Alpha Protocol

Alpha Protocol
Alpha Protocol Cover
Platforms Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows
Genre Spy shooter RPG
MtAMinutes to Action 6
Keep Playing? Probably not
Buy from Amazon

Alpha Protocol is Obsidian Entertainment’s first original title after a history of picking up series where BioWare left off, including Knights of the Old Republic.  Released about two months ago and published by Sega, Alpha Protocol is subtitled “The Espionage RPG.”  Definitely an enticing combination of words for fans of Western RPGs.

Critics rewarded the game a very wide range of scores, from 20% to over 80%, so it sounds like we have a love/hate game on our hands.  There’s obviously something in Alpha Protocol that appeals to some gamers, so I’ve decided to give it a try myself.  I’m a huge fan of the Mass Effect series, and from a distance, Alpha Protocol appears to be an attempt to replicate its success.

Word has already come out that the cold reception the game received has scrubbed any chance for a sequel, but Obsidian shouldn't complain too much since they're currently responsible for developing Fallout: New Vegas and Dungeon Siege 3.

So let’s not waste any more time and get into the first hour of Alpha Protocol for the Xbox 360.

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)
00 - I select New Game and the first hour of Alpha Protocol begins.  First thing up is to select my difficulty, I go with Normal.  Then I need to select my agent’s history: Soldier, Field Agent, Tech Specialist, or Freelancer.  I can also choose Recruit for an additional challenge, whatever that means.  I’m going to go with Soldier.

01 - Next I have to distribute points... actually they’re already distributed across SMG’s, assault rifles, toughness, and technical aptitude.  Sounds good.

02 - To move on you have to “commit changes,” not entirely clear. Opening cutscene starts, various shots of an airplane taking off and maybe a big missile are being shown.

03 - The plane just got shot down by the missile!  That was actually a pretty cool scene if a little sad.

04 - The plane is in pieces on the ground now with live newscasts showing footage with over 200 dead.  A man smoking a cigar appears and some guy named Thorton walks in.  The smoking man reminds Thorton that “Alpha Protocol began here.”  I gain control in some kind of flashback.

05 - Thorton gets off a hospital slab in some facility, just like Mass Effect 2’s opening!  I pick up a ringing PDA and some lady starts talking.

06 - In conversations I can take three stances (sometimes four), suave, aggressive, professional (and sometimes action or special).  Each one of these is mapped to one of the Xbox 360’s face buttons, similar to Indigo Prophecy I believe.  I’m going to go with suave.  You only have so much time to input your response.  The woman says her name is Mina and we keep talking without me making any input.

Alpha Protocol Michael Thorton Conversation

07 - Oh, I had to make another decision, this time how to break out of the room.  I decided to ask Mina to make a distraction, but I didn’t have a lot of time to think about my choices.

08 - Not sure if I did something wrong but the guard wasn’t distracted at all, he was staring right at the door!  I press the B button a few times to punch him out.  The door just closed on the guard’s body and he clipped through it. Great grahpical start!

09 - I trigger the alarms but play a mini-game (like Mass Effect 2...) to disable them.

10 - The game teaches me to crouch with the L stick allowing me to stealth take out another guard in the lobby.

11 - I pick up a tranqualizer gun and try to shoot a nearby guard, but miss and the alarm goes off again.  Only one extra guard comes in response though and I end up shooting them both down.

13 - I don’t know if Mike is just a really bad shot or what but I can’t hit anyone!  The reticule is huge, maybe I’m just not trained with this weapon?  I find it easier to run up and punch people instead.

Alpha Protocol Michael Thorton Giant Reticule

14 - Mike dodges the ever watching eye of a camera and then I stealth takedown a few more baddies.  Moving on to... something, not sure what.

15 - Time to learn how to pick door locks!  This mini-game is kind of cool, you have to use both triggers and it is more interesting than the hacking mini-game.  I also received 25 experience points for solving it!

18 - I’m in the facility’s garage now, and the game tells me I can use my special perk (Awareness) by selecting it with the D-pad and then hitting right bumper... but I can’t seem to activate it!  What am I doing wrong?

19 - Well, I guess I didn’t need my ability, but the next room has a guard AND a camera.  Will need to get by both to continue.

20 - Or not, I’m going to hack a computer instead!  Another mini-game to learn.

22 - Holy crap this is like the most confusing thing ever.  There are a billion numbers and letters flying by and I’m supposed to match some pattern.  So confused!  I mess up and the alarm goes off, I have to kill the guard and disable the alarm before I can try to hack the computer again.

Alpha Protocol Michael Thorton Atlas Shrugged

23 - Well, I made it through the part, but now I’m in some conversation with my... boss?  He says “the first hour!”  Totally out of context, too bad.  I guess this was all a training scenario?

24 - I decide to respond positively to my boss, next up is to meet my espionage team.

