Alpha Protocol is a cover based, over the shoulder shooter ‘Espionage RPG.’ While the shooting isn’t amazing, the RPG elements and story are what pulls you in. I’m not a big fan of stories in RPGs, but this game pulls you in, because it tailors itself to your choices in conversations. Characters remember what you say, and what you say can not only come back to haunt you, but affect who becomes a friend or you later on. Not just that, but you can execute characters, but be prepared to face the consequences when their allies come for you.
The graphics are great, but there is pop in every so often, the characters are believable. No one is a laughable stereotype and the dialog is fully voiced. You’ll find dead serious characters, flirty ones, low key people and over the top ones. There’s something here for everyone character wise. Since the cut scenes require you to make a timed choice, it kept me engaged more than other RPGs that I’d just skip cut scenes and dialog.
The bulk of the game is an over the shoulder shooter, which has pitfalls such as coming around a corner with the camera to the right of the character, the enemies can’t see you, but you can only see wall. Combat is simple, left stick moves, right stick moves the camera, hold one trigger to aim, another trigger to fire, You have one bumper for a special ability and another bumper for equipment such as grenades, health kits, EMPs, flash bangs, radio bombs, sound makers to attract guards. There’s a button for cover, action and running. You’ll have a button for melee, a quick switch weapon, since the game only lets you carry 2 at a time. While you can’t pick up weapons from downed enemies, but you select and customize your weapons before the mission. You have your choice of pistols, shotguns, SMGs, and assault rifles. Several types of pistols, shotguns, SMGs, rifles and so on. All of the different types aren’t really upgrades so much as side grades. You might sacrifice damage for reloading, accuracy or recoil. Then you can really tweak things with scopes, mussels and so on.
You can buy clothes, armor, plates, gloves and they all have different stats. Sacrificing stealth for damage, endurance for upgrade slots. I didn’t find myself clamoring for armors and weapons. On top of that, you have a lot of useful perks in the game that you get to buy with AP from leveling up. When you start out the game, you pick a basic class with default stats and perks. Things like stealth, martial arts (hand to hand), toughness (damage you can take), shotgun proficiency, pistol proficiency, and so on. The perks are nice, but can sometimes make the game too easy. Everything from more damage and accuracy to usable skills such as chain shooting a pistol, slowing time and being able to knock down enemies from a ‘critical’ hit with a shotgun.
Between missions when you’re buying weapons, armor and equipment, you can also buy intel and read emails from the cast of characters. Some have extra intel, unlock new things from the black market, other emails give you a chance to reply, simply to improve your standing with characters. The safehouse hubs are really nice and help with the immersion. You don’t just pick missions, weapons and check emails you walk around the places, checking out little details and trophies like a glass eye from an enemy. They’re big enough to be fun, but small enough to not get overwhelming.
Once you complete the first operation, the game will open up to your choice of different locales. Each locale has a slew of different missions to chose from so you’re not always pigeon holed into one mission. Each mission has a ‘handler,’ each has a perk that will help you on a mission. Sometimes you can vaguely select who you’re paired with. Some handlers will grow to hate you if when you start killing or shooting civilians or soldiers you’re aligned with.
While the cover of cover based shooting is okay, other games do it better. You can roll out of cover, unstick yourself from cover, but you can’t vault over cover or pull enemies over the cover. The only times that you can vault over something is when a floating icon marks it. You can drop down off a ledge if its marked with an icon. The whole icon to do this or that makes the game feel very stiff and rigid when other games make it more free flowing. The game has regenerating armor, but not regenerating health. It is a nice compromise, and while you can get shot a few times on normal difficulty and live, any more than a few bullets will kill you pretty quick.
Enemies will pace around areas and when they notice you they’ll shoot, which will alert others and not just that, but they will trigger alarms to call others. It is a nice system and you can stealth kill or disable them. You can go through the game not killing 99% of the enemies. There is even a perk with stealth that will let you see arrows through walls with the direction all enemies are facing.
The enemy AI is okay, but its not out for blood most of the time. The basic enemies can do most anything. They’ll try to flank you, some of them will throw grenades to get you away from cover. The game makes good use of the enemy AI by having open areas with ladders so you can flank the enemies and they can flank you. If you can do things like climb ladders and use zip lines, so can they. It makes for an even playing field. Enemies will reload just as you do and then its a safe moment to take them out either through melee or shooting them. When you brawl with an enemy, they’ll guard, so you’ll have to time your strikes.
The maps and AI do a good job to make things interesting and not just a straight forward hallway shooting spree. You’ll be able to stealth around them in most cases if not gloriously zip line into them. You will also see different factions shooting on one another, which is always interesting, you can intervene in one way or the other if not just slip by unnoticed. The maps also allow for exploration and you’re rewarded with finding parts, weapons, cash, intel and other things.
There are a few types of mini games in Alpha Protocol, such as a simple wire hacking game where you need to select wires in a specific order. You’ll see numbers attached to wires and the wires are all mixed together for you to select which one is attached to the number you’re on. There’s a lock picking mini game that has you moving tumblers up or down based on how hard you’re pulling the trigger, then you pull the other trigger to freeze the tumbler for success. Finally, there is a computer hacking mini game that has you placing two lines of code amongst an entire word find. If time expires, the word find will shuffle and you’ll need to find where the two lines match. If you fail these mini games so many times, it sets off an alarm, alerting enemies. It is a good punishment for failure, but a lot of the time, the enemies are already dead.
To many the game takes 20+ hours to complete, but I manage to breeze through it twice on normal at 12 hours each and it was worth the replay a few years later. I explored all areas, the one thing that I didn’t do was read all of the emails, maybe that’s where the extra 8 hours comes in. The endings were completely different on both playthroughs, but again your alliances lead to things and you have ultimate control over what happens no matter what twists or turns happen.
In all, its not a perfect game, but I can deal with it with a story that wraps itself around you. Everyone should play it once for the dirt cheap price. I bought it for $2. If there was a sequel, I’d buy that too.