What happens when you cross-breed Splinter Cell and DeusEx ? - A beautiful disaster. Aka.: Alpha Protocol.
This game does a lot to make you hate it, but I couldn't help but like it. Even fans only dare whisper about this game, lest someone tries it based on their words.
Why don't they want others to play it? Because they fear they'd only see the dark side in it. I mean the flaws. And honestly it's hard not to see those. But let's not get ahead too much. Start at the beginning.
The start of the game is not that bad, but it's not good either. The game begins with your initiation into the secretive spy organization called Alpha Protocol. Hazing, and basic training if you choose to do basic training that is.
Yes this is a game of choice as much as a game of action. First your choices seem inconsequential, but some can have very serious repercussions. This is not the type where no matter what you do you get the exact same thing.
Many games have dialogue choice options, but none where your choices are this important. And it's important on two levels. Your every word has a direct consequence, and a secondary effect in the reputation system of the game.
You have a reputation, and not just a measly faction based one, you have a completely separate reputation with every main character. And your standing with them can open up avenues or close them. And not necessarily by being on good terms with someone.
But being despised can also lead to unique options. Well at least this is the marketing pitch, I only played the game once so I'm not exactly sure what are the effects of doing the opposite of what I did. But I did do the endgame twice to try out different choices.
And I can confirm that the differences in what ending you get based on your choices are staggering. You might play the same maps, and the same action sequences, but the closure can be just as sour as it can be sweet.
But let's turn back to the beginning of the game. At first your conversations seem inconsequential but this is where you establish your initial relationship with people, so you need to take it seriously.
The RPG element is about as strong as in DeusEx. You can choose to begin with 4 different classes. 3 of which are your typical classes but the fourth is the interesting one called: recruit. Which IMO is the best. You don't just start as a blank slate this way, but get some unique rookie dialogue options as well. Albeit only during the training.
But I never liked pre-arranged skills I like to spend the skill points myself and usually end up stretching myself thin over too many skills. Which happened here also. I ended up upgrading many skills, without coming anywhere near maxing out even one of them.
But the game doesn't suffer from it, being OK at many skills does work here, you don't have to max out a skill to be effective. And the skill advancement is very gradual. For example the idea that you can acquire activated skills which can later be upgraded to passive skills is brilliant. I've never seen anything like this in any other game.
And if we're talking RPG elements, let's talk a bit about action as well. The game plays exactly like the early splinter cell games. Especially if you choose to use a pistol as your main weapon as I did. But you can also be a tank in the game. And use sub-machine guns and shotguns, and go up close and personal.
Unfortunately when I say the game plays like early splinter cells I mean it feels very outdated. This game could easily fool anyone into thinking that it was released in the early 2000s, and not in 2010. On a blind test I'd guess 2004-2005 tops.
The only thing that sets it apart from early 2000s games are character's faces, that look a bit better here. But the rest of the graphics can easily pass as a 2003 game. I think the maps in Max Payne 2 look better. And that's not nostalgia speaking, I looked up gameplay of MP2 to compare.
The best part of the game only starts to reveal it after your second mission, when you start to realize that you can make choices here that matter. It was a little hard for me to accept it, but I had no choice (pun intended)..
You can even choose the order in which you visit the three major locations in the game. With some very clever design and a few extra recorded lines of dialogue they made it seamless and it works perfectly. As a developer I admire the simplicity of it, as a gamer I very much enjoyed the immersion in it.
So far I mostly only spoke in praise of the game, but I did mean it is a disaster in some sense. The story and the choices and character development keeps it all together, but everything else, let's be frank is terrible.
Beginning with the aformentioned being dated, and the level desing is very simplistic, almost every map consists of a few rooms interconnected by a few corridors and that's it. They really didn't have very good level designers.
The combat is clumsy, the cover system works intermittently, sometimes you can't take cover behind some objects, and other times your cover obstructs your view. Or ability to target enemies. You can also get stuck behind cover.
And the worst is close combat, when trying to use melee on enemies I often ended up punching air and it's not like second, if you miss the first hit you end up delivering an entire combo or two into thin air while the enemy shoots you.
The weapons in the game need time to aim, while you have to be in the open, (except for the pistol after a certain skill upgrade) and if you don't wait for the crosshair to finish shrinking it's not just your aim that will be unreliable, but even if you hit, the damage will be minimal.
Which is just stupid. Why would your bullet cause less damage if fired without aiming, huh? And it's not like 20% less damage. With the pistol if you take the time to finish aiming you can one-shoot all enemies. But if you don't it's as good as throwing paper towels at them.
But even with the assault rifle it's better to just sit in the open and take the damage but wait for the crosshair to shrink because if you try shooting without that, you can spend all your ammo without being able to take a single enemy down.
The dialogue choices are not just timed (sometimes you have to choose within like 2 seconds) they are similarly to mass effect are lucky dip based. You don't know what you're going to say before you choose. The only rule is that the four options represent four emotions usually.
But that's not much help because you can tell someone to fuck off aggressively as well as professionally. So the guessworks begin. At least you immediately see if your choice gained or lost point with the npc. The only exception to the lucky dip rule are email messages, where you see exactly what you're sending before sending it.
Why couldn't they do the same for dialogue?
The game also has your typical minigames. hacking, lockpicking, and keypad bypass. The last two are pretty much what you'd except. But hacking is painful. You have to find two sequences of code in a jumble of flashing numbers and letters.
I couldn't do it on the first twelve dozen tries. (not a typo) Even after upgrading the skill, it is painful to my eyes, but at least manageable in the time limit. Oh, did I mention they're all time capped? And if you fail alarms go off, which can be a game over on a few missions.
And adding insult to injury just as you click with the mouse when you find the pattern the selection tends to slip to the next row or column. And on top of the time limit there is a secondary shorter timer which resets the location of the pattern you need to find like every 7-8 seconds.
The enemy ai is hectic, sometimes they're very stupid, but other times they work OK. But the bad news: The game has bossfights, and quite a lot of bossfights. Some of which are very frustrating and infuriating.
I mean I haven't used a cheat in a game in over a decade, but after I did my due diligence and finished the game once the hard way, I just had to use a trainer to try different choices in the endgame. There was just no way in hell I was doing the 5 bossfights contained in just the last mission again for real.
- Story (mostly the presentation it's not winning awards for originality)
- Character development and reputation system
- Tries to unite two of the best game series deusex and splinter cell (ultimately fails, but it is an admirable effort)
- Choices that actually matter I mean it
- skills are well distributed and useful, you can specialize or be a little bit good in everything
- You can call upon characters whom you have a good standing with to help you and their help is not negligible.
- Your words and actions have meaning based on those people can live or die. Or be your friends or arch enemies.
- Surprisingly good voice over work, and lip-sync
- Feels terribly dated, not 2010 dated, but more like 2004
- This graphics? Three years after Crysis?!
- Buggy cover system.
- Clunky combat
- Hacking minigame
- Frustrating bossfights
overall impression: 7/10
This is a game that you need to experience, it might be dated, but it is still more acceptable by today's standards than the original DeusEx. So if you haven't played DeusEx at least give this a shot.
No I'm not equating the two games, but this was clearly inspired by deusex in many ways. So it offers a similar freedom, although in different means.
DeusEx offered different approaches to solving problems. Alpha Protocol offers the choice on the story level, while your choices in solving levels is quite limited.