I Heart… Alpha Protocol

I hesitated on making a commitment to Alpha Protocol last year. I had other engagements at the time and I figured the wealth of unflattering comments floating around had to have at least a little merit. So, though I was tempted initially, I held off, thinking we might get together another time. Then it happened. We ran into each other recently and Alpha Protocol was sporting a sexy low-cut price tag that I simply could not resist.  Okay, enough of that nonsense. I picked it up cheap a little while back and had a good time with it. Before I jump into this, I would like to explain the past tense of my title. I employed the modification because after 3.5 times through for the different endings, scenarios and achievements, I was done with it. That said, I will still look back fondly on our time together. Wait, I’m doing it again. Let’s just get on with it, shall we?

Alpha Protocol is a game I feel many overlooked and/or judged too harshly.  As I progressed further into the game, I became more and more baffled as to why it received so much negative press.  I call Alpha Protocol a rough diamond in the…um…rough?  Okay, I messed that up, but I say it’s a rough diamond because the game could have had more polish, however, it’s definitely worth checking out if you like spy games/movies. The game makes you feel more like a secret agent than any Bond game I’ve played. Yeah, I just said that. Additionally, I think it’s a game that fans of the first Mass Effect would enjoy, which is a notion I will brush up against later.

Obsidian’s recipe for Alpha Protocol consisted of many tasty ingredients. As I said, the mix could have done with more time in the oven, but I don’t think it deserved the flurry of complaints it received. Sega responded to the low sales and average ratings by saying there would be no sequel despite the “brilliant concept”. Reading that annoyed me. So many games litter the shelves that either should not have been made to begin with or should not have received sequels. However, maybe the majority really doesn’t want anything different; maybe they’re content with the annual Call of Duty offering. As for me, I’m asking, “Why haven’t more studios done espionage RPGs?”

I find it extraordinarily silly that many slammed this game because of the graphics; call me crazy, but I didn’t think they were that bad. True, you might convince someone that the game is slightly older than it actually is, but it’s nothing horrendous. The only graphical issue that struck me was a lack of environment detail when you could see into the distance from a window – nothing major in my book and it certainly didn’t detract from the experience. In regards to the graphics prostitutes that launched into a fervor over this game, I ask, “Have we ‘progressed’ so far visually that any game with less than movie-esque graphics is trash?”

Other common complaints were that of glitchy AI and poor shooter mechanics; while I did notice some AI behave strangely a few times, it did not make me want to break the disc. As for the mechanics, it’s a lot like Mass Effect in the way you need to plug skill points into your weapons to increase their effectiveness. I think many tried to play it like a Call of Duty game and came away wondering why enemies weren’t falling in the wake of their gunplay. It is an RPG after all; the health bars aren’t there for looks.

Now that I have addressed the popular opinion, I can carry on about what the game did well. Alpha Protocol makes you feel all secret agent style in a number of ways. You make contacts and manage your relationships through several forms of communications (in person, over your headset, e-mails), and positive or negative relationships provide different bonuses, mission assistance and story outcomes. The assorted choices you make throughout the game also provide different effects in the short term or long term of your adventure.

Your hub in each country you visit is another key element of the secret agent lifestyle…the safehouse.  You gain access to several safehouses where you can prepare for missions, and while at your hideaway, you can choose to hoard your money or stock up on intelligence and new gear via the clearinghouse. The various intel available for each mission not only provides maps, but can also affect your missions. You might receive tips on enemies, weapon drops or run into lighter resistance by paying the right people, and you can also waste time at your safehouses by customizing your gear or modifying your loadouts for certain missions. Buying parts for weapons increases their performance, armor has upgrade slots and you have access to a variety of gadgets. Something else about the safehouses is that they become decorated with mementos from contacts or defeated enemies. Any who have played it knows that Brayko’s addition is the best.

