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Tigranes

A more comprehensive review:

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Considering some people are only just getting the game, and how 'professional' reviews are very polarised, maybe it'll be good to have some impressions out there from people who've given the game a good go. I've now completed two playthroughs, so maybe this will be of help to people who are still on the fence...

 

I played the PC version, and I went into it without a lot of expectations. I like my RPGs, from Ultima VII to Planescape: Torment to Dragon Age, but you always knew that this one was going to be pretty different. Especially in the first playthrough I just let the game take charge and then did what I wanted to, instead of trying to game the mechanics. Here are my impressions broken down into sections:

 

Plot

The plot, and the way it is delivered, is excellent. Think of your favourite spy movies, and then imagine someone made five or six different versions of that movie and let you play out that story. That's what it is. At its core the story is simple and realistic, and all the archetypes of the genre - the crazy psychopathic killer, the double agent, the global conspiracy - are met without becoming cliche or generic. This is mainly due to the delivery of the plot, which is very very polished. There are very few moments where you are watching a scene play out and you groan because the plot has a big hole, things feel contrived, there's a deus ex machina, etc. None of Fallout 3's "here, SOMEONE HAS TO DIE AT THE END, just because" or Dragon Age's "have sex with me and you don't have to sacrifice yourself". In terms of plot, the game grabs you after the initial missions and never lets go.

 

Characters

Characters are a very important part of Alpha Protocol and they are generally done very well. Michael Thorton, the main character, seems to be a love/hate thing - some people think he's a baby-face with a drone-like voice. I think this is because, being a spy game, many people expect a strong personality and gruff looks from the hero, in the form of, say, Solid Snake. But because Mike just looks and talks like your ordinary guy (and you can customise him, anyway), you can really tell the difference when you choose different dialogue options. He also has a general bent towards dry sarcasm, so if you like that stuff, you'll be fine - if you want a stylish, all-out 'cool guy', maybe not.

 

The supporting cast I feel are great, if a little underdeveloped. With people like SIE, Scarlet, Steven Heck and Conrad Marburg you get a very consistent delivery that reflects their strong personalities (everyone's a strong personality in the spy world), and verbal sparring with them is very very enjoyable. You will definitely look forward to talking to them. A small pity is that some characters, like Sis and Sean Darcy, don't get a whole lot of spotlight.

 

Choice & Consequences

This is the big one - it's the big thing in Alpha Protocol, the reason you are playing the game. The whole game was built so that, theoretically, each playthrough has different middles as well as endings, you make choices that actually have impact. Of course, most reviews out there won't really have a clue about this. In short, does Alpha Protocol have great choices to make? Definitely. Do they have great consequences? Mostly. Certainly more than almost any other RPG in history.

 

Choices. You make them consistently throughout the game. It doesn't feel like you're railroaded for 30 minutes, given one choice, then more railroading; where you think you should have a choice, you almost always do. The choices feel real, not artificial. You don't get stupid situations where it feels like the whole thing was contrived just to give you a choice. There are virtually no 'fake choices' that are common in RPGs (see: Mass Effect, where some of your choices were basically "Yes", "Certainly" and "I guess so, yeah"). Someone asks you to remove a bug you planted in their data servers: if you choose to keep the bug, you actually do bug on them and get info, if you remove it, you don't get the info. It's not a case of "oh, you 'chose' to keep bugging us? Well we'll destroy your bug."

 

The consequences to these choices are only fully felt when you go on your second or third playthrough, as you see what changes. Let's give examples. If you choose to enlist X's help in a mission, then she will give you certain tips, but not know some of the other facts. At some point you will be surprised by faction Y crashing in and shooting everyone, and will have to outmaneuvre them. If you choose to be handled by Y in the same mission, then you will get different advice on how to approach the mission. Depending on what else you did, you might also get faction X crashing in. But if you're trying to keep on the good sides of both factions, you would want to finish your mission without harming the operatives from faction X. And of course, you could have gotten to this mission without any prior contact or knowledge with faction X or Y. How much NPCs like you will also change what type of help they will give; your choices will also determine who dies and who lives. Finally, these consequences are not dependant on a single choice, in many cases: it will be a combination of dialogue choices, order in approaching missions, performance in missions, etc. Alpha Protocol definitely fulfills its promises in this regard, and if you love C&C you will love this game.

 

Combat & Stealth

Let's move on to some 'gameplay' aspects. Apart from talking, most of the time you will be in missions, and in them, you will mostly be either shooting bad guys down, or stealthing them down. This is the bit where Alpha Protocol, well, starts out limp but finishes very strongly.

