Wot I Think: Alpha Protocol

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.


  1. Psychopomp says:

    I fail to see what that would solve. It would just go from a buggy action game, to a repetitive action game.

    • Psychopomp says:

      That was supposed to be a reply to Peter Radiator Full Pig

  2. jalf says:

    I’ve been playing using mouse so far, and had absolutely no problems with it.

    Anyway, this is kind of interesting:
    link to free-pc-guides.com

    • Mercurial says:

      link to free-pc-guides.com

      That was a very interesting read. I blame aspartame.

    • 7 Seas says:

      That was very interesting! Thank you. That is EXACTLY what I would have liked RPS to talk about, when I said above “. I would much rather RPS (as the by far best gaming site out there) had addressed some of this” .

      I’m glad that at least some people out there are paying critical attention to not only the games but the reviewers. When I ask sites like RPS not to relentlessly hammer a good game just becuase it’s trendy to do so, it’s because game reviewers shape the games we play by contributing to low metacritic scores (which publishers watch like a hawk) and discouraging people from playign a game they otherwise would have enjoyed. Their group-think can destroy good games in the market place and therefore make publishers less likely to ever try something like that again.

    • Nick says:

      Um, I think the review (I mean opinion piece, natch) quite clearly wasn’t being wholly negative and down on the game, in fact it pointed out plenty of great things and even reccomended that you buy it, just be aware of the technical faults.

    • 7 Seas says:

      I disagree. I think the review has several sections which are just plain wrong, either through omission (hacking games can be skipped), implication (stealth is useless because guards are psychic), and exagerrated opinion (saying the game has “little delivery”). Also it harps on about bugginess that me and many of the other commenters in this thread did not experience. Fundamentally, i do not think this review is a fair shake, and I can’t help but think that if this game had simply had the word “Bioware” slapped on it, and had a $mil or two spent in PR that this and the rest of the reviews would be tottally different. Which is extremely dissapointing coming from RPS.

  3. admanb says:

    A game that advertises itself as a “stealth” game should not depend entirely on magic invisibility abilities for stealth. RPG mechanics do not excuse poor game mechanics — even Deus Ex had mostly decent stealth behavior.

  4. admanb says:

    I’m not saying it’s a bad game or that the Gamespot reviewer isn’t an idiot, but don’t trash the few people who are willing to give it a fair shake for calling a shitty mechanic a shitty mechanic.

  5. Archonsod says:

    It does have fairly decent stealth behaviour to be honest. It’s more a level design thing; on the more open areas enemies who happen to be standing at a second floor window are capable of spotting you wandering across their yard, unless of course you’re skilled in creeping or wearing camo.
    Noise is a factor too. Even if they can’t see you, if they hear you creeping around they’ll come and investigate.

  6. Zinic says:

    I pre-ordered the game and spent this week playing through it, twice (Once on Hard, and then on the mode unlocked after that). First time I played through was pretty much straight soldier, killing anything in sight, though using martial arts and tranq rounds for the pistol to take out civilians. Did kill some people I shouldn’t, with dire consequences (Game really punishes you for this, story wise. Even if this wasn’t your fault).

    Second time, I played through as a stealthy, pistol wielding techie and actually found that very enjoyable. The stealth gameplay can be pretty tough at times, and even geared pretty heavily, there’s situations you can’t get out of easily. I did find out that tranq rounds with the pistol can take down most enemies with a single headshot, and that you can actually alarm almost all the guards in a level without them sounding the alarm. Boss battles were the hardest though, as I didn’t have much else but a pistol and scarce number of gadgets.

    I agree with most of the points you mentioned, especially the minigames. Contact of mine at Obsidian (Didn’t actually know he worked there until I mentioned Alpha Protocol to him) said that it was one of the elements they really had trouble with getting right.

    It does seem like Mr. Thorton is somewhat of a douche though, no matter what conversation choices you take (aside from “Professional” it seems).

    • Zinic says:

      Oh, and I played with mouse and keyboard. Aside from the occasional spastic mouse, it went just fine (except for the minigames. Keep a good stock of EMP grenades handy).

