Wot I Think: Alpha Protocol

By John Walker on June 4th, 2010 at 3:51 pm.

I choose to review this.

If you haven’t read my experiences with the first couple of hours of Alpha Protocol, it’s worth reading those first, since I’ll be building on top of that. That done, here’s Wot I Think:

Things weren’t good. An extremely buggy game, with an inauspicious start. Having finished it, almost twice in fact, has my opinion changed? Yes, certainly. Has it been redeemed as the excellent espionage RPG we were all hoping for? No, absolutely not. Alpha Protocol is a game with enormous spirit, and little delivery. It’s huge in scope, certainly does offer you the ability to progress through it in distinct ways, and contains a ton of interesting relationships and witty characters. But since you spend the majority of the game running around either shooting or stunning enemies, the poverty of its action isn’t something that can exactly be ignored.

Your character, Michael Thorton, travels around the world, from China to Russia to Italy, to uncover a conspiratorial plot of big business, secret organisations, and a plan to create a new cold war. In each country he gets a safehouse, access to a weapons store, and communications with a collection of equally rogue characters met in his travels. While he always works alone, Thorton is accompanied by a handler for each mission, who chats in his ear and offers advice. Before missions you can gather intel, speak to associated characters, and equip yourself specifically for the task, then choosing how exactly you want to approach the goals. Or indeed what the goals might be.

The promise of being able to get through the game without killing anyone is, well, technically true. However, you’re simply substituting killing for knocking unconscious. You still fire a gun or apply a karate chop, and the body still falls to the floor, fading from existence seconds later. As a mechanic, the game is near-identical if you play it as a murderous lunatic or an anaesthetist gone rogue. And as a third-person action game, it’s simply sub-par. The game it reminds me of most, actually, is Stranglehold, which perhaps isn’t the direction a sneaky spy-based game should have headed in.

However, that choice does have a significant effect on much else in the game. For instance, your relationship with colleagues, and in turn the perks and bonuses you receive.

In fact, the perks and bonuses system is absolutely fantastic. Pretty much everything you do, from how you kill to the way you reply to emails will accumulate and give you various boosts. For instance, one mission sets you up with a sniper rifle and a series of people to identify. Once your target is spotted you can choose to take him out, or let him live, based on the evidence you have. But should you choose to, you can mindlessly murder everyone else at the end of your scope, so long as you don’t let any witnesses escape. Replaying the game as a complete bastard I received “Trigger Happy”, an achievement that reads:

“While gunning for Al-Bara, you “accidentally” killed some other people at the party… these things happen.

Reduced Cooldown: Room Sweep.”

You can obviously level up to focus on various specialities: technical skills, specific weapons, stealth, and the like. Different classes have access to all specialities, but the later levels of expertise are only available to specific classes. Then each of these is tweaked by those many, many perks that appear, relevant to how you’ve chosen to play. It’s a great system.

Conversations are another highlight, and a significant one, since there are hundreds. How you choose to conduct yourself, picking a mood in which you want to reply while the other character is speaking, defines how you get on with people. This can have minor impacts, such as changing a perk you might receive depending upon their feelings about you. Or major impacts such as determining who will be willing to help you out, send in reinforcements, or provide you with necessary details.

The most prominent of these is with Mina, your handler for the majority of the game. She’d far rather you chose to keep as many people alive as you can, and is completely intolerant of the deaths of civilians. (However, there are others who find such things a thrill.) However, unlike many games where letting her down would lead to losing out on a bonus, here it instead changes the nature. Extremes are advantageous, so either win her heart or drive her to loathe you, and you’ll gain advantages either way.

There are other significant characters along the way, with your ability to make enormous choices like whether they live or die, or many smaller ones regarding how you might let them help you out. Do you send information you find on Halbec, the evil corporation selling weapons to two sides of a potential war, to a reporter who can expose it in public (and pay you $1000 in return), or do you use it to blackmail the company (and get $15,000 in your account)? Or perhaps you sell that information on the black market to the highest bidder.

There is one giant flaw here, however. Much of the main dialogue is independent of how characters feel about you. Insult them, and they’ll react. But be a complete dick, having everyone hate you, and more often than not the chatter turns ludicrously amiable, even having Thorton reply in flirty or upbeat ways. Play nice and it all seems seamless. Play nasty, and enormous cracks start to show.

So choice – the big feature on which the game is sold – certainly does have an effect. And one is more startling than any previously mentioned. The order in which you travel the world.

Heading to Rome before Moscow is an arbitrary decision when you make it. But the consequences are fascinating. While it doesn’t ultimately transform the narrative, it certainly effects how you experience it. During my first play through I was as saintly as I could be (apart from accidentally stabbing one Chinese policeman in the neck, which was sad). But on a second play I went as awful as I possibly could, senselessly murdering citizens at every opportunity. Tales of my antics were spoken of later, not only by characters I met and the man interviewing me in the punctuating flashbacks that drive the narrative, but also by NPCs chatting around corners.

Then it goes deeper still, with the game forcing you to make some stark choices. Do you save the girl or stop the bombs? Each has consequences felt in later cities. However, do that mission in your final destination and no such repercussions will be revealed. Of course you’re still ploughing through the same overarching story, but a great deal of how you get there feels personal to you.

So that’s the best of the news. The worst is what a mess the core game can be.

Enemy AI, for example, is often shocking. They vary, as if in an attempt to embrace the worst of the genre, from psychic precision to a vegetative state. Creeping in the far back corner of a vast multi-levelled room affords no protection from an idling guard 50 metres and two storeys away from you. If there’s line of sight, they see you. Or perhaps they stand there facing you while you murder their chums, and then politely wait for you to finish filing their faces with bullets before having a lie down. The former is infuriating in a game that should be offering a way to stealth through a level. Invariably you end up in some sort of firefight, even if you choose to shoot blanks. The latter is laughable, and makes the game seem cheap.

Then it can often go completely to shit, with helicopters becoming invincible, men magicking out of nowhere, and missions refusing to end despite all criteria being met. (Each happened to me once during one play through.) More often there’s icky clipping, nasty staggers and loading as the game struggles to fill in the level, and at one point a sniper rifle that causes Mike to float and spin on the spot before he can use it. Which was kind of cool.