 

In the first few hours, if you like playing shooters or expected a shooter, you are going to feel crap. Since this is an RPG, stats determine whether you hit your target or not: you can get a headshot in but the guy might only lose a few health, if you're low level. Now we can debate all day about whether it should be that way or not, but the question I'm interested in is, does it work, is it fun? I think it is, if you accept it for what it is. What it means is that if Mike has no levels in Pistols, you being a master at aiming WILL help, but you still won't be able to headshot everyone down in five seconds... because Mike is still a noob with guns. If Mike has maxed out pistols, even if you're useless at aiming like me, you can use chain shot to headshot six people almost instantly, because Mike is that good. This is why the gameplay gets a lot more fun once you have a few levels. Think of traditional fantasy RPGs. When you're early level, you can only cast one spell and then your mana is down. You swing your sword ten times but only hit once. A grue kills you. But what's really fun is when you get a few levels, a few abilities, and really start to see your character get better and better. That feeling of progress and accomplishment is very much there in Alpha Protocol - from 1/3 of the game onwards or so, you really start to feel badass.

 

Other than that, well, it's a pretty typical third person shooter of this day and age, plus a good, if not exceptional, stealth system. You have bad guys, turrets, cover, grenades, patrol routines, etc. A few things of note are that you can 'blind-fire' from cover, or shoot behind you while running, lob a grenade behind you while running, or drop on enemies from above to knock them out. In addition to the special abilities you get and the martial arts, that means you have a lot of ways to take on your enemy, and you really feel versatile - you really enjoy the fact that Mike uses all sorts of methods to take the enemies down. Unfortunately, this is marred by poor AI. I mean, poor AI is sort of the standard in video games (seriously, when's the last time you saw GOOD AI?), but AP's enemies do act weird fairly often. Sometimes they will do sensible things, use cover, throw grenades at your position, or even flank you, but other times they will run blindly at your position while you put bullets in them, or not take cover for no reason. It is also regrettable that while martial arts looks great and is fun to use, it really involves pushing the E button a lot and you can't block. In conclusion, if you can accept the fact that it's an RPG not a shooter, and you don't expect unusually great AI, you will really enjoy all the cool things you can do and how badass Mike becomes.

 

Level Design

The level design always has a big impact on how enjoyable the combat / stealth is. AP's levels can be summarised as well-made, but too small and too linear. A lot of it seems to do with technical limitations, though whether they come from having a 3-platform game or UE3 or something else, I wouldn't know. The game does its best to only load small portions of a level at a time - although most of the time, you won't notice that. What you will notice is that in many cases, there are only one or two routes in a level - though then you get a lot of choice in the way you navigate those routes. You won't ever find sprawling complexes that you can get lost in. Alpha Protocol levels, it seems, is about moving through a series of challenges and having a lot of choices in how to tackle those challenges, but not about dumping you in a big big place and running loose.

 

I think a big opportunity missed was the fact that Mike can't jump or climb, but only climb ladders or drop down or leap over in designated hotspots with interact markers. There are several places where you think, I'd like to jump down from here, or get on top of these boxes, but you can't. It exacerbates the linearity of the levels, as well. All in all the levels are decent and enjoyable, but you shouldn't expect big, sprawling places to explore.

 

Skills & Character Development

Ten skills. Each level up gets you a passive or active ability. You will be somewhere between level 18 and 20 by the end of the game: along with perks, you will get enough points to max out three skill trees, or round it out a little. I think this part is generally well done, but with a few flaws. The most important thing about character development is that you feel a sense of progress as you level up, you feel you really get better; and that the skills & abilities are well balanced, there aren't skills you regret taking or skills that break the game. The first part, I already covered, and was done very well; the second part was done mostly well, but with a few downers. Currently, the pistol and assault rifle appear to be much more useful than the SMG or shotgun. The pistol is ridiculously weak early on, but the chain shot ability is arguably the best in the game. The assault rifle is great at long range and short range. Combined, I'm not sure how much reason there is to go for SMGs or Shotguns instead... but maybe someone else can enlighten me. Technical Aptitude also seems to be a relatively weak skill tree, as if all the useful things in that tree were taken out and put into Sabotage. Still, there's enough in here to deserve a few playthroughs.

 

Dialogue Stance System

I'll throw in a short paragraph on the DSS, since it was very controversial before release. I think the genearl consensus so far is that it works well, and I agree. I think the game is a lot more entertaining because of it. The conversations flow very naturally and look great, you get a decent spread of options when it's your turn to talk, and you are very rarely surprised - there won't be a lot of times where you think "that's not what I meant to say" or "why don't I get this choice".

 

The problems with the DSS come in the technical implementation side. The 'fast-forward' function where you skip parts of the conversation, illogically, removes the subtitles as well - and then people stand around saying nothing while you make your choice. This makes it pretty impractical to use, unless you are reloading a conversation for the 10th time. The subs could also be longer, and it seems like people who are not playing in their native language are running out of time. In general, the DSS is sound - a few people have problems, but even if you generally like to take a long time to come to your decisions in dialogue, you should give it a try first.

