If you’re a fan of Splinter Cell and Mass Effect, the idea of a game which combines the best elements of the two must surely sound like a pretty appealing prospect, right? Well, yes it is, and that’s exactly what Obsidian’s latest tactical espionage RPG aims to deliver. But does is sneak subtly into a place of prestige among the better games of the year, or does it trip over its own feet and set off one too many warning bells? Let’s find out.
The premise is fairly suitable for this type of game. Players take on the role of Michael Thornton, a new inductee into a super secret anti-terrorist organisation, the titular Alpha Protocol. It isn’t long before Michael is falsely accused of “going rogue” and finds himself on the US’s top ten terrorist threats list. To clear his name and get to the bottom of the whole mess, he must use the gear and skills of Alpha Protocol against them.
To do this, players guide Michael through numerous espionage-related missions in different parts of the world. These missions play out not too dissimilarly to games like Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid with a generous helping of action thrown into the mix. What sets it apart from these other stealth/espionage titles is the substantial role-playing element. Every time Michael successfully completes an objective, picks a lock, hacks a computer, knocks out a guard, or does anything meaningful, he earns experience points. Eventually he’ll level up and allow the player to spend points on upgrading various skills and abilities. The interface to do this bears more than a passing resemblance to the skill screen in Mass Effect and works very much the same way. Choosing the right skills will determine whether Michael is a stealth agent, a gung-ho Rambo wannabe, or something in between. Michael will also have to engage in conversations from time to time, and his treatment of various characters can have interesting ramifications throughout the game.
If you think all of this sounds good, you’d be right, but the problems with the game are in other areas. Michael’s movement is far more restricted than we’re used to in action games these days – up to the point where he can’t step over a planter or mantle a shoulder height crate without the use of a ladder. This really messes with the stealth element. Another problem is that some of the abilities weren’t that well thought out, and some of them make the game criminally easy once acquired. The animation is sub-par and the graphics could be a lot better. The voice actors also aren’t the best in the business by any means, putting the cherry on top.
It’s a real pity that there are so many issues here, because Alpha Protocol does have a lot of great ideas that work well, hidden behind the game’s numerous flaws. The problem is, how much can you expect gamers to forgive when they’re forking over substantial amounts of cash? Decide carefully.