Getting through any area is always interrupted by dozens and dozens of tedious minigames. There are three main types, and each is utterly awful and a miserable waste of time. It’s incredible how dominant these become, every other room containing a lock to pick, a computer to hack, and thanks to psychic guards, inevitably an alarm to turn off. If they at least varied, then perhaps there’d be some reason to keep being interrupted. But instead it’s like driving down a road covered in ludicrous speedbumps, endlessly having to slow to a halt just to progress.

I should say some things in defence of the combat, which – if specialised correctly – can offer some highlights.

While it’s little more than a shooting gallery, the hand-to-hand martial arts are fun to use, and if you get the assault rifle souped up suitably it can be a big pleasure using it to pick out headshots from a room of enemies. (Of course, this is only an option if you’ve abandoned any plans of being subtle.) Focusing on one weapon seems to be the trick. I used the pistol and fisticuffs to get through most of the game the first time through, and while it limits your options it’s certainly possible.

The level of customisation is quite remarkable, each of the huge number of guns and pieces of armour able to be tweaked to your satisfaction. Then all the stats previously mentioned, combined with the relationships you choose, and the people you ally with, means that huge amounts have been achieved.

The beginning is just awful, but the three main cities offer a great deal of entertainment. Of course they’re frustrated by the issues above, and it’s inescapable that the core action-shooter mechanics are mostly mediocre. But I still immediately started it again once it was finished. That’s got to count for something.

And after a write-up this muddled and bi-polar, I realise it doesn’t perhaps indicate too helpfully whether you should buy it. I say do. But go in knowing how flawed it is. With the additional proviso that the bugs mentioned in my previous article are extremely serious. I played the game using a 360 controller, and I’m pretty convinced it would have been impossible without one, certainly pre-patch.

It’s not a game about being a spy. It’s a game about being an international mercenary, who single-handedly cleans out cities of their baddies, while sometimes placing a bug. It’s not a brilliant game, but it’s one packed with imagination and inspired ideas.

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148 Comments »

  1. RQH says:

    I was on the fence about this game until I saw beard-o Thorton. More non-fantasy games need the option for really great beards (none of this gotee/soulpatch weaksauce.)

  2. Nick says:

    Sounds ripe for a fan patch… here’s hoping. Assuming they don’t fix it themselves.

  3. Oozo says:

    Still unsure about buying it. I mean, it has the Obsidian/Avellone-bonus, which is worth a whole lot in my books. Seems like the writing is one of the few areas where the game doesn’t disappoint…
    Then again, I could just wait for fans or Obsidian to fix all the obvious (and, as far as I can tell, possibly fixable) flaws and give it a shoot after the first patches have arrived.
    RPS, I hope you keep us informed on the progress…

  4. Phried says:

    I’ve started playing it and have found it quite enjoyable.
    I agree with this review.

    • Lobotomist says:

      I have been playing AP for few hours now. My opinion is that AP is much what I expected ME2 to be.
      Combat system & rpg skills are certainly much better than ME2. And level design actually resembles a FPS game. Not just bunch of corridors with boxes (ah yes, exciting ME2)

      At core its a very good RPG game.

      What more of a proof you need than willingness of people (including John W.) to replay it right after they finished it ?

  5. Eight Rooks says:

    Still don’t get the psychic AI thing. I was never once seen from the other side of a room in any way that’d make it seem unfeasible and/or ridiculously unfair. And while the enemy certainly did some idiotic things on several occasions the AI was nowhere near, say, Lost Planet 2 (yes, yes, a console game, I know). In many ways I found the combat far more challenging than Mass Effect 2 ever was partly just because the enemies actually moved around a lot, where ME2 really was just a very pretty shooting gallery for the most part.

    And I liked all of the minigames, still do, and appreciate that for the most part the difficult ones are entirely optional and/or bypassable. Only the penultimate boss fight had it set up where to get to the ‘this makes the whole fight so much easier’ part you had to pick five tumblers in about ten seconds while under fire.

    I certainly can’t argue it’s a ridiculously unpolished game with a whooole lot of questionable design decisions. But I warmed to it far more than anything Bioware have ever done. Dragon Age in particular simply doesn’t come close to this.

  6. Auspex says:

    Still undecided. Most likely going to wait to get it cheap.
    Also if you’re interested in Alpha Protocol you might be interested to know that the new Deus Ex trailer is up!

    http://www.eurogamer.net/videos/deus-ex-human-revolution-takes-shape?size=hd

  7. Jockie says:

    Pretty much entirely agree with everything said, it’s a game that does some things so right that it’s worth playing for them alone, but the combat levels are atrocious in execution. Additionally, I didn’t enjoy any of the boss battles and felt that the game unravelled towards the end, lots of loose ends, unresolved sub plots and a distinct feeling that the latter parts of the game were rushed (which is nigh on unforgivable considering the big delay).

    I have a lot of good will towards Obsidian and hope they one day can release a game that lives up their potential as a studio, but this isn’t even close to being it.

    • Archonsod says:

      It’s worth replaying and doing some things differently if you think there’s any loose ends. What’s revealed depends very much on your actions and your relationship with various characters. You can even miss an entire mission at one point.

    • sfury says:

      I feel the same, especially about the end and how soon it came (and how most characters suddenly went batshit crazy and you finding skeletons in almost everyone’s closets).

      On the other hand – not really an excuse, but I think Obsidian and SEGA were planning this as a new IP, probably beginning of a series so they might have cut material and decided it would show up in a sequel. But what are the chances for a sequel of a game so unevenly received by critics and who knows what sales (even if marketing made wonders, definitely won’t sell as much as Mass Effect) – I really hope there would be a second game and it would be much more realized and polished – but I’m afraid those are just pipe dreams. SEGA canning the Aliens RPG probably won’t risc it , and even if that happens I don’t see Obsidian finally delivering that finished game – I just don’t trust them anymore, even though I like them a lot.

  8. Sam says:

    I’m pretty over the moon for this game, even in the early section. Bugs and lack of shinyness aside, its better than I’d hoped. I am at work trying to concentrate on anything else.

    Proviso: Playing stealthy punchy pistols and having a good time with it, not sure how other skill paths work in practice.

  9. R. says:

    Yeah, look. Technically, it’s shoddy as hell, no getting away from it, it’s practically held together with sticky tape and early on, the combat is utterly woeful. However, once you level up, spend some points in various combat talents (I went steatlh – pistols – kung fu), it gets a lot better, though still some way behind proper TPS games and ME2 even.

