences that can unfold based on the different choices that are made. Even with the great storyline, regrettably there were too many times when the random glitches throughout the game had me wanting to throw my controller into the wall. Some extra work to the AI and some more gameplay testing before production would made this game a whole lot better.
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