Monday, May 16, 2011

The Role-Playing Grind: Alpha Protocol

First published October 27, 2010, over at

RPG or Action, Good or Bad, the jury is still out. I did finally complete it though and here are some observations, but mostly banter.

Alpha Protocol

The first original work from Obsidian, the highly debated masters of IP continuation, with titles like Knights of the Old Republic 2 for the good ole Xbox, Neverwinter Nights 2, and current Fallout New Vegas everyone is buried in. Not a bad lineup, so why did it fail commercially? I don’t know. Personally I liked large parts of it:

The Good:
It’s not-a-fantasy-rpg. Alpha Protocol draws its obvious inspiration from popular ‘modern warfare’ and political thrillers alike. You’ll be thrown into gunfights with Strykers, popping heads with your assault rifle, skulking, and trespassing in places you shouldn’t be while breaking necks you shouldn’t have.

An aging unreal engine with various limitations delivers okay graphics. The settings are varied and believable. The dialogue system works once you get into it, and the whole thing does come off as at least an A-title.

Variation is probably the games strongest point here, and what really makes or breaks an RPG in my mind. Nowhere will you feel you made stupid choices on character customization, and nowhere will you feel the little RPG-features are just tacked on and pointless. Gaining a level gives you skill points and distributing those makes a semi-notable difference on what you can and cannot do.

Last but not least, hairy-face-fans will be thrilled to know that in character customization your limited selection of appearances will include the ‘lumberjack’ in the category facial hair, a rich jungle of hairy goodness almost putting the new Medal of Honor marketing to shame. Why was this not an essential key selling point?

The Bad:
Checkpoints. Combined with the inability to save anywhere, and combined with the dialogue system that warrant some further explanation, makes for unnecessary and unwanted ‘replay-value’. You see, there are a lot of people to met and chat up, and every time you do so you are force-fed a timed response system akin to button mashing sequences like those in Tomb Raider, or the dialogue system in Mass Effect, only with a timer, and consequences. You can choose to come off as the ‘Suave’, the ‘Professional’, the ‘Aggressive’ nut, the Veteran, or mix and match any of those all the time to come off as a total batshit-crazy psycho clown from hell. The last option shouldn’t really be listed under Bad as it provides some comic relief.

The dialogue system could equally be a good thing. For me however, it introduced just another level of uncertainty, something I had to figure out and master, and as achievements go (which for a completionist is alpha pro…omega), made everything infinitively more complex and time consuming to navigate.

The Ugly:
Sadly, the only really ugly thing about Alpha Protocol for my part, were the achievements, so let’s cut to it.

The Achievements:
Are interesting at first, then a chore, then madness. I could be lazy, but missing out on one achievement that virtually requires you to play through the game for a third or fourth time…is not that interesting anymore. Sounds insane right? We all know and slightly loathe the ‘play through on hard/insane/batshit-crazy psycho clown’ difficulty settings, and although Alpha Protocol have such an achievement, the ugly comes when working towards one or more multi-part achievement requiring several ‘choices’ over several missions, and doing so will make sure you cannot get the ‘opposing achievement’ which is the exact opposite of what you are doing.

Several interesting achievements alleviates this somewhat, like having your way with every female agent/contact in one game, which is not an easy task at all, wooing and catering to their every whim and preference. Similarly, and even more of a challenge, getting through the whole game without being seduced by the same female agents, gives a good idea of the many mutually exclusive achievements you have to tackle. Once the interesting parts wear off it’s just downright ugly.

On the upside, Alpha Protocol added another 1000 in the RPG genre, gave an okay experience, and put me on the list of top 100 RPG players. Now to fight for that position with 5 more RPG’s out before Christmas.

I also took the time to write up a solution for the most difficult achievement encountered; give it a vote if found useful.

The Ready For Anything achievement in Alpha Protocol worth 12 points. Acquire the vast majority of Intel available in the game.

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