    What really works is the story, characters and writing. Looking at people’s recounts of their adventures on various forums, quite often the same responses come up: “WTF, I didn’t get *anything* like that”. Seriously, it’s like a modern day, spy themed Way of the Samurai and, despite its lack of polish, despite its dodgy presentation and questionable design decisions, I’m really enjoying the hell out of it. It’s not game of the year material but there’s great potential here and it’s far better than some of the reviews would have people believe.

    It’s essentially a 7/10 game but a 7 doesn’t mean a game’s not worth bothering with, does it?

  10. Archonsod says:

    The only levels I’ve found you can’t stealth through are the boss battles. And for most of them you can hide, it just doesn’t really do much good. I suspect it’s too dependent on the equipment rather than the skill – you can max out your stealth skill but enemies will still spot you across the level, slip some digital camouflage into your stealth armour on the other hand and even with zero points in stealth most of them won’t spot you at anything over twelve feet.
    Never had any of the glitches mentioned, just the odd stagger when it saves and a millisecond or two of basic textures after loading a scene.

    The other thing I liked was how some of the choices were none-obvious. To get the best ending it’s sometimes better to save one person than a few hundred, and another time better to sacrifice one for the many.

  11. Hentzau says:

    It’s classic Obsidian: the actual RPG parts are excellent but the implementation of everything else is terrible. I too had a helicopter bug out and become invincible, there’s a problem on PC where the game will freeze for about half a second when turning around leaving you disoriented and helpless during firefights, and the game is littered with all manner of baffling mechanical design decisions, from the “take cover” and “start minigame” actions being controlled by the same button – ensuring that if you attempt to take cover behind a desk with a computer during a firefight you’ll start hacking the bloody thing instead – to the hacking minigame itself, which is, like so much of the game, a nice idea absolutely ruined by woeful, woeful controls.

    That being said, I’m currently on my third playthrough and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every one so far in spite of the massive, massive problems with the game; I’m finding new plot elements even now, and I’m fairly sure the game still has enough unseen content to merit a fourth go round. I’m not sure if the story and dialogue elements of the game are enough to raise it up above its shocking mechanical problems. I suspect not, at least until its been patched several times. But at the very least there’s a huge amount of innovation in branching design here that other developers (BIOWARE I’M LOOKING AT YOU) would do well to learn from.

    • Tei says:

      “there’s a problem on PC where the game will freeze for about half a second when turning around leaving you disoriented and helpless during firefights,”

      this could be this problem Unreal have with mouses… since use acceleration by default, and framerate for this acceleration, and framerate can dramatically change wen you rotate, the calculations are wrong, hence is not smooth at all.

      I own a commodore 64, so I understand why a joystick can benefict from acceleration, but mouses don’t, .. unreal developers sould know better, is 2010, not 1983.

    • DigitalSignalX says:

      The mouse sensitivity drove me insane in AP, picking locks was impossible because I’d have to lift slide lift slide my mouse for 5 seconds just to move the first tumbler while still being responsive but not impossible to control in FPS mode. My fix was to download a trainer application with an option to disabled all the mini-game timers. I mean, seriously, why do I have a 15 second timer to pick a padlock anyway before some alarm sounds?

      Anyway, I thought it was a good game, the RPG elements were much better then the actual game play part. But it’s far from perfect.

  12. FlynT says:

    Thanks for the review, i really appreciate it! Since i’m pretty skeptic about the UE Engine, for sure the engine itself looks hot and nice but the lack of a 100% working steering system for the PC still suxx. I can live with some kinds of bugs, but when the steering is fucked up the game becomes pointless to play it.

  13. Heliosicle says:

    I have just completed Taipei and nothing else, and while I’ve found some AI glitches, its been mostly enjoyable, although Saudi Arabia is shocking. It definitely has a lot of character that comes through in the dialogue, Heck is my favourite character by far (so far)

  14. RiptoR says:

    Finished the game using the keyboard/mouse combo, and never had any real problems. To me the game was completely enjoyable without a controller of the patch John mentions. I didn’t even know there was a patch…

    Only the hacking minigame was a bit hard at first, but once you’ve spent a couple of upgrade points towards hacking and have practised a bit, it becomes fairly easy to do.

  15. csuzw says:

    The game is definitely playable without a 360 controller although it’s obviously designed for 1. I’ve played through fully twice with mouse and keyboard and thoroughly.

    Personally I thoroughly enjoyed the game and think it’s well worth playing despite the many flaws. That said I didn’t encounter any of the bugs John encounters, just the many design issues like bad AI, animation, mini-games and UI which I learnt to live with.

    I think the dialogue system and the effects of the choices you make are as good as any other game available. There is something in John’s criticism of some of the main dialogue being independent of character’s behaviour/relationship and this does have an especially jarring effect when you’re playing through as an angry/violent character, however I can’t think of more than a handful of times this happened. I might be blinded by how much I liked the game though on this point.

  16. newt says:

    Core action-shooter-huh? There are no “core action-shooter” mechanics. There are “core RPG mechanics” appplied to the shooting. Vampire: Bloodlines was just like that, so was Deus Ex. Yeah, back then, Deus Ex was criticized for not being as good a shooter as Half-Life. But that argument was bloody wrong.

    • Reiver says:

      Deus ex gave you much more freedom to play as you wanted though and allowed the RPG elements to shine within the gameplay and not just in the bits between. The tight linearity and slightly dodgy mechanics and movement (oh no a two foot wall without a interact button…) means you’ve little choice in how to approach the actual levels. Also Deus ex let you save where you wanted rather than forcing you to rely on checkpoints that test your patience after the 4th glitchy death or hack failure.

    • Thants says:

      The argument wasn’t really wrong. As fantastic as Deus Ex is, even its fans usually agree that the actual combat isn’t very good.

    • drewski says:

      Even levelled up, the shooty mechanisms in Deus Ex suck.

      Don’t get me wrong, love the game to bits but not for the joy of shooting things.

  17. Bioptic says:

    First off just want to say that I really, really love the game – it’s taken a grip on my mind that few recent experiences have. But with the major proviso that I’ve been fortunate to not experience any major bugs or glitches in the game so far, aside from 5 enemies bizarrely disappearing once when I reloaded a checkpoint, and the slight stuttering during mid-level loading already mentioned.