  7. Springy says:

    I’d agree with Archonsod, the stealth is one of the best parts of the game play. It’s difficult as hell to sneak around when wearing heavy equipment and no points poured into your stealth skill, but in the shiny slinky stealth armour, the right mods and a hefty amount of levelling up you can actually run around levels punching people in the throat and THEY CAN’T SEE YOU.

    The AI is broken, but if it doesn’t get a chance to do anything I can pretend it’s just because I’m the world’s best spy.

  8. Wulf says:

    I loved it, no surprise there.

    I do wonder though if some places are being hard on it because it isn’t a big name, there are some games that are just picked on unreasonably. I think that some sites (I’m looking at you, Eurogamer) give games a harshly low rating just because it’s not a big name game (not Rockstar, or Bioware, or whatever), and because it’s slightly rough around the edges. They do this to keep their review average score low, because there are less people likely to be annoyed if it isn’t some mass marketed game that has people believing that said game is constant sex in their head.

    I’m loving Alpha Protocol, I have to say. It’s a little rough, but it’s ambitious, it’s realising its potential as a PC RPG, and frankly? How can I put this. There’s a difference between a PC RPG and the Casual-Modern EZ Go RPG, it’s like the difference between Last Action Hero/Die Hard and a scintillatingly written psychological thriller. Don’t get me wrong, mindless action movies are fun, but sometimes you crave something that’s just a little bit more. Something that has depth, and character, and ambition. Alpha Protocol, too, is just a little bit more of that.

    I’d say that any self-respecting PC owner and RPG fan would be looking forward to something like this. It would be their bread and butter. In my mind, reviews marked it down because it wasn’t the Casual-Modern EZ Go RPG thing they’d hoped it to be. It has depth, and it’s challenging, and sometimes a review can show oversights, a lack of patience and perception, and/or a lack of any willingness to think outside of the box. It’s like people are so used to having their games think for them that they can no longer think themselves, they don’t realise they have options.

    This is even present in John’s review, which is at least decent compared to most. I liked the minigames, but John bangs on about them, what he doesn’t mention (and probably even forgot) is that the minigames can be skipped. I wouldn’t be surprised if he forgot, because a lot of modern games wouldn’t offer you an option like that, they wouldn’t give you the chance to do things differently. And it shows just how much some people have fallen into the mindset of ‘this is my challenge, and I must overcome it.’ They do this without realising that they could walk away and try another challenge, or just skip it all together.

    The gamer’s mind has become an exceedingly linear thing, and I’ve made the point before that a lot of gamers expect the game to think for them, or played itself for them, and gave them some feeling of accomplishment from that. One of the worst examples of this was the Prince of Persia reboot (the 2008 one), where the entire game amounts to: push butans, enjoy pretty animations. That was a real eye opener for me, and that was one of the things I don’t like about where gaming is going.

    A self-respecting PC owner who remembers what deep, involving RPGs were like should be revelling at Alpha Protocol. As I am.

  9. sfury says:

    Amen, Wulf! :)

    I’m now in my second playthrough and am still enjoying it a lot. It’s funny how the game got out just a week ago and many have already played it twice, some even 3 times despite all the complaints – if that doesn’t tell you it’s a worthy RPG I don’t know what will.

    I don’t remember firing up another game for replay immediately after finishing it since Arcanum.

  10. malkav11 says:

    This article bemuses me. I have run into exactly zero of the bugs Mr. Walker mentions. I found stealth entirely viable for sections of Saudi Arabia although I would rarely be able to stealth through entire areas without getting into firefights (well, never. But that’s as it should be with a mere two points in stealth and no particular gearing for it.) You can skip the worst minigame, the hacking, quite easily, and the other two are pretty trivial if not terribly exciting. I have had no problems with the mouse outside of hacking. I’ll agree that the tutorial is terrible but found Saudi rather exciting.

