Review: Alpha Protocol

Alpha Protocol: Michael Thornton wearing a green beret
In the garden, always wear the green beret! You’ll be invisible to your enemies.

Alpha Protocol is a half-finished spy RPG with very simple stealth mechanics and crappy combat controls. I enjoyed it a lot.

The thing I liked most about Alpha Protocol is that it cared about story first, and everything you did fit right into it, most of the time, at least in it’s slightly crazy over-the-top (somewhere between Bourne and Bond) spy setting. There was always something happening, and while the stealth and combat system weren’t great, at least they didn’t get in the way. I chose a stealthy character and after a few levels my recruit was able to murder himself through an entire building complex without being seen. If you’re looking for a great challenge, then Alpha Protocol is not for you.

If you like a game that gives you choices and the feeling that they probably would have mattered more, if the developer’s actually had time to finish their game – in that case it’s the perfect game for you.

Granted, I had forgotten who was working for/betraying whom by mid game already but I still enjoyed the well written dialog, and the sometimes cringe worthy characters (there’s a crazy hacker called ‘Heck’) of good b-movie quality. The writing went well with the looks of the game, which are fine but probably didn’t impress anyone even by 2010 standards. They even included a more than awkward sex scene, where you have to imagine the sex part.

Alpha Protocol: Michael Thornton wearing a blue beret in bed with Mina
With the ladies, always wear the blue one! You really don’t want to be invisible now, Mike!

I have read articles that criticized Alpha Protocol for having an unsympathetic main character. While I agree that Michael Thornton is basically a prick, no matter what dialog options you choose, I really enjoyed him being one. As someone who sticks his knife in other people’s necks on a daily basis, I think being an asshole is a fitting character trait. Most game ‘heroes’ are full on mass murdering sociopaths portrayed as rouges with a heart of gold. Hey, I think this is my first chance to say ‘ludonarrative dissonance‘ – Alpha Protocol doesn’t suffer from it. I guess you could try to go a non-lethal route (some NPCs don’t like it when you undo civilians or police officers), but the game doesn’t really want you to, and you’ll wade through blood of your enemies soon. By the end of the game you get a disturbing amount of ‘execute’ dialog options. ‘Spy’ is really just a euphemism for assassin in this game.

There are a lot of things that might put people off in Alpha Protocol. It’s a clunky PC-port and who ever thought of the mouse control for the hacking mini game should be stabbed. A lot of it felt unfinished or not fully fleshed out. Yes, your decisions and relationships to NPCs do matter, but not as much as you would like. There were a lot of moments, that felt like they were just placeholders, where originally something bigger had been planned. Also the dialog options are only one word per option, which sometimes makes it hard or even impossible to anticipate what exactly Thornton will do if you chose them. Chose ‘aggressive’ and instead of intimidating the guy, good old psycho Mike will grab his head an bash it on a counter. Chose ‘joking’ and instead of saying something clever, Micky will tell his girlfriend to fuck off.

Alpha Protocol: Mina looking at Mike
She’s like: ‘He’s so hot, he just executed like a hundred people.’ And he’s like ‘She’s hot, but I really wanna execute her.’

Which is so like Mike. As I played the final mission a bug kept the ‘save your girlfriend’ objective lit, even though I had already passed the point where I could save her. So instead of reloading the checkpoint I played through to the end only to see a solitary Mike drive a boat into the sunset saying that now that the action is over he’s worried about getting bored. Oh Michael. Thornton is a flawed man in a flawed game, but I still am looking froward to playing him again (in about a thousand years from now, after the mountain). Next time I will play as ‘veteran’ (an option that unlocks if you played as ‘recruit’) and go full on psycho, because I think Mike is really just happy when you chose ‘execute’.

Actual Information: Alpha Protocol was developed by Obsidian Entertainment and released in 2010. You can buy it on Steam.

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