 

Minigames

Minigames. In general, I hate minigames. Almost none of them are fun, and they feel like pointless gimmicks that get in the way of real fun. They also often demand completely different skill sets and interfaces every minigame. In that context, I was surprised to see how little they bothered me in Alpha Protocol. I think whether you like or hate them depends on the person. They are well designed; they make sense; the instructions are easy to follow; and they are not too hard. However, the controls on the PC are quite clunky, especially for the hacking minigame, and this might spoil your ride. I think they are all right - but putting two points into Sabotage really makes them less annoying if you find them so.

 

Graphics & Sound

This isn't really that big a deal for me, and I'm notoriously bad at judging artistic style or graphical quality. So I won't say much on this here. What I will stress is that the graphics aren't top notch, but they are unlikely to bother you, either, unless you're the kind of person that can't enjoy a game because it doesn't have high res textures or can't use 8x anti-aliasing and HDR. There are jaggies. There is the very occasional texture popping in, say, people going through convoluted animations. There are some low-res textures that stand out. But overall the graphics do their job - that is, making you feel like you are in a real-life spy setting. They're not great, but they won't ruin the atmosphere created by the story.

 

Sound is great, by the way. Again, I'm not the kind of person that can tell whether a gunshot sound is realistic for that SMG or not, or so forth, but the sound effects are all immediate, easy to tell, and distinctive; music is low-key and doesn't impose itself, but fits the mood and again aids the atmosphere.

 

Performance, Bugs, Polish

In terms of performance, i.e. how smoothly the game runs, it is very very smooth in most places, but there are a few flaws. Loading times are good, frame rates are decent (unless you want 60FPS), and there is almost no 'command lag', the game is very responsive to what you input. The exceptions are that the mouse can stutter for some people (it did only a little bit, for me), and that going into your PDA has a 2-3 second lag, which is quite silly. (Similar to when you open the FO3 pip-boy, but a bit worse.)

 

Next, bugs. There are very few bugs. Given that video games, and especially RPGs, nearly always ship with lots of bugs, I think it's important to note that Alpha Protocol doesn't really have major, big, game-breaking bugs that affect a lot of people. There are annoyances, like enemies disappearing when you load a checkpoint (so that you have to reload till it works), but for the most part, there's nothing that stops you from playing, no enemies dropping off the map, people getting stuck in the middle of ladders, dialogue looping endlessly, crashes to desktop, stuff like that.

 

So generally, Alpha Protocol stands up very well in technical issues as well. The problem is polish. It's very odd: in some places, the game is very polished and very slick - notably the UI, the storytelling, the cutscenes. In other places, it feels somehow loose and clunky, especially the controls and graphics.

 

Conclusion

I think what it comes down to is the kind of player you are, and what you enjoy and what you get annoyed by. If you need a game that runs well, where you can move and do things easily, and the production values are very high, you will be frustrated with Alpha Protocol. If you're the type of person that puts more importance in a good story, choice & consequences, etc, then you will love Alpha Protocol. Ask yourself - when you play other games, especially RPGs, what are your best moments and your biggest frustrations? If you remember yourself thinking "what a retarded story", "I wish you could actually change what happens here", or "I want better than these cardboard cutout characters", then get Alpha Protocol now. If you scan screenshots of upcoming games checking for texture popups and weird walking animations, and if you like playing 'hardcore' shooters for the fast and furious thrill, well, it's not such a sure thing.

 

This is way too long. Why the hell did I do this?!

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This is way too long. Why the hell did I do this?!

 

Because you care. You really do. :lol:


This post is not to be enjoyed, discussed, or referenced on company time.

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Good review, a little biased, but it is expected, overall it shows that you took time to analyse the game for what it does, you are giving it a bit of layway, but it's ok, good, objective oppinion.

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Good work! :(


You're a cheery wee bugger, Nep. Have I ever said that?

ahyes.gifReapercussionsahyes.gif

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Thanks Tigraines, now I'm sure that AP is a game that I want to play.


I'd say the answer to that question is kind of like the answer to "who's the sucker in this poker game?"*

 

*If you can't tell, it's you. ;)

village_idiot.gif

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Nice job, Tigranes -- that was exceptionally good.

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That was better than most review sites. Well ok, that's supposed to be a compliment, even with the low bar. So far I'm not understanding how this game is receiving such hate.


Why has elegance found so little following? Elegance has the disadvantage that hard work is needed to achieve it and a good education to appreciate it. - Edsger Wybe Dijkstra

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Great review, pretty much sums up how I view it! I agree with Malcador as well, its not perfect (what is?) and its not for everyone (like marmite), but a 2? Really? :ermm:


"That rabbit's dynamite!" - King Arthur, Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail

"Space is big, really big." - Douglas Adams

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Great review, pretty much sums up how I view it! I agree with Malcador as well, its not perfect (what is?) and its not for everyone (like marmite), but a 2? Really? :ermm:

 

The 2 comes from Jim Sterling though.

It's mr.'I gave 10 to Deadly Premonition', not exactly someone I would take seriously.. unfortunately Metacritic does take him seriously. :ermm:

Edited by WorstUsernameEver

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Great review, pretty much sums up how I view it! I agree with Malcador as well, its not perfect (what