As a frequenter of various gaming sites, I can say I was thoroughly irritated by how much Alpha Protocol was advertised. And with the exception of games that I trust (Like Super Mario Galaxy), I tend to stray from heavily marketed games. Strangely enough, the only reason I decided to pick this game up was because all sorts of game viewers have basically rubbed their nuts all over its face, and my friends who own the game have now a formed a line to do the same.
For those gamers who, by some act of god, didn't see any marketing for this game, Alpha Protocol is an "espionage RPG" whose main selling point is that the decisions you make in the game have far reaching consequences that affect your gameplay experience. And you know what? For once a game that says your actions have far reaching consequences is telling the truth! It's a pity everything else sucks.
Let's good out of the way first. People say the game looks bad, but I am going to say it's passable. The level design and character facial expressions are a little blocky at times but it doesn't take you out of the experience. The story is a true paradox; it's sometimes so confusing that you can't really follow it, yet in doing so it makes you truly feel like a paranoid spy who doesn't know who to trust. While it would've have been nice to have the plot be a little more coherent, it sets the atmosphere well enough that I'll give it a pass. And now for the in-game decisions.
I am a total gaming geek, and without revealing too much let me say that while games in the past (mainly Bioware products) have some kind of basic moral choice systems, this is the deepest I've seen by leaps and bounds. For example, in Mass Effect (which I absolutely adore) you can be an absolute dick up to a certain point and then suddenly decide to pick the valiant option and no one will blink an eye. In Alpha Protocol, your ass-holery can precede you and future characters will acknowledge you as a twat and treat you as such. Certain missions will even have more guards because they perceive asshole special agents as a greater threat than the regular kind.
Furthermore, what constitutes as being rude or a dick completely depends on who you're talking to. A rough and tumble kind of person may want you to be a rude, straightforward jackass and spit on your face if you compliment his sweater (a metaphor of course). This absolutely blew my mind because as a special agent, you HAVE to mold your personality to gain different peoples' trust and not everyone is going to fall for the by-the-books nice guy routine.
There are nice puzzle elements that require pinpoint controller precision in order to pick locks or hack computers. And for the most part, these are done very intuitively and give you a break from the sometimes labyrinthine conversation trees. I would have liked a little more difficulty on these games, but then again I'm a serious puzzle kind of guy and it's very hard for puzzle games to cause me difficulty.
And if you're wondering why, with this revolutionary depth that changes gameplay, this game has barely scraped above a 6/10, here it is: gameplay.
I KNOW what frustrating gameplay is. I've played the Prince of Persia 3D as well as some of the less glamorous Evil Dead games. But none of those have the budget of Alpha Protocol, so Obsidian's new project has no excuse.
Stat building is essential in any RPG game, and at first glance the weapon leveling system is almost like Mass Effect; four weapon classes, each into which can put experience points. BUT DON'T DO WHAT I DID. I didn't read SHIT about Alpha Protocol. I didn't even read most of the in game instructions because I figured out most of it on my own. This worked . . . until I tried my hand at gunplay. Alpha Protocol uses real-time combat where your stats affect your combat ability. That's fine . . . except gunplay is BASED ON DICE ROLLS. I put my points into stealth and pistols because it made me feel like a badass, but when I lined up a headshot with the pistol . . . I MISSED. I HAD THE SHOT LINED UP AND I MISSED FROM LIKE SIX YARDS AWAY! The only real way to play this game is to pour all your points into assault rifle so that the sheer volume of the shots compensates for the dice roll misses.
The gunplay isn't the only thing that's frustrating though, the stealth is also quite unbalanced.
While the nonsensical dice-based shooting, I figured I'd try and stealth through EVERY mission I could. However, enemy AI is unbelievably dull. And I don't mean Modern Warfare they stand behind cover and occasionally pop out their heads so they can be shot dumb, I mean these bastards can literally get stuck on the environment. Combine it with the fact that eventually you can become invisible for periods of time with a high enough stealth skill, and this game becomes easy for all the wrong reasons. And then the difficulty will spike at random times because there's just ONE guy that won't fall for your stealth tricks (and you will inadvertently focus on stealth because the gunplay is a piece of sh*t).
The fact that the actual "game" aspect of this game is what stops this game from being good is really depressing. If the "game" part of Alpha Protocol consisted entirely of QTE's and more puzzle sequences, I can honestly say this game would be better.
In conclusion, I'm going to say that this game isn't bad. Usually, the bad gameplay usually just makes the game incredibly easy (save for a few bits) and if you can deal with that, you'll find yourself playing a game whose depth will be imitated in the years to come and whose experience can change completely if you play through it twice. IF you want to play through it twice . . . is a completely different story.
Verdict: I don't like to give number scores, so I'll tentatively say that Alpha Protocol is worth a rent. The experience won't be recreated for another couple years so if u can shell out 6 – 8 dollars for a play through I'd recommend doing so. Just don't be surprised if the taste is a bittersweet one in the end.
Let me end this review on a unique note and say that I truly feel sorry for Obsidian. They were given a short amount of time to develop a sequel to one of the most beloved xbox games of all time, Knights of the Old Republic and yet when KOTOR II surprisingly (sarcasm) didn't match up to the first one we were all disappointed. THEN they made I what I consider a superior sequel to Neverwinter Nights and yet STILL received lower scores. And tired of making inferior Bioware sequels, they're first high budget solo venture has fallen flat on its face.
They really came up with something unique here, and their conversational depth and how it affects gameplay is going to revolutionize RPGs. It's just a goddamn shame that Obsidian won't be the one to capitalize from it . . .