    I imagine a lot of it has to do with playstyle, though – I’m doing it like a Splinter Cell game, where the focus is very much on murdering/knocking people out silently and undetectably one by with, with recourse to martial arts when things cock up. This means that each encounter is a mini-puzzle, rather than bland shooting gallery. The game seems to be built around this style – I’d imagine anyone wanting a greater emphasis on firearms might be frustrated by the experience. Like John, I’d also say the experience is much improved with a 360 controller, even though I’d never normally play a shooter on PC with one.

    Finally, I genuinely don’t understand the complaint about the minigames – it’s lazy padding to be sure, but everything from Mass Effect 1&2 to Bioshock has them, as they serve to provide minor changes of pace and mental breaks from relentless combat. As for the quality, I’d say they’re each about as good as they can be, and at least offer in a bit more variety in the skills they require. You have:

    1) Lock-picking, which has you pushing against the spring resistance of the controller trigger to align tumblers. I found it pleasantly fiddly, and always required my full concentration (because I’m cack-handed).

    2) Deactivating/alarms, which is a glorified ‘join the tangled pipes to the end bit on the bottom’ but in sequence and under a tight timer, and is what Mass Effect’s icon-matching should have been.

    3) Hacking, where you have to pick out 2 strings of static numbers from a field of shifting ones that fucks with your vision something fierce. Again, I never find this boring because I’m so amazingly rubbish at it.

    With 5 points invested in the Sabotage skill, you can also bypass any minigame with an EMP grenade too, for those that really hate them.

    • Schmitzkater says:

      This.

      The lockpicking mini-game is laughably easy with mouse and keyboard, the alarm deactivation I actually found quite fun
      and to get by the Hacking challenges I just put some points into Sabotage Skill and never had to deal with one again.

    • bleeters says:

      That would suggest we didn’t have plentiful reasons to despise them on sight.

    • Ragnar says:

      All mini-games should be put to the following test:

      1. Get 10 random people
      2. Let them play the mini-game 100 times in a row
      3. If 9 of them still thinks the mini-game is fun it can stay.

      Any developer that disregards this test should be forced to play their own mini-games continuously for a week.

    • HermitUK says:

      @Kobzon There’s good reason to be wary or annoyed at minigame overuse (Can’t comment specifically on AP, not played it, talking more in general here).

      The idea behind them is to add some sense of player skill to game elements like lockpicking or hacking or whatever. The mistake they all seem to make is that this has to be done with a half-baked puzzle game, which entirely drags the player out of the game he’s actually playing.

      Bioshock’s woeful hacking minigame, for example, where all your adversaries kindly stop trying to kill you while you hover in mid air and play pipemania to turn a camera to your side.

      Compare to Fallout 3′s lockpicking, which is much better, though not perfect – I usually install a mod that means picking a lock doesn’t pause the game, which also helps. It means getting past a lock requires a bit of dexterity (as you’d expect) and awareness of what’s going on around you – no more picking locks in the middle of a firefight or in line of sight of a guard.

    • Tei says:

      I like the hacking game and the cables game, but I am ready to admit that are mostly awnfull and tecnically attrocious.

  18. Lukasz says:

    what’s with the yoga kick?

    Buying it next week. Then i will wait for community patches to arrive because they will…

  19. Kelron says:

    I’ve played it through once and enjoyed it very much, I didn’t experience many of the problems I’ve heard mentioned. That said, I did play it specialised in assault rifles and beefy armour, while making friends with everyone. From what you wrote here, that may have been the least problematic way to play.

    The hacking minigame was really, really bad, but I didn’t mind the other two and even managed to be successful with hacking most of the time. I would recommend anyone gets 2 ranks in “Sabotage”, it doesn’t cost many skillpoints and lets you bypass the minigames using EMP grenades, as well as giving you more time to do them.

  20. fnsmatt says:

    I’m with the “wait till it’s patched, then buy it cheap” crowd.

    • fnsmatt says:

      So I was going to wait till it was patched, but after reading a lot of positive comments from non-reviewers, I bought the game – and let me say it is the best RPG of the last 10 years, hands-down, and after a few patches may be among the best RPGs of all time.

      If you play RPGs in order to play a role – you know, the R and P part, Alpha Protocol is fantastic. Yes you need to edit an .ini file to get things running smoothly, and there is no quicksave (which I think actually ends up working to the game’s favor, even if it was frustrating occasionally), but the amount of detail in the choices available to you is staggering. The cast of characters are all well-developed and interesting. The voice acting is uniformly good. You have a large amount of control over how you play and develop your character, and all your choices have a sometimes surprising and very real impact on the story.

      I honestly have no idea why reviewers are so tough on this title. John’s review seems about half-right to me, but doesn’t give the game nearly enough credit for the mind-boggling number of choices available to the player. It deserves a 9/10, and would be a 10/10 if not for the .ini editing, occasional bug (but never a game breaking bug), and occasional longish loading times. Give it two or three patches, and this game will seriously be in contention for best RPG ever. If you like PC RPGs, this game is a real throwback – warts and all. It already compares very favorably to Fallout, Vampire: Bloodlines, Deus Ex, PS:T, and Baldur’s Gate 2.

      If you’re at all on the fence, I would encourage you to buy Alpha Protocol!

  21. Wednesday says:

    /haven’t read John’s piece yet, need to get something off chest.

    The story is aybsmal. The characters and dialogue carry it along well enough, but it couldn’t be more of a cliche if it tried. The real enemy: giant corporation, why are they doing this, to raise profits by inciting war. It’s less a damning indictment of the millitary-industrial complex more a theft of 24′s first series, and that was hardly a groundbreaking narrative either.

    I couldn’t help but groan after tired spy trope after tired spy trope cropped up. They’re not even really the fun ones, like men with lethal hats.

    • Wednesday says:

      Just to clarify, I feel I need to point out that I don’t necessarily mind a thing being generic. All that really means is that its of its genre. Both of the Mass Effects, particularly the first, have really generic storylines. I can’t quite explain why this bothered me more. Perhaps because in ME it felt like the reason for those narrative choices was the desire to tell a grand old space epic, a new Star Wars, rather than just rummaging through the ideas bin.

