Sunday, 13 June 2010

Game review: Alpha Protocol

Since the last Metal Gear, I've been chomping at the bit for some solid tactical espionage action. When I heard of Alpha Protocol an 'espionage RPG' from Obsidian entertainment, I giggled with girlish glee at the promise of sleath and shooting gameplay, the ability to manipulate characters through your actions with them and customisable RPG elements. I imagined a mix of Jason Bourne-style action mixed with James Bond-esque charisma. Alpha Protocol fails to deliver.

Alpha Protocol tells the story of Mike Thornton, an agent working for the eponymous shadowy government agency. As he progresses through the story, he'll meet different handlers, informants and targets that, dependant on your actions, help or hinder Mike in his missions. Using a mix of diplomacy, subterfuge, sabotage and violence, Mike uncovers the mystery surrounding Alpha Protocol.

That sounded exciting, didn't it? The reality couldn't be further from the truth.

The majority of AP's gameplay is played out as a simple sneak and shoot third-person action game. Mike makes his way through drab and uninspired levels, following objective markers that quickly lose all meaning. After reaching your twentieth marker, only to have your handler garble something in your earpiece and redirect you to another point on the opposite end of the level, you stop caring about why you need to get there. While the levels are peppered with things you can hack, bypass or lock-pick (each with its own minigame), the gameplay here focuses on sneaking up on guards, who walk in preset patterns, and offing them one by one or combating them if you are spotted.

It is at this point where one of AP's main flaws rears its ugly head. The enemy AI is terrible, at times spotting you from miles away behind cover, and at others failing to see you despite the fact you are standing three feet in front of them. During combat, they fail to use cover properly, and are easily defeated using simple exploits. Even the boss enemies do little more than stay in one position and shoot.

Shooting is another issue AP has trouble with. Since it is an action RPG, whether or not you hit a target is dependant on your accuracy stats, even if the enemy is squarely in your sights. While this may sound like a good idea, it takes all the skill out of shooting and makes all of your guns basically unreliable. Combine this with the facts that the AI will cease fire if you are punching an enemy and that one melee combo neutralises most enemies, and you have a game where running around punching guards in the face is the most effective way to win a firefight. Not exactly subtle.

The missions are punctuated by 'saferoom' segments, wherein you can change up your gear and buy upgrades, and 'conversation' segments. These are similar to those seen in Mass Effect, with Mike having to make on the spot decisions on how to respond or react, making it even possible to talk your way out of (or into) a firefight. The trouble is that these conversations are often so boring and unenthusiastically delivered that I found myself losing concentration throughout most of them.

Alpha Protocol is also an ugly game. The character design is dull, the facial animations are weird and puppet-like, and the character animation is inconsistent to say the least. Mike's strange crouching duck-walk and the guard's hovering moonwalk are, considering the fact you spend perhaps 70% of the game looking at either of those animations, bizarre design choices.

Alpha Protocol does have some saving graces. Due to its customisable upgrade system, the player can choose how to level up Mike's stats and abilities, giving him access to sneaky near-invisibility or L33T hacking skillz. Levelling up is, as with most RPGs, compelling and somewhat addictive, and along with all the different choices the player can make throughout the game, some of you may find enough to like to warrant a playthrough or two. I myself am going back to my Jason Bourne Boxset.

Lukao gives Alpha Protocol 3 Jason Bournes out of 10.

Luke Rosales Mc Cabe

CeX W1 Rathone Place

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