    And I was entirely nonplussed by calling out Alpha Protocol for the “poverty of its action,” with varied, multilayer mission areas full of alternate routes, and plentiful options for meaningful combat decisions that combine to make Alpha Protocol contain some of the most thrilling combat I’ve yet encountered in an action RPG, while waxing rhapsodic (in February’s Wot I Think on that game) about how amazing the stale, repetitive cover galleries that defined Mass Effect 2’s combat were.

    • 7 Seas says:

      Thank you! God I feel like I am crazy sometimes, watching this happen…. it’s really as if the reviewers make up their mind before they play the game.

      ME ok this has been really hyped and its by bioware, it’s going to be a 9 release. Lets play it, wow it was fairly fun, lets give it a 8.5-9.5. It had a bunch of problems but I’ll just ignore those.

      AP, oh it was by obsidian (-1, buggy), it was delayed (-1), and it hasn’t had much marketing spend (-1) and the publisher is sega (-1) and the early hype seems bad (-1), so I come into it thinking it’s going to be a crap game, around a 5, man I’m going to bitch about all these things…but yet, I secretly like it. Let’s give it a 6-7.5.

    • Uhm says:

      Damn RPS and their biased scoring system.

      To me, this was a positive, if cautionary, review. John even recommended people should buy it.

    • malkav11 says:

      Oh, it’s definitely positive, on the whole, but it’s a lot more cautionary than I feel is warranted – some things that are mentioned just aren’t how they’re described, others (the bugginess, mainly) seems to be a situational thing for some people, not universal in the least.

    • Wulf says:

      To play devil’s advocate though, I don’t blame John for this, because I’ve seen lots of this lately. Around Eurogamer especially (since that’s the main review site I read).

      The trend currently seems to be: Mark it down and/or word your review cautiously based on how much it might alienate the player. If we speak highly of a slightly buggy game that will likely alien the current day gaming audience, it’ll come back to bite us in the arse. So we have to tip-toe around things and be very careful of what we say, and how we say them.

      Read a recent review of any recently released game that’s slightly obscure on Eurogamer and you’ll spot it. It’s like they’re afraid to look like they’re playing to the peanut gallery, or appeasing the fans, so if a game isn’t going to be a massively popular mainstream hit, it’s marked down a bit. Sometimes a tiny bit, sometimes a lot.

      There was a glowing review of VVVVVV in PC Gamer, and yet the score they gave it was in the 80’s, but the review implied that the score should be well into the 90’s, but they were probably afraid to do that in case it was questioned. “Why rate a ‘shitty’ retro-game highly versus a huge-budget AAA title?”

      Don’t fool yourself, this does factor into every review, it has for a couple of years now and the problem isn’t going away, in some circles it might even be worse.

      So, what happens is this…

      A huge budget game gets praised and the problems it has are glossed over and not spoken of. See: Splinter Cell: Conviction and reviewers not wanting to factor DRM into the score, Mass Effect’s (and 2’s) rather lacklustre duck-‘n’-cover system, BioShock 2 losing some of what made BioShock special, and so on. Versus reviews like Alpha Protocol where small bugs (or bugs that I and malkav haven’t encountered) are blown out of proportion.

      This is just how it is, so you have to adjust for that. If the world was sane and not so incredibly bloody populist, then Alpha Protocol would likely be equal to Mass Effect 2, because both games have their good and bad points. But because of things being the way they are, Mass Effect 2 gets a pass on its more questionable elements, whereas Alpha Protocol is discriminated against.

      And yes, I am calling journalists out on this, their honour, and their integrity, because these days it’s just becoming a little too obvious. Maybe all journalists don’t realise they’re doing it, maybe they do, maybe some try not to, but the results are frequently the same.

      In fact, if you look at the comments you see much of the same, because people are afraid to speak for something that’s not popular, and afraid to speak out against something that is. And lordy, if you speak out against something that’s popular, you get ripped to shreds. I still remember how I was burned at the stake for not liking Dragon Age (and I still don’t like Dragon Age, I feel it’s a far inferior product compared to Mass Effect 2 in my opinion).

