PS3 Review – Alpha Protocol

Originally announced in early 2008, Alpha Protocol has already been delayed over a year past its original first-quarter 2009 launch window. Fortunately for fans, however, in February the game was given a solid release date. Sega and Obsidian Entertainment’s ambitious third-person action role-playing game has finally arrived, combining full-fledged action sequences, stealth, and much more into one thrilling experience.

Unlike most role-playing games containing sci-fi elements, Alpha Protocol takes place in modern-day. With a story bearing a resemblance to to the popular Jason Bourne novels, Alpha Protocol follows protagonist Michael Thorton, a secret agent who goes rogue after being betrayed by his government. Throughout the game’s compelling storyline, players can mold Thornton into the spy they want him to be, whether that means a courteous James Bond-style spy or a relentless Jack Bauer type. Being hunted by the United States government, Thorton now works for a secret organization called Alpha Protocol. Players’ primary objective, at least at the beginning of the game, is to find out which terrorist, if any, is responsible for missiles which brought down a commercial jet. In short–interesting stuff.

From the start of the game, Alpha Protocol leans heavily towards mystery and suspense. The choices you make early on in the game will ultimately affect the outcome of later events. For example, during one of the missions, upon reaching a bunch of missiles, Thorton is faced with two choices–complete his objective by destroying the missiles, or claim to destroy them, but divert the shipment to an arms dealer. If Thorton decides not to destroy the missiles, he may lose reputation with his handlers, but gain the chance to buy some awesome new equipment. Other situations which allow you to make multiple decisions include betrayal which could result in mini boss battles.

Players begin by selecting a class, from the typical Soldier type to the sneakier Field Agent. The game is played from a third-person perspective, allowing players to effectively see Thorton’s surroundings. Due to Thorton being trained as a CIA operative, he can take full advantage of several weapons and numerous martial art styles as well as, of course, spy gadgets. Players earn experience points which, once saved up, can be spent on a variety of things, such as weapon skills, hand-to-hand attacks, and health. The abilities cost no points to use, but require a cool down period before they can be used again. One of, if not the best and most satisfying ability you can use, is scanning a group of enemies while in slow-motion before shooting each of them faster than Thornton would normally be able.

During combat sections Alpha Protocol will frustrate players with its poor handling and controls. Another problem is how it takes far too long for an enemy to go down from a tranquillizer gun, with guards triggering alarms – even after they get shot. Ultimately the action sequences are, at times, just not epic or fast paced enough to satisfy the player.

After your initial operation, you’ll be given different access to three separate safe houses across the globe. In the safe houses, you can check up on the status of your character, order a vast range of weapons from the black market, and read through important emails to obtain significant intel. Shotguns, automatics, and pistols are all on sale in the black market, and they’re all fully upgradeable. The depth of customization is really quite impressive, and it’ll give players a lot of options to choose from. You’ll definitely want to save your money to improve the damage and accuracy of your weapons. With Mina Tang, your principal contact checking up on you via your PDA, you’ll carry out a variety of missions ranging from the friendly meetings to action-filled scenes. Similar to Mass Effect, Alpha Protocol’s cover system allows you to move from position to position.

As you progress through the game, your main cause for concern will be how to kill your enemies (the AI is pretty basic). However, you’ll also encounter mini-games which, while generally not crucial to the missions, are still rewarding to carry out. The mini-games include picking locks, hacking computers, and deactivating alarms when necessary, although, several times it may get frustrating for the player as it’s not exactly easy to carry out these mini-games. Although the movement in the game may feel sluggish, it still is playable and shouldn’t detract from the main gameplay experience. During missions, you can also locate and hack enemy computers to obtain intel. The intel can then be sold on the black market for some easy cash.

Alpha Protocol features numerous characters, who unfortunately seem stiff and lifeless, to interact with, and with plenty of dialogue, RPG fans will be happy to see a lot of role-playing elements in the game, letting players tackle each scenario according to preference. Choice is everything in Alpha Protocol, and whether making friends or enemies, the dialogue system in the game is interactive and one of the standout features in the game.

Since Alpha Protocol’s initial objective is for players to experiment with different choices they can make during the game, it’s not lacking in the replayability department. You can opt to kill or save many of the game’s characters, so there’s certainly an opportunity to replay the game to witness the multiple outcomes. This adds to the replayability factor and of course the overall value of the title. You can play through Alpha Protocol several times without experiencing the same adventure.

Visually, Obsidian Entertainment did an average job with Alpha Protocol. The cut-scenes are decent, though the detail in characters’ faces seems somewhat outdated. In fact, outdated is the only way to describe the game’s graphics. It’s lacking visually in many ways, such the animations, which are far from perfect, and it’s a shame, because it would have made the game much more appealing if the visuals had been on par with the gameplay. The soundtrack doesn’t stand out, but fits in well within the game.

Alpha Protocol does have its flaws in almost every corner, with its frustrating mini-games to the way the game handles combat as well as pretty poor AI. However, this game is a fresh take and face on a new franchise which includes an involving storyline paired with a new twist on character interaction making Alpha Protocol a fairly enjoyable game. Obsidian Entertainment has succeeded in some aspects with blending a healthy dose of 3rd person action and complex RPG elements into one immersive and intriguing experience along with a high degree of freedom – something which should be experienced by anyone remotely interested in RPGs or stealth games.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

Excellent dialogue system

Freedom to choose how to complete objectives adds plenty of replayability and value

Visuals are outdated and AI is basic

7 out of 10