Just a quick one tonight. I actually had a list of six or eight topics I wanted to discuss, but I'm currently juggling a little bit more than I usually do, and there just aren't enough hours in the day.
Anyway, I just finished Alpha Protocol a few minutes ago and I have to say that my opinion of the game greatly improved by the time credits rolled. However, I do have to qualify that statement:
As readers of this blog will remember, my initial playthrough was a giant mess of issues and the whole project felt like a colossal disaster. It was only thanks to some coaching from friends via Twitter that I was able to appreciate the finer points of agent Mike Thorton's mission, and I can certainly understand anyone walking away from this game with a bitter taste in mouth. However, after seeing the thing through from start to finish, I certainly think that there are plenty of bits to appreciate for a player who can get past all the problems.
In case you're considering giving the game a whirl, let me share my learnings with you.
The proper way to enjoy Alpha Protocol:
- Accept that the game is divided into two very distinct sections: role-playing and combat. Combat is a laughable mess. Simply acknowledge it and move on. The role-playing is a little rough around the edges, but it is far better than the action, and the primary reason to play through the adventure. If you are the kind of player that cannot derive sufficient enjoyment from role-playing or storytelling, stop now and do not consider playing the game.
- Put a few level-ups into health and hand-to-hand, but Stealth and Pistol should be boosted as high as they can possibly go, as soon as they possibly can. The stealth abilities compensate for frequent occurrences of terrible level design, and a powered-up pistol is capable of defeating any boss with one or two uses of its special attack.
- Know that the opening cluster of missions set in the Middle East are the worst in the entire game, and that play will not be easy or even enjoyable (outside of dialogue scenes) until the point at which the player's stats are high enough to have a significant effect during combat. For me this was about halfway through the game, though your mileage may vary.
Once you're on this track, it's much easier to endure past the unpleasant sections and keep the game moving in order to see its better sides—things like a few instances of really interesting mission design, ambitious effort to craft a story that doesn't involve any (okay, well not ALL) of the usual RPG tropes, and a few parts that really make a player think thanks to in-game consequences and repercussions. Unfortunately, that's a lot of hoops to ask a player to jump through, and (like I did) it's all too easy to make different choices and end up playing the game in a way that is comparable to a bad trip to the dentist.
While on the topic of Alpha Protocol, it was announced today that any hopes of an improved sequel were taken off the table. As of right now, this franchise is dead.
While I can absolutely understand that decision, I have to admit feeling a bit sad about it. There are some genuinely great moments to be found in the game, and despite all its problems (and Lord, there are many) I can't help but think that the developers were on the right track to creating something that should have been much greater than it was.
I can't deny that the game dug its own grave, but other, lesser titles have gone on to spawn a sequel or two. It's a shame that one that seems to hold so much potential won't get a much-needed chance to grow.