      I’m sure some folk will disagree quite a bit, especially after mentioning ME, which is akin these days to saying “I really quite like Coldplay”.

    • Wednesday says:

      Oh god spoilers, I’m such an idiot, can you guys delete that? God I’m stupid.

    • Ragnar says:

      Abysmal? No, I’d rather say bland. It is not anywhere near as rubbish as the ME2 story.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      Men with lethal hats? What about cats with monitoring devices surgically inserted into them?

  22. Will says:

    Anachronox?

    Didn’t play the full game but the demo seemed like that.

  23. Jason Moyer says:

    I think it’s pretty key to focus on 3 specialties, although that’s such a standard RPG paradigm that I was doing it automatically before the game pushed me in that direction. Going with a balanced focus on Stealth/Pistols/Sabotage it plays a lot like Splinter Cell Conviction having sex with Deus Ex while KotoR2 looks on unapprovingly. I’d honestly give it a 10 or a 9.5 if it weren’t for some of the out-of-the-box weirdness (Thorton’s movement animations, when not crouched, were jarring when I started the game, and there’s the ubiquitous level-streaming-camera-jumpiness), as it really hits a sweet spot for me between a good spy/assassin experience and the crazy conspiracy theory dialog-heavy goodness of Deus Ex.

    Anyway, playing with my Stealth/Pistol/Sabotage character I was already beyond a Sam Fisher level of skill by the second Saudi mission – guards couldn’t see me from a distance, I could move invisibly from cover-to-cover, I could passively see NPC’s through walls, and I could do slo-mo pistol chain shots. I’m a few mission from the end of Rome now, I think, which is my second city (after Tapei) and I can pretty much walk into a room and clear it instantly depending on whether the generic-stealth-game guards are on my list of people who need to die or not. And that’s with the underpowered-as-all-hell pistol.

    Final note for people playing stealthily and having issues with the boss encounters – traps are your friends. Mmm, traps.

    • sfury says:

      oh man, traps

      I carried 4-5 of them all the time but kept using them as a non-lethal grenade and totally forgot how they taught me in the tutorial to use them on doors and other surfaces…

      Good thing I’m starting my 2nd playthrough this time, maybe I’ll try that too.

      (thought the stealth/pistol/sabotage time is probably over for me – was good while it lasted in the 1st play :)

  24. dhex says:

    so cool…but annoying?

  25. Pemptus says:

    I’m having no problems whatsoever with the controls – but then switching mouse smoothing to “false” was the very first thing I did (the config files are somewhere in the install dir, there were two sets of them, I modified both just to be on the safe side). The hacking game’s a bit clumsy but manageable and everything else feels very pc-gamish with the mouse+keyboard.

    As for the game itself… Well, I’m wrapping up Rome and only have Taipei left out of the 3 big city-hubs, and I’m still having great fun. The writing’s top-notch, the scope of choices and decisions is quite staggering, and hell, combat’s fun too. I went the stealth + pistols route, and after packing a few points in them I’m pretty much dominating AND feeling awesome. I didn’t find any of the minigames particularly annoying, I put 2 points in sabotage and it feels enough for now.

    Technically it feels poor, as if they used an early beta of the UT3 engine. The whole thing lacks polish overall – some animations are jittery, the checkpoint system tends to be a bit buggy, sometimes a script doesn’t kick in, the AI is atrocious at times… but overall I wouldn’t call the gameplay “bad” because of it, as many reviews have. Once you look past the flaws, brush away a couple of baffling design decisions, go through the first mission and put points into skills and use them you’ll start to appreciate the ample amounts of good AP has to offer.

  26. grimwall says:

    I disagree with not being able to stealth trough the game. if you invest heavily in it from the start and also pistols, you can get trough entire levels without anyone noticing. The shadow operative skill is so broken, you can invisibly karate chop a room full of people in 20 seconds and no one notices. Pistol is also the most powerful weapon with chain shot and steelcore bullets (all bosses die in one chain shot to the head nearly.)

  27. SirKicksalot says:

    I’m specialising on stealth, pistols and melee. The assault rifle is my secondary weapon.
    Here’s my take on the combat.

    It feels better than in Deus Ex and the original Mass Effect. At least the weapons feel like weapons, whereas ME had some of the lamest pea-shooters ever. Enemies go down in just a couple of bullets, there’s localised damage and headshots are lethal.
    Once the action starts, you must be extremely focused and precise. There’s no advantage in treating it like it’s a regular shooter. You must think very fast and act in an instant. As master Yoda says, do or do not, there’s no try. I’m too fragile to afford more than one screw-up per fight – aggravated by the lack of hotkeys… at least I think there are no hotkeys -, but playing as a glass cannon that strikes with sugical precision is a lot of fun.

    • Ragnar says:

      I try to do a pure stealth character that specialises in stealth sabotage and tech. There are two things that holds the game back a lot as a stealth game (I really want to ghost the game as opposed to silent kills):

      1. Boss-fights where you have no use for stealth.
      2. There is a invisibility-skill, which makes stealthing a bit boring since it is reduced to using that skill and find the next safe place to hide and then wait for the stealth-skill to become available again. Rince and repeat.

    • Kelron says:

      I found (on normal difficulty, at least) that going for straight combat spec made me more of a cannon, with less of the glass. It was easy to smash my way through fights with an accurate assault rifle and high endurance, and I could do the missions with civilian guards by using a minimal amount of stealth to get close enough to run up and punch them while they shot me.

  28. laikapants says:

    Well that settles it. This has officially gone into the Wait to hear tell of a super awesome patch (official or fan, doesn’t matter) and pick it up during a crazy end of the year sale pile.

  29. Ragnar says:

    The mini-games are a nuisance (all mini-games invariably are), but they are nowhere near as bad as in Mass Effect 2 at least.

  30. Nimic says:

    If there’s one thing that means I will definitely not buy this, it’s the superman guards who will spot you, always. Well, the times they don’t become zombies, apparently. I like a little bit of sneaky-shooty, and there’s little I hate more than a game that promises that it’s possible, and then turns around and makes you glow in the dark, or whatever.

    • unangbangkay says:

      Maxing out the stealth tree gives out a bunch of perks/abilities that essentially amount to cloaking devices. AP makes the sin of calling out comparisons to more competent shooters rather than straight-up RPGs, but for the most part the occasional AI savant is compensated for in-game.

