Some games aren’t worth the $60 release price. Or half as much, for that matter. How many times have you bought a game and told yourself that if it’s terrible, it was only five bucks? This brings us to the “Bargain Bin” realm of gaming, a second glance at games far enough down that they don’t see light. Guilty pleasures are a blast — so long as no one’s watching.
It’s not often that a game lives up to its promise of your every move changing the game world completely, yet espionage RPG Alpha Protocol is one of the few games out there that actually does so to a standard not seen even within the Fallout games. Released by the makers of Fallout New Vegas, Alpha Protocol received a mixed reception from critics upon release yet has maintained a cult following due to the fact that the game really does offer a different experience on every playthrough completely dependent upon your choices.
You are Mike Thorton, a rookie agent who encompasses the determination of Jason Bourne… No, wait, you’re Mike Thorton Veteran soldier whose suave demeanour is reminiscent of James Bond, the men want to be you and the women want to be with you… Well, actually that’s one of the unique things about Alpha Protocol, Mike Thorton is whoever you want him to be, literally meaning that from the opening screen you have a massive control over the events of the game already. Whoever you decide to be within the game, you wake up in the base of a secret branch of the American Government called Alpha Protocol that doesn’t officially exist. They send you off to track down and capture (or kill) the leader of Al-Samad who was responsible for a terrorist attack on a passenger airliner. Once you catch up with him, however, Mike is soon betrayed and must start his journey to discover the truth behind the betrayal. It’s a standard espionage storyline found in many works, but let’s be honest, everybody has wanted the chance to live a spy adventure with the usual clichés, so it works in favor of the game. There are twists and turns, sudden betrayals and shady dealings behind every corner in the game and the best of it all is that it’s up to you, the player, to decide whose side you are on.
It can’t be emphasized enough just how engaging and encompassing the story is within the game — the main feature of Alpha Protocol with good reason. Simply being nice to somebody can open doors that on a different playthrough will be closed; in fact your reputation will precede you just about everywhere you go. Be like a ghost and people will comment that you’re good at your job, go in guns blazing and they’ll comment on your appetite for destruction. There are so many branches of gameplay that at least three playthroughs are needed just to recognize how far your actions reached and it’s a relief to finally be able to play a game that really doesn’t force decisions upon you. There’s always a third option available or even a fourth with varying shades of grey morality thus avoiding the epidemic of the only choices being available being either fully good or fully bad that’s so common in RPGs nowadays. There’s a full range of memorable and colorful characters each with their own relationship stats which change depending on how you interact with them and many will stick in your mind long after you’ve finished playing the game. After all, if anybody else can provide a game with a coked up Russian gangster with an affinity for the America of the eighties, we’d like to see it.
It’s hard to classify the game when the gameplay is so dependent on the player’s choices. Want to play an action game? You can. A stealth game? You can. Players input points into a wide range of skill levels all of which have their various uses and some of them even have an impact upon cut scenes. For example, having a character with a lot of points in hacking will hack computers themselves in cut scenes whilst if you fail to invest in this skill, other characters will do it for you which serves as a nice touch for a genre where character classes often have little story impact. That said there are some classes that are better investing in than others. Going for the shotgun stat is pretty pointless, whilst the pistol is massively overpowered and eventually gains a chain shot which can wipe out a room of enemies in a matter of seconds. Such imbalance can potentially make bosses undefeatable in later stages if the player has focused too much on one stat.
Like most of Obsidians games, however, you must patch the game before starting as the game was unplayable when it first came out with graphic glitches and game breaking bugs, no doubt a result of the game’s enormous ambition when it came to processing your decisions and choices. Playing the game after it’s been patched with its relatively smooth graphics and gameplay may make you wonder what the criticism was about due to the fact Alpha Protocol really is a fun, enjoyable and immersive experience. In fact, the reputation of the game was largely damaged thanks to these bugs and it never quite got the love that it deserved as such a unique and well thought out game. It really is worth playing without a patch just to see why the games reception was lukewarm after its release and then patching it just to see how much Obsidian shot itself in the foot by rushing out a broken game. So much so that Sega cancelled any intentions of releasing a sequel to the game much to the chagrin of Alpha Protocol fans everywhere who felt that a second game could fix the few flaws found within the first and go onto greater things.
Alpha Protocol is a game that is well worthy of your time to buy and play and will provide you with hours of engaging gameplay that won’t have you moving from your couch until you’ve completed the game at least twice. If you’ve been looking for a game that allows the player to be whatever they like and have a massive impact upon the world within the game than Alpha Protocol is the game for you. Every serious RPG fan should play it at least once even if it’s only to see the quirky world of modern espionage that the characters of Alpha Protocol inhabit.
Dig deeper into The Bin. Head here for more guilty pleasures in gaming.