      But again, you have people who’re lambasting Alpha Protocol for the same kind of problems they’d probably forgive and brush over in an AAA game like Mass Effect 2. Do they realise they’re doing it? Is it simply a subconscious pavlovian response to popularity? I don’t know, but it’s there, and you really can’t miss it. Just read all the comments.

      And more?

      People feel like they’re being apologists if they support Alpha Protocol, it’s like they’re afraid to say how much they like the game, and bold people such as myself are seen as mad savants. But, in a populist-powered mainstream game, the support will be there in full, and anyone who doesn’t have large words of shining praise for it is a disease to be cut off and segregated away from the whole.

      Is it that bad?

      Yes. Read the comments. Keep this in mind for future obscure and popular games, it’s always the case. The point of this post is that I feel that journalists aren’t immune to this, in fact this mentality can hit them harder than anyone else, because they’re a focus of the game industry, and the extreme levels of marketing they’re exposed to probably has an effect similar to very specific propaganda.

      I think Alpha Protocol is a great game. I think Mass Effect 2 is a great game. I’m a sane person in a populism-obsessed world.

  11. 7 Seas says:

    Christ, finally, I thought no one else would point out how elegant women look in Christian Louboutin shoes! I think RPS among other sites is desperately trying to cover up this basic truth, while pushing the latest Jimmy Choos, even though frankly they are a problematic mess with boring shoe-play and extremely linear corridor-like straps. The Christian Louboutin shoes may have had some of the same problem, but over all the depth of their experience and the sheer fun of wearing them is so much higher!

  12. TheSombreroKid says:

    The only reason the things this gets wrong are so glaring are because, you usually play games that get them right, deconstruct your favorite game and you’ll find countless things you don’t approve of, the one thing Alpha Protocol does well though and it does it better that Dragon Age, and i havn’t played Heavy Rain to compare, is the branching plot.

  13. Jp1138 says:

    Just sterted playing the game, but I´m liking it so far, despite the huge mouse problems I was having (had to edit the ini and move sensibility to 300 from 50). Still waiting for Covert Action 2, though.

  14. bookwormat says:

    You think you can compete in the “most annoying alpha protocol experience” contest?
    Beat this.

    • Jimbo says:

      The key is on a sticker under the disc.

    • bookwormat says:

      @Jimbo cool, thank you. I still think it’s funny that they have this area on the manual that says “alpha protocol keycode” and leave that empty. ;)

  15. Lafinass says:

    Had absolutely no issues with the mouse/keyboard, just bounced around the internet looking for config fixes like there are for every unreal game in the history of the engine. Personally, I used the below.

    \Alpha Protocol\APGame\Config\DefaultInput.ini
    set bEnableMouseSmoothing=False

    \My Documents\Alpha Protocol\APGame\Config\APInput.ini
    set bEnableMouseSmoothing=False
    (shows up twice in this file)

    \My Documents\Alpha Protocol\APGame\Config\APEngine.ini



    No tripping out mouse, no stuttering or freezing.

  16. Ashen says:

    I’ve just finished this and all I can say is that it’s easily my GOTY so far.

    It might not be as polished in some gameplay areas as some other AAA titles, but then again, it’s aiming both broader and higher. It’s incredibly ambitious in it’s structure and it delivers for the most part.

    It’s also the first game to (at least somewhat) scratch my Deus Ex itch since.. well, Deus Ex. That counts for something.

    • 7 Seas says:

      It’s one of the first games in aaages, probably since Deus Ex, that made me feel in control of the story. Dragon got somewhere near, Mass Effect 1/2 not much.

      I’ll even go so far as to say that I felt like even as it was telling me a story, I was telling it the story of who my character is. And that folks, is a good RPG.

  17. kuddles says:

    Jesus, 7 Seas. I get that you enjoyed the game. But going off on a huge tangent several times in the same article with a bunch of nonsense about how all the reviewers are in some kind of a conspiracy against a game is a great way to make people like me on the fence convinced that it’s actually a horrible piece of junk and the fans are deluded nutjobs shouting “Ignore the critics! They’re all biased! This game is brilliant!!” Especially since 4/5 times I fall for that, I end up with a mediocre game not worth $50 just like the critics warned me.