      Yes, I’m an Obsidian apologist. I’ve long since resigned myself to the fact that they make their games “great-but-broken”.

    • sfury says:

      Problem is you either are easily seen or spend lots of points on stealth and become Invisible Man.

      Of course there are the boss fights and the ambushes/too-many-enemies-around where stealth won’t help you much, but still in the later stages of the game you can get away with too much (though personally I found that very fun).

    • 7 Seas says:

      Check the rest of the comments, I played stealth and I was undetected for most of the game.

      I really can’t imagine why people are having dificulty with this. If anything it’s a bit *too* easy. As other people have said there are two components: noise and sight.

      Eliminate noise by crouch walking and wearing stealth armor. Eliminate sight by investing in digital camo, and/or the stealth tree.

      In other words do exactly what you would expect to prepare for a stealthy covert mission….

  31. newt says:

    Damn you, people – I loved the mini-games in AP! Lockpicking is absolutely brilliant on a gamepad and hacking kept me interested even in the final missions.

    I feel so lonely.

  32. ghor says:

    One thing that bugs me that nobody else seems to have a problem with is how useless the perks are. I built up a 100% dossier on a character I had to fight in a “boss battle” and what perk did that give me?

    A 5% increase in damage against him.

    5% is nothing. And all the perks are like this. 5% cheaper, 5% more, slightly reduced/improved. Hooray, now it only takes 87 seconds to recharge an ability instead of 90, and killing that dude only takes 19 shots instead of 20. Am I enjoying the game more now? There could be a bug that makes the perks have no effect at all and nobody would even notice.

    • sfury says:

      But some of those add up – with your skills, with equipment and mods for it. Sure on their own they’re not a game-changer, but still a nice little bonus and acknowledgment of what you did. (and way better than a bland “Achievement unlocked”)

    • 7 Seas says:

      There are a LOT of perks, and many give you bonus endurance, xp and AP! Others improve cool down timers, weapon damage, reload times, gun handling, pretty much everything.

      there is a *single* perk that adds 5% damage, which is a bit silly yes. But the reason you should be collecting all those dossiers is not to unlock perks (although there are about 4 or so perks you can unlock by collecting all the dossiers), but for the story and conversation options. The game plays out differenetly the more you know…. My dossier knowledge scored my major changes and a lot of extra AP at the end of the game because of how I was able to manipulate my opponents (in dialog)

  33. unangbangkay says:

    I don’t see how the AP minigames are that much worse than planet-scanning or the hacking minigames in the Mass Effect titles.

    In fact the compulsion to play the minigames is so much stronger in Mass Effect 2, since planet-scanning is absolutely essential if you want to get to any level of the customization that’s part-and-parcel with being an RPG.

    AP might ultimately be a game about being an international mercenary rather than a spy, it’s closer than any of its competitors to fulfilling that goal.

  34. Jimbo says:

    Weird, I haven’t noticed the psychic guard issue at all (and I only have a couple points in Stealth). I have found it very possible to make it through some missions without sounding any alarms or getting into any firefights (and without reloading checkpoints).

    There is no denying that the game is rough as all hell, but it definitely strikes me as the sort of game most of the RPS crowd would embrace. I think the key is to not think of it as a TPS; it’s more abstract than that. The combat side of the game kinda reminds a bit of Commandos or old Splinter Cell. That’s pretty much how I’ve been approaching it at least – knifing or silenced pistoling my way through a level one guy at a time. Carrying a shotgun incase things go bad.

    The different guns and abilities are really just different tools for different situations (as in Commandos), rather than trying to mimic actual weapons.

    It does deserve the middling reviews it’s been getting -they’re a fair representation of the fact that some will love it and more will hate it – but I imagine many people here would love it.

    • Jimbo says:

      Forgot to add: I dabbled with a 360 pad but went back to mouse and keyboard. Once you get the sensitivity right (which is a real bitch btw), it seems fine. The hacking takes a bit of practice initially, but the other two minigames are a breeze with the mouse (I consider this a good thing).

  35. patstew says:

    Why do people have so much fondness/high expectations for Obsidian? They’ve never managed to release a technically competent, finished game.

    • unangbangkay says:

      I think it’s partly the Black Isle legacy, but personally I feel that their games are a lot more creative. Broken, but creative.

      Just look at NWN2 and Mask of the Betrayer, which are the most interesting DnD games since Torment. Or KotOR 2.

      It’s ambition to surpass Bioware’s but with a fraction of the resources, the result being, well..as you’ve seen.

    • Kelron says:

      NWN2 is fine now it’s had extensive patching, but a bit generic. The expansions are excellent games.

  36. Freud says:

    The game is like the actionesque spirital sequel to Vampire the Masquerade – Bloodlines. It is a game that is somewhat buggy and plagued with bad design decisions. Add possibly publisher pressure to get it out there before it is finished (but I don’t think you can blame Sega here since they moved the release date several times).

    Yet it is a game that is fun despite all the flaws. The story draws you in and is filled with great humor. There are all the staples of the genre from straight faced bad guys, via over the top caricatures to damsels in distress.

    The core mechanics are adequate. Stealth works fine generally and the shooting is fine despite me hating the core RPG-diceroll mechanics in a shooter (I want to hit where I aim). Too many missions end up being about clearing an area of enemies and the best mission in the game (the CIA house in Rome) should have acted as a model to introduce more variation where you can effectively play as a ghost.

    That said, for the £25 I bought it for at direct2drive.co.uk I can’t say it was a purchase I regret. Played through it twice and enjoyed it. The difference between the games were mostly minor with basically the whole story playing out the same way but it was fun trying different stuff and getting different allies and friends.

    • sfury says:

      I think it’s safe to say this time most of the blame lies at Obsidian – SEGA gave them at least one huge delay for polishing, I’m still mind-boggled how they couldn’t get that done. Of course while developing AP they were making the then-still-not-cancelled Aliens RPG, later New Vegas and their unnamed new project, aaand also they had one more cancelled unnamed project but I’m not sure at what time exactly (they keep pretty mum about that) – so too many eggs in their basket?

  37. lethial says:

    Why do people have such a low confidence in Obsidian? Most of the bugs/issues that people seem to be so caught up on are present in other games?