25 - I just received 10 AP to level up with, which seems pretty substantial until I realize advancing one level in something costs between 3 and 6 points.  I decide to buy one point in Stealth and one in Martial Arts, as that was kind of my bread and butter in the first mission.

27 - Need to find my team, so I wander around the facility a bit.  I find a locker where I can change my character’s look.

29 - You can’t change a lot, but you can grow a beard and some extra hair, which I do.  Character doesn’t look half bad now that he actually has some facial hair!

30 - I head into Gadget Orientation first, not sure what this will entail at all.  Sean Darcy introduces himself and I response suavely for some reason.  We banter back and forth for a bit and then I head to the shooting gallery.

Alpha Protocol Michael Thorton Moonlight Battle

32 - Pressing RB lines up and throws grenades similar to Gears of War.  Next I can use my EMP to take out a door lock, you throw it just like a grenade, haha.

36 - I follow that up by blowing a door off and then fighting the same guards I fought during my training!  They wanted revenge but I just sent them to the floor again.

38 - Some more banter between Mike and Darcy and I’m on my way again.  I have to admit, the voice acting isn’t half bad.

39 - I thought I had more training but my objective marker returns me to the boss and we start chatting again.  Sounds like I just joined the project, at least in the flashback that is.

41 - We start discussing how I can influence people with my response, such as my handlers.  I like how it’s not as simple as black and white or good and evil.

43 - Sounds like a big part of this game is how you talk to people, you’ll need to read dossiers and emails while keeping an eye on environmental clues.

Alpha Protocol Michael Thorton Middle East Battle

44 - I respond sarcastically to the boss and I get -1 reputation! Dang!

46 - We begin checking out the dossier of a known terrorist who has shot down an airplane (and he has more of the same missile, which we saw used in the opening cutscene).

47 - Finished that part of the game and we’re moving on again, back to the present, and then almost immediately back to the past again with Mike’s first mission in Saudi Arabia dealing with the terrorist.

49 - Another debriefing from the boss on who’s who in this mission. Lots of names and places are flying by, this sounds complicated.

51 - After a long talk I check my email to read the dossiers... oh man, so many words! The First Hour likes action!

52 - Darcy will be my handler for this mission, his email includes him bragging about his hobbies along with some vital mission information.

Alpha Protocol Michael Thorton Roundhouse Kick

53 - I send an email reply to Mina that would probably get me fired for sexual harassment anywhere else (you can pick suave, aggressive, and professional as options for the reply), and receive -1 reputation with her!

54 - I can also buy guns from my computer, and since I recall being well-versed with SMG’s, I think I’ll buy one of those.  Or not, as they are rather expensive and the boss told me everything is bought with my own money!

57 - When I try to leave the safehouse I have three options of places to visit: the airfield, a weapon stockpile, or intercept the arms dealer.  The arms dealer sounds like the most fun.  The boss will be my handler for this mission, I guess, and not Darcy.  My dossier tells me he likes things “by the book.”

59 - Cutscene starts and I’m trying to negotiate my way into the compound.  The boss is impressed that I bluffed my way in.

60 - Got into my first real firefight with some armed guards, their A.I. seems pretty weak, and the reticule for my SMG is so big it is kind of a joke to shoot.  Well, that’s the end of the first hour of Alpha Protocol!

Alpha Protocol sie Handler Russian

First Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 6

What was awesome: The old-school “SAYGAA” opening.  That was really about all that was awesome.

What I liked: Decently impressed with the voice acting, at least a nice start with the main character and his boss.  I am also intrigued by the reputation system and how closely it is tied into each conversation.  For someone truly hardcore, reading all the dossiers and emails might make for an exciting time so they’re poised to react just right in each conversation.

Graphically the game is consistent and looks pretty good, but of course it is the Unreal Engine 3.  The main character is rather generic but I like how you can still customize him a bit.

What I didn’t like: Something about the gameplay seems off, I think the shooting aspect relies far too heavily on RPG stats.  I had guards perfectly lined up with the reticule and I would miss nine times out of ten.  I think they should have taken another page out of Mass Effect and not tie hit rate to some stat. It’s very frustrating to miss so many times with no explanation.

Everything else seemed more or less fine, including sneaking around and beating guys up by spamming the B button.

I’m definitely not obsessed with achievements, but going a whole hour and not unlocking any?  Seems a bit odd, but maybe they really are going for the real “you have achieved something actually hard” route.

What I hated: I don’t write one of these often, but I absolutely hated the computer hacking mini-game where you have to line up two strings of numbers in a sea of seizure-inducing, fast moving characters.  Not only are you expected to actually match the two sets of characters pretty quickly, but you move them so... slowly... It was awful.

Would I Keep Playing? Honestly a bit torn here, I think there are some decent concepts presented so far, but they don’t seem to be executed very well.  I’m going to say “wait and see,” you never know, I might pop the game back in some day.