    This article was more than fair. It’s his personal experience with the game and he’s giving an honest opinion. It’s actually on the way to convincing me, since as a long-time CRPG fan, I kind of go into these games expecting there to be a lot of jankiness.

    Seriously, stop and think about what is the more likely scenario: (1) Critics had a lot of varying opinions, but most of them felt this game was let down by a lot of issues so they felt hesitant in recommending it wholeheartedly even if they enjoyed it overall, and – unbelievable surprise – they honestly enjoyed games like ME2 more. (2) They’re all a bunch of mindless automatons who are slaves to the marketing machinations of publishers and are obviously heavily biased, while you personally see the complete truth of the quality of games for what they are.

    Newsflash: Opinions are subjective and are full of exaggerations, half-truths and biases. This includes you.

    • 7 Seas says:

      lol, I admit I’ve gotten a bit carried away, sure. I like to rant and rave. However, in this particular case, I’m not talking about a conspiracy theory, I’m just saying that many reviewers are falling prey to a variety of simple psychological biases. Anchoring bias for one, I think plays a huge role here. (link to en.wikipedia.org)

      Game criticism is a funny beast because it is not entirely opinion. It’s half “does this work as a game, as entertainment” and half “is this a functioning piece of equipment”. The former is opinion, and yes, opinions are indeed like assholes. The second is far more fact based. There is essentially an ultimate objective truth as to whether the game is a functioning piece of equipment or not. To see it you would probably have to experience the game through the eyes of everyone who ever plays it, because on PC, there are an endless variety of combinations of hardware and software that can impair the functionality of a game.

      What frustrates me is that certain psychological biases (anchoring, groupthink, etc) radically affect the *opinion* side of the article, and the way the article is framed, toned, etc. This is annoying enough, but when you see these same biases affect the “structural review” if you will side of the article (the part that looks at whether it works or not), it’s incredibly irritating.

      The same types of bugs and mechanical flaws that will get a pass in one game, will get hammered in another, despite the fact that they are very comparative. It’s like reviewing two cars, both of which have bad brakes, but you give the fancier car a pass on that flaw while hilighting and focusing on that flaw in the budget car.

      If you don’t believe that there is a certain level of echo chambering and heavy bias going on in the industry, just check out this article contrasting EU review vs US reviews link to free-pc-guides.com

      While I’m not saying that the authors of the articles are intentionally biased, I am concerned that they are not self-reflective about their biases, seeking to understand and ameliorate them. You can think of this by thinking of how a movie franchise fan might avoid all previews, reviews, and talk about his favorite sequel, so that he can experience it with virgin eyes.

      Game journalist, by their very nature, cannot close themselves off from the walls of hype and buzz (whether good or bad), as they themselves are an intimate part of the system. They should however, have the good conscience to truly reflect on their on their perspective and try to approach a title as if no other games journalist or publisher flack or fanboy existed, so that they can try to experience the title as it truly is. In other words they should try to provide a universal review of a game, that will be true years from now, as opposed to a review that is completely contextual to the hype and groupmind of the moment.

      In the case of Alpha Protocol I think this game will go down as a hidden gem, buried by the very people we would like to be hilighting brave titles like this one, that take a chance and try to expand the horizons of what it is to play a game. It will be in Home of the Underdogs 10 years from now, guaranteed.

      At the end of the day, game critics, if you are going to be gods and pass judgement, be God and pass Judgement.

      And don’t let the sniveling of some disgruntled ex-employee color your thoughts.

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      Straw man-tastic

  18. JohnDoe says:

    As rubbish as some of the parts are (Boss fights, the shooting (prior to getting a good gun and gun skills, the animations), the branching storyline and the way the game reacts to almost everything you do has kept me enthralled. I’ve played through it 3 times already and I’m about to start the fourth. And each play through was very different.

    I don’t think there is a another game quite like it.