    Crappy minigames? ME2 had them, FO3 had them. Unlike these two games, in AP you can actually do something about the minigames by either invest skill points into hacking or use EMP grenades. Whereas in the other 2 games, FO3 esp. I had to resort to cheat/mods.

    Floaty/jerky/generally crappy animations? AP is an RPG first and foremost, and it certain is NOT the RPG that has the most awkward looking animations, FO3 is. (and I still love the heck out of FO3.)

    Texture pop ins? They are present in all UE3 engine based games…

    I think people generally have a preconception that because this is an Obsidian game, then it MUST be buggy. So they actively look for bugs…

    And seriously, this is an RPG, not a action shooter. It is NOT a soley combat oriented game. It certainly is NOT a game where you can be the jack of all traits, and master of all (perfect aim, hacking guru, martial arts master, etc…)

    I have never gone out of my way to defend a game, ever. But the treatments and “apples and oranges” comparisons with games like splinter cell that AP’s been getting are just unfair.

    Does everyone just want fancy action shooter games that spoon feed you everything? sigh…

    Oh and for the record, I am playing AP on my PC with mouse and keyboard, and although I despise the hacking minigame, it is certainly not as bad as what people are claiming…

    • Jason Moyer says:

      What minigames did you have issues with in Fallout 3? The only things I remember were lockpicking and hacking, and they were easy as piss (especially since you couldn’t even attempt to hack/lockpick something without a certain amount of skill invested).

  38. abhishek says:

    There are too many good games out that I’d choose to play rather than putting up with what seem to be a multitude of problems with this one. If they patch it up, which I doubt they will (going by Sega’s recent track record), then I might consider getting it when it hits the bargain bin. Otherwise forget it… They deserve low sales and poor reviews for releasing and unfinished and broken game.

  39. MrCarrot says:

    I agree with Newt! The minigames are ace, certainly way better than average for this sort of thing.

    • sfury says:

      lol you got screwed by the reply system too? :)

      I smell a conspiracy against us liking-the-mini-games-types here, shame on you RPS! :]

  40. sfury says:

    You’re not alone, brother! I also liked the mini-games – certainly way better than those in many other games.

    Also – blasphemy! – I enjoyed most the computer hacking game – may be a bit hard – but that kept my adrenaline pumping and overall was fun and brought some suspence.

    • sfury says:

      …aaand that was a reply to newt (and everyone else who had no problem with the mini-games) dammit

      Also let me say it again – I had no problem with mouse and keyboard, only the sniper was a bit slow on one particular boss-fight where it really shouldn’t have been – but that was overall my only controls problem.

  41. innokenti says:

    @newt – Fear not! I, like you am an aberration, a twisted and corrupt soul who enjoyed the AP mini-games.

  42. SirKicksalot says:

    For me, the only problem of the computer hacking minigame is that the controls lag. It ain’t hard to right-click to abandon it when you know you’ll fail otherwise.
    I like the lockpicking minigame. The circuit board one is fun until you have more than 7 to clip.

  43. dadioflex says:

    Neuro Hunter? Has to be. Virtually every container and door was opened after playing through a really frustrating mini-game, one of which was like an RTS. Had some great ideas in the story but it was frustrating as all hell and the combat was insane. You never had a weapon any more powerful than a pea-shooter so some combats involved half an hour of dodging around while you plinked at a mega-beast.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuro_Hunter

    Don’t let ANYTHING in that link trick you into thinking you should give it a try.

  44. Turin Turambar says:

    It’s not a RPG, at least not in the traditional sense.(1)
    It’s not Deus Ex.(2)

    It’s easier if you judge the game from what it is. It’s an action/adventure game with interactive plot and some rpg stats.

    (1). There isn’t a “world” which you explore between missions, where you can talk to npcs, do some sidequests, buy in shops, live in a real, breathing world, discover a secret in a hidden corner, etc.
    (2). Level design and options in the gameplay are way out of league in comparison with Deus Ex. There are some options, yeah, which permits you make a stealthy (but irrealistic) character, or an action hero..

  45. Gosh says:

    i think whoever reviewed this game at gt was spot on when they said that it’s frustrating to miss several shots just becuse an imaginary dice says so.

    i really think they should keep rpg out of gunplay. then this game would have been really fun to play.

  46. 7 Seas says:

    Not only did I like the mini games, but I am rather annoyed that it is not mentioned in the review that YOU CAN SKIP THE MINIGAMES IF YOU WANT TO.

    You can use an emp grenade to bypass virtually everything that you would need to bypass, if you so choose. They tell you this in the damn TUTORIAL.

    MENTION THIS IN THE REVIEW IF YOU ARE GOING TO KNOCK THE GAME BECAUSE YOU DIDNT LIKE THE MINIGAMES.

    Seriously, I started off hating this game, came back to it and loved it. I understand your initial reservation, but I am seeing so little goddamn professionalism in the reviews out there.

    “. Creeping in the far back corner of a vast multi-levelled room affords no protection from an idling guard 50 metres and two storeys away from you. If there’s line of sight, they see you. Or perhaps they stand there facing you while you murder their chums, and then politely wait for you to finish filing their faces with bullets before having a lie down”

    If you have the STEALTH upgrades (this is an rpg, remember?) or STEALTH gear then you cannot be seen by enemies until you are pretty close to them, unless they are looking at you. Hell with my stealth character I was able to waltz through many levels without getting spotted once, and I am hardly a “stealth gamer”. I just enjoyed sneaking around and beating the shit out of guys, activiating special abilities and jump kicking guards in the face from hiding. You know, as if I *was* an over the top action spy dude.

    How can reviews like this bitch about realism (which is partly *abstracted* in rpgs!!!) and then bitch that they were seen from 50m away by a professional soldier. I challenge you to sneak around a warehouse while a random jerk like me is standing on guard with an assault rifle, and see how I am able to blast your ass from 50m away with no goddamn problem.

    I also never had any guards stand there or really any significant bugs of any kind.

    So saying this is a buggy broken mess, like that assclown Gamespot reviewer did is patently not true. It may have been buggy for your setup (the curse of PC’s) but it is not a *particularly* buggy game.

    Especially when you all blew Mass Effect 2 (and continue to do so, endlessly in grovelling fluff articles) and that game had a ton of bugs, including getting stuck on scenery.