Some of the tinkering I mentioned above can be done mid-mission where you’re able to make changes to the weapons you’re carrying and your armor upgrades whenever you want. The skill tree can be accessed at any time to add points when you level up and you can also check out the perks you’ve snatched up, of which there is a healthy supply. Perks are acquired by completing certain actions in the game and are yet another element that provides lasting bonuses for your character. You might receive one for sticking to a certain stance during a conversation or for getting so many kills with a particular weapon and, as with other aspects of the game, the perks are set up so that you would not be able to attain them all in one playthrough.

The missions themselves come in a nice garden variety; some allow for total stealth or going through guns blazing, while others might simply involve meeting up with a contact or identifying someone. There are also several types of mini-games to be periodically encountered – one of them was maddening at first, but I soon got the hang of it. Depending on how you want to tackle the game, some missions are optional which makes replay more enticing since the game has several endings. The various choices you encounter throughout Alpha Protocol also put another notch in the replay belt and the harder settings encourage more stealth. One complaint I have to make about the missions is that there was no driving sequences. Not one. We all know that’s a must for a secret agent game.

So far I’ve made a couple references to Mass Effect and now I’ll elaborate.  You didn’t think I was just teasing earlier, did you? If you had fun prowling the galaxy as Shepard in the first game, you’ll be right at home with the feel of Alpha Protocol. The shooter aspect is quite similar, but you can also be lethal in hand to hand combat. Choosing a background, using a skill tree and specializing in several skills looks strikingly familiar as well. Another obvious comparison is that of the dialogue situations; Alpha Protocol does up the ante for those sequences by incorporating the timed response. As far as character customization goes, there is some, but there should have been more – secret agents need to change their appearance daily; maybe even several times within the same mission. You have to keep your enemies guessing.

So, with all the negativity spewing left and right when Alpha Protocol released, I was expecting the worst, perhaps that’s why I was pleasantly surprised. Or maybe it had to do with picking it up cheap; if I had dropped the full price on it at release, I probably wouldn’t have been as happy about it. Or just maybe I enjoyed it because of the Mass Effect similarities – Mass Effect is, after all, one of my favorite series. Whatever the case may be, during my multiple runs through the game I was continually wondering, “Why doesn’t a Bond game do this?” or “There should be more of this in other games”. The negatives that struck me were the lack of polish, a strange glitch I had to work around on the last boss, no driving and several instances of cheekiness with dialogue/characters.

I recommend Alpha Protocol as a nice way of killing time between the releases on your radar. Whether you buy or rent, you won’t be shelling out much cash since the price has finally dropped, which works out well if you end up hating it. I hope that’s not the case, but honestly, can you really hate a game that has a character making a “Mork and Mindy” reference? If you have no clue what I’m talking about, just forget the whole thing.

Last five articles by Joe



  1. SimonJK says:

    Your review couldn’t have come at a better time. I also have recently (ish) bought Alpha Protocol due to it being cheap, an RPG (of a different type) and Obsidean. I’m a few days from finishing Arcania Gothic 4 and only have the AP, Dungeon Siege 3 and Knights Contract in stock till 11/11/11. AT least I now know what I will be playing next, lol.

  2. Mark Mark_S says:

    I picked this up on the PC a while back. People warned me off, and I thought nah screw those guys i’ll try it anyway. £5 on steam so whatever. I just couldn’t get into it. Visually it was ok, not amazing but i’ve seen far worse. The controls though on the PC I found really hard to handle. This made shooting and pretty much everything else incredibly difficult.

    It had an amazing premise and I think if I had played it on the Xbox or whatever, I would have gotten alot further with it.

  3. Edward Edward says:

    I haven’t played the game, but I have to admit as soon as I saw the headline I immediately thought of the Zero Punctuation video for the game, which is one of my favourite reviews by Yahtzee.

    Getting on topic, I don’t think there’s enough to keep me interested in the game. While I do appreciate RPG elements in my shooters, I don’t really feel Mass Effect (the first one at least) did it particularly well either, so sadly a lot of the appeal you describe is lost on me.

    Hopefully this article will persuade some more people to give it a go in my stead :)

  4. [...] Read of Joe’s love here > [...]

Leave a Comment