  19. bonuswavepilot says:

    Oh sure, 7 Seas, you can go for the Christian Louboutin option if you prefer a high-gloss shallow shoegaming experience, but for my money the indie Jimmy Choos are more fun, even if the resolution is lower and the controls are a bit clunky. Also, the Louboutin come with that irritating DRM scheme – its even worse than Ubi; you actually have to go try them on *in person* under the supervision of staff. That and you know they’re storing your size data for god-knows-what, right?

  20. UK_John says:

    This could be said of so many games, including this one:

    “it had the enormous spirit of a PC CRPG, but the delivery of a multiformat orientated title”.

    I would also say the same of Dragon Age: Origins, Dead Space, Mirror’s Edge, Far Cry 2, Alan Wake, Fallout 3, Oblivion, Mass Effect, Jade Empire, Bioshock and many more.

    The promise of what used to be being brought back, but never being so.

  21. Wizlah says:

    erm. coming late to this thread, so unlkely to get a response, but fuck it, I’ll ask anyway. How similar is this to bloodlines? I’d probably take that as my best pure rpg experience on a pc (although I only played through once, then lent it to my brother in law AND NEVER RETRIEVED IT, EVEN THOUGH I WANTED TO PLAY THROUGH AGAIN AS A BUGFUCKCRAZY MALKAVIAN).

    Second question, and this is a big one – how atmospheric does it feel? I’ve a very, very small list of games I intend to get over the next three years, and this was a possible one on my list. Atmosphere is a key point in most of the ones I’m after. I like the idea of all that plot branching fine, but if it’s all falling a bit flat in spite of all that cleverness, I’m going to feel like I’m wasting my time.

    • jalf says:

      Hard to say. I really don’t know.

      For what it’s worth, I loved Bloodlines, and yes, I really like Alpha Protocol too.

      If I had to describe the feel of the game, or its good qualities at least, compare it to Deus Ex. Same clumsy gunplay, a similar RPG/shooter hybrid, leaning heavily on the RPG side, and even some similarities in what they tried to do with the branching plot. Atmospherically, I think it’s a reasonably close match as well. At least, that’s what kept popping up in my head when I played AP. Your safehouses, the open-ended missions, the skill tree and weapon upgrades, the fact that a number of missions are simply a matter of talking to the right people. It all felt like a spiritual successor, or perhaps sibling, to Deus Ex.

      It still has some technical flaws, but they never bothered me much. Just like the many flaws in Bloodlines didn’t bother me, and the (albeit less significant) ones in Deus Ex didn’t bother me.

      If you go into this expecting Mass Effect, expecting a game that actually works as a shooter, but with RPG overlaid, you’re going to be disappointed.

      But if you go into it expecting, well, whatever Deus Ex was… A RPG using a shooter-like perspective, but still a RPG through and through, even down to the clumsy combat emphasizing character skill above all else… Then I think it’s a really good game.

  22. Nayhem says:

    The only thing that could have saved this game from the absolute craporama pile would have been a game+ feature ala Prototype. But no, they want to just stink up the joint completely

  23. N Cowan says:

    NOTE: I orginally posted this on the first semi review of AP when I realized afterward that this post would be more relevant here. I apologize for that. Rant on:

    This game is frustrating the hell out of me. Why? Because it’s absolutely phenomenal. I loved Deus Ex, Vampire Bloodlines, and my current favorite game is the Mass Effect series. I don’t like spy movies, never watched one episode of 24, do not care about Bond, and found the Bourne movies boring. Spy stuff bores me. This game does not bore me. The characters, the writing, the choices and consequences are amazing. The frustrating part is that there are a lot of broken/dodgy game mechanics that could have used more time in the oven. But they are forgiveable if only because I find myself thinking about the game when i’m not playing it. It’s addicting.

