Alpha Protocol is an underrated gem that suffered from lack of polishing, but is still loved by many. This is definitely a game where you can just ignore the scoring from mainstream reviewers and go straight to what the users are saying. And most users like this game, faults and all. Unfortunately, mainstream reviews impact on sales and we won’t be seeing a sequel, which is a downright shame. Granted it needed a little polishing, but how I determine whether I think a game is good overall depends upon two things; how it makes me feel and whether the mechanics are reasonably playable so that they don’t horribly impact on how the game makes me feel. And what I felt was engagement and immersion. The characters and the plot drew me in.
One of the strong points of this game is the story and the voice acting. You play Mike Thorton, a freelance agent recruited by a secret government organization called Alpha Protocol. This agency works in the shadows and Mike performs missions with only the help of his handler through a secure network communications system. His main mission is to determine and expose who was behind the missile attack that shot down an airliner, where those missiles came from, where they are ultimately headed and for what purpose. As leads surface, Mike follows the trails, travelling to safe houses in various cities and performing missions along the way as he gains more insight. Early on, his own agency turns on him and only one handler, Mina, remains as a trusted contact. The story is quite intricate and brings Mike into contact with other shadow agencies, underworld bosses and corporate intrigue. This is Alpha Protocol's strong suit. The characters, story and dialogue are infinitely believable.
As a role playing game, it has the usual elements. You can customize your character, choose from dialogue trees which affect the story and your standing with other characters, and level up skills and equipment through experience points. Your choices do impact on the game and therefore how you approach missions will determine a variety of possible endings. At key points, you engage in conversations and are given options with a limited time to respond. There are also opportunities for romancing various characters. I would not describe this game as a heavy duty RPG, though, as it is more of a cross genre.
I usually avoid games that force too much stealth, but this is one game where I actually enjoyed this element being cleverly utilized as only one of the possible tools at your disposal. It never affects your ability to complete a mission if you are seen. It does have repercussions as being discovered will trigger alarms, which will trigger additional enemy forces, but it won't end the mission if you live through the storm. The combat portion of this game, however, is not top of the tree. There are some cover mechanics that make it fairly easy for Mike to line up his shots without taking too much damage and the AI are pretty stupid a lot of the time and are likely to dumbly stand out in the open just asking for it. The boss fights are a little more challenging and require some strategy to beat. General combat is not one of this game’s strong points, but it doesn't totally suck either. Leveling up will eventually mark all enemy locations on your HUD. The over all graphics are also not ground breaking, but the cut scenes are done fairly well, including placement and length.
The menu system for inventory, equipment and using skills has too many steps and can be a little glitchy. It took me some time to actually figure out exactly how it worked, but eventually you can get a handle on it. The key mapping for your PDA, (Tab) was also missing so I wandered about in a fog with that one till I googled it, although I should have guessed. During missions you can access a weapon tree, a gadget tree and a skill tree with the choices dependent on how you level up. The whole menu system is not the most economical arrangement, but it is perfectly playable. Saving utilizes the checkpoint system, but you can save these points manually as well, so remember to do that.
The one thing that some people find extremely hard is the computer hacking and there’s a lot of it, so you need to master it. There are several problems with this element. First is the actual method. You need to find two stationary codes whose location keeps resetting after a short time period amongst a display of continually moving letters and numbers. There is also a secondary timer for performing this before the alarms go off, although you can abort before this and try again. Secondly, there is a left code and a right code that require different buttons. The left uses the direction keys to match up the code and the space key to lock on and the right uses mouseover to match up the code and a left click to lock on. Way too complicated under duress. The third problem is a bug. If you re-map your use key from the default space, it won’t work. I resolved this for my own situation by mapping my traditional use key into the secondary slot. However, although I can now play everything else with the key I usually employ for use, it does not work on the hacking and only the space key can be used. Other than that, it's practice at being able to locate stationary codes amongst the moving. I usually only memorize the first two characters of each code and this seems to work for me making hacking a lot easier with a little practice.
All in all, I really enjoyed this game for all its faults. The story is very engaging and the game has its fans. I certainly would have been interested in a sequel, but it's not looking promising any time soon.