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARG, PLEASE GAME REVIEWERS, TAKE YOUR JOBS SERIOUSLY. Why do you only overlook bugs when its a big budget title? Why do you overlook shoddy gameplay when it is an indie title? The provenance of the game should not affect the final rating of how FUN it is as a game. And almost every asshole I hear bitching about Alpha Protocol beat it! In a day and age where most people don’t play through half of a gams, obviously AP cannot be *that* bad.

    /Rant.

  47. dethgar says:

    I felt the writing was pretty weak myself. That is, until I met Steven Heck, and my LIFE was changed forever.

    (His method of distracting a guard.)
    “Hey guy, you like them cookin’ tv shows?” (CRAZY SHIT GUNFIRE)

    I think I’ll play through and fraps a video of all his awesome lines. I’ve beaten it twice, once as Mr. Save The Day, and once as Mr. Mad As Fuck But Saves The Day Anyway. Think I’ll go for Mr. Joins The Darkside.

  48. Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

    Someone should mod Splinter Cell Convictions gameplay into this games levels and choices and shtuff.

  49. Bob's Lawn Service says:

    Here is what I’d like to know. Why does the same media that masturbated all over Mass Effect with its rubbish combat and godawful minigames shitting all over Alpha Protocol?

    • 7 Seas says:

      Thats a really goddamn good question. I would much rather RPS (as the by far best gaming site out there) had addressed some of this. Also addressed how the early buzz that a game is a dissapointment grossly colors some peoples perception of it, *despite their actual experience of playing the game* (vista vs windows 7 syndrome).

      However, after the endless Mass Effect drooling and the embarrassment that was the XCOM roll-over-and-suckle-publisher teat article I think I better get used to dissapointment.

      It reminds me of Gamespot, a site I used to respect more or less 3 or 4 years ago, until I started to see shoddy, biased reviews come out trashing good games, and ridiculous bosom-heaving breathless peices come out about significantly overrated games (GTA IV for example). (I don’t care how much it cost, or how incredible it is to digitize a city. How fun is it as a *game*, what does it let you *do*?

    • DeepSleeper says:

      I too feel that any publication that does not agree with and cater to my opinion is categorically incorrect in all aspects.

    • dethgar says:

      The AI is pretty bad, unpredictable(not in a good way), and seems half assed. Mass Effect had sub par gameplay and an excellent story, ME2 had great gameplay and a sub par story. I wouldn’t call them polar opposites, but ME feels and plays like a better rpg and a better shooter. There aren’t god awful bugs, mediocre graphics(yeah the textures are bad up close), and ambiguous dialogue selections. Half the time it felt like ‘aggressive’ was ‘suave’ and ‘suave’ was ‘joke answer and/or sexual innuendo’. It’s an ok game, with more development time and direction it could have been a classic, but it isn’t.

      Also, just because a game is successful doesn’t mean it’s a bad game. Granted there are plenty of games that sell well but aren’t deep or original, it’s the nature of the beast that is video games.

    • Wednesday says:

      Because Mass Effect is a vastly better game in pretty much every respect?

    • vagabond says:

      No, Mass Effect _2_ is a better game in almost every respect. Alpha Protocol is not as technically adept or as polished as the first Mass Effect, but the shooting is a lot more fun, and the mini games are way better*. It is also way more replayable than ME1. I think it would be getting slated _way_ less than it is if it had come out between ME1 and ME2 rather than after.

      * even if you are violently opposed to RPG mini games in all their forms, you have to admit that if you sat 10 people down and asked them to play each mini game 100 times in a row, they’d give up in disgust way sooner with the ME1 mini games than the AP ones.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Vagabond: “I think it would be getting slated _way_ less than it is if it had come out between ME1 and ME2 rather than after.”

      Not having played Alpha Protocol yet, that was my feeling too.

      KG

    • TheSombreroKid says:

      This game is more like Dragon Age than Mass Effect and i think that’s where some of the negativity is coming from, it’s marketed at people who like 3rd person shooters and it’s not a 3rd person shooter. I really think that the thing in this game that would’ve blown people away if it hadn’t been done before, in Dragon Age, is the branching story.

    • malkav11 says:

      Describing what Alpha Protocol does in terms of branching story as “having been done before” in Dragon Age is wildly inaccurate. It’s true that Dragon Age, like many other RPGs, has some consequences for earlier decisions. But trust me, it’s not nearly on the same level. (And I adored Dragon Age, don’t get me wrong.)

    • Jimbo says:

      Why has Alpha Protocol been treated differently to ME 1? It’s mostly because Alpha Protocol and Mass Effect 1 are seperated by 3 years of rising expectations and several orders of brokenness. I prefer Alpha Protocol too (I wasn’t a big fan of ME1), but we all know that isn’t how game reviews work anymore; an absence of problems is considered *far* more important than the presence of anything genuinely interesting. That’s been the case for years.

      Mass Effect 2 compounded the issue, sure – because Obsidian set out to make ‘Mass-Effect-But-With-Spies’ and then Bioware moved the goalposts by declaring that these games now need to have combat as slick as Gears of War as well, which simply wasn’t the case with ME1 – but it still isn’t the main reason. The main reason is, as I mentioned, the total lack of build quality compared to ME1.

      If AP had come out 5-6 years ago: it would have been a universally acclaimed classic, because we were all prepared to overlook rough edges back then.

      If AP had come out just before ME1: the ‘Not Gears of War’ combat wouldn’t have been an issue, it would be praised for the talking side, but the brokenness still would have prevented it being praised as highly as ME1 was. (I imagine it would be regarded about on par with how Fahrenheit is regarded.)

      If AP had come out between the ME’s: combat wouldn’t be an issue, but it would still get bashed for not being finished.

      I do agree that games with higher expectations (ie. Bioware) tend to get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to reviews, but Bioware simply would not put a game out in this state in the first place – and that includes Mass Effect 1.

  50. Dozer says:

    Are you required to go through the game looking like a homeless person who’s found some shiny sunglasses?

    • 7 Seas says:

      no, you can cusotmize your appearance to some extent (basic haircuts, facial hair, skin tone, eye color, sunglasses or none, hat or none).

      Looking ridiculous probably reduces the impact of the conversations too. The same way you wouldn’t have the lead character of a movie wear big dark sunglasses and a big hat throughout the movie.

    • bleeters says:

      You have to admit, it’s a pretty cunning disguise. Nobody would look at that and think “government agent!”

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