    The real shame is that because of all the poor reviews, negative feed back, and half-baked game mechanics, this game may never get the sequel it deserves. Maybe we’ve been spoiled by Bioware’s sense of polish and shine (and I love them for it) but we SHOULD have been spoiled by Black Isle’s/Troika’s/Obsidian’s writing and ability to make games that are far better than the parts they are made from. This game deserves not only a sequel, but full on trilogy treatment. I LIKED Mike Thornton, because he had character. Maybe he wasn’t exactly how i’d picture myself as a spy, but he wasn’t a cardboard cut-out like Shepard (and I stress, ME is my fave game series at this point.) I have played every Obsidian game up to this point, and even though they are seen as the red headed step-cousing of Bioware, they deserve more. This game deserves a few patches, and it deserves sequels. It needs love.

    On the other hand, releasing games this buggy with mechanics this broken is frustrating. It’s as though NO ONE actually tested it, AT ALL. I have all stealth maxed out, and it’s still hit or miss on whether that actually works. Sometimes I can get by with no issues. Sometimes deadly headshots with a fully maxed out pistol skill simply annoy the target and have him set the “all guards screaming” alarm. Maybe I survive and turn the alarm off. But in doing so, I feel a little less like a super spy, and a little more like Frank Drebin. At this point, it’s comical how much I can screw up a mission and still succeed. Then maybe I get killed by mega-train, or the 80’s coke head (best bost fight/music video ever) and maybe even Darcy is constantly shoving 3 grenades at a time up my ass, and I die. Then I reload. THEN there are NO enemies on the level. I get that I can just manually reload my last save, and that’s fine, but didn’t someone at Obsidian or SEGA notice this? Are they so elite at gaming they never ever died once? Again frustrating. Not only in itself, because this game will not likely succeed enough to warrant sequels, which it should rightly have.

  24. toni says:

    played it 4 times already. enough said. this is what DeusEx should be. most reviews I read played this as a shooter, not an RPG where you need skillpoints for weapons.

  25. Tom OBedlam says:

    I’m 3/4 of the way through and loving it. My main issue is that stealth seems bloody useless, I’ve bought the best stealth upgrades put shit loads of points into stealth and I’m STILL getting spotted. At this point I think I have to conclude its not the game, but me…

    Too rather tediously repeat everyone else, I’m loving the characters. Even Steven Heck.

    • Nick says:

      I mean this in a very nice way, but it must be you. I breezed through the game on normal using majority takedown attacks/stealth. I don’t consider myself particularly good at this type of thing either.

  26. MarteenDee says:

    I won’t be taking part in a discussion about quality and fun from playing Alpha Protocol – enough to say that I love it and never had any game breaking technical issues with it. I’ve already said enough on different forums, about unfair treatment which that game got, and how biased opinions of illiterate [censored], who tend to call themselves “journalists”, leads to the fall of gaming quality in general and intelligent and refreshing game development in particular (not talking about you John, no worries).

    Just came here to point out our modest thread on official Obsidian forums, for everyone who have any trouble with Alpha Protocol “glitches”: Modding Alpha Protocol.

    We don’t have any hint yet about Obsidian guys releasing any patch, so hints in Modding thread can be treated as “community patch” for AP. First part of it, with nice screenshot, short description and download link is here. Mind you – it’s hi-end version. Other, which is much easier on the low to mid-end hardware setups is presented few posts back.
    It contains both: optimisation and visual quality tweaks, to deliver the best and grief-free experience possible – until we get some proper patching job done by the developers.

    Uhh.. and no – it’s not “self-advertising”, just in case someone would ask. Messages – as the one you read atm – are sent, because it’s time to act, and help underrated and innovative titles like Alpha Protocol shine and get recognition in the flood of dull, dumb and overrated productions, which are destroying gaming industry in favour of commercial and financial success (to say in most diplomatic and polite way).

    Greetings from an old “Rock, Paper, Shotgun” reader! Enjoy!

  27. Nick says:

    Just finished AP. I disagree with most of what John said, and experienced none of the technical problems mentioned, aside from the occasionally goofy, though not at all terrible, AI. This is one of the few RPS reviews i disagree with quite strongly. Not that the review is completely negative, but this game is just getting screwed with unwarranted negative press, and I hate to see my beloved RPS contribute.