Review: Mass Effect 2 clone comes out of the oven early, burns everyone involved
I feel bad for everyone involved in Alpha Protocol, because it's the most blatantly incomplete game I've played in years, possibly in my life. The ?espionage RPG? wants to be Mass Effect 2 with a Jason Bourne story (which is not a bad idea), but it plays like a GTA III knockoff with a slew of irritating visual glitches. In fact, there are so many glitches that I doubt anyone at Obsidian Entertainment played this game and thought, "Oh yeah, this is ready, we can ship." It's obvious the bottom fell out somewhere in production and the game was shipped ?as is? in an effort to cut losses. It's really disheartening that a publisher, especially Sega, would dare slap a sixty-dollar price tag on this half-baked package.
The visual in Alpha Protocol are completely and totally broken. Textures pop in seconds late only to disappear again, and the game cannot render a straight line to save its life; absolutely every surface is made up of jagged, visually painful lines. Alpha Protocol also features the most ridiculous crouch animation I've seen to date. Every time I saw my character bent over at a ninety-degree angle, holding two automatic weapons in his stick straight arms, I was waiting for Benny Hill's "Yakety Sax" to start playing. The rag doll physics are right out of classic comedy as well. Death often causes your character to slump into a sitting position and vibrate until you load a checkpoint.
If you squint and look at Alpha Protocol, you might be able to see the game Obsidian was trying to make; the game Alpha Protocol would have been if it were complete. It's not a bad game, if a bit derivative. All that being said, it's not a terrible game, though it is a bit derivative - Mass Effect 2 given a modern spy movie facelift. Customize your character to design your approach to combat, choosing stealth, firepower, technology, or a mix of all three. Most intriguingly, you must choose your words delicately with everyone you meet, because for once, charming everyone isn't a good idea. You want to keep some people at a distance. However you do it, there will always be repercussions. Writing is actually Alpha Protocol's strong suit, and it's the ?choose your own adventure? bit that it does best. It's a shame the rest of the game wasn't given as much effort.
Even if you removed the visual errors, Alpha Protocol would still be hampered by a clumsy targeting system. Imagine the third person combat of GTA III, minus the ability to lock onto a target. In Alpha Protocol, the most effective approach to a gunfight is to funnel your enemies down a hallway so they will pass through your reticule, keeping your fumbling to a minimum. Another option would be to run up and melee spam them to death. Yes, even when playing a character with zero points in the martial arts skill, you can unleash a torrent of weak but practically unblockable combos, the equivalent of slapping an armed soldier to death. Once you've discovered these two winning strategies, the fights lose a lot of their urgency.
Let's talk for a moment about Alpha Protocol's cover system. It's Alpha Protocol's cover system is lifted right from Mass Effect 2, a game that borrowed heavily from Gears of War. Unfortunately, it's different in inept little ways that make a player's familiarity with similar games a disadvantage. For example, in Gears or Mass Effect, if you sprint toward a piece of cover, you will automatically hide behind it. Not so in Alpha Protocol, a fact often forgotten in the heat of the moment when reflexes have taken over, and it's a really annoying way to lose half of your health. You also cannot leap over pieces of cover, no matter how short. If Obsidian wants to adopt a gameplay element that everyone is familiar with, they should do it verbatim so players don't have to fight their instincts. In addition to that, the game is very picky about what objects you can take cover behind. Expect to die quite often because you misjudged what the game deems suitable for hiding. Also, for some reason, reloading when behind cover is uninterruptible - you can't even move, so your enemy has ample time to charge or toss a grenade you wont be able to dodge. The only thing I really enjoyed about firing from cover in Alpha Protocol is being able to blind fire, which lets you avoid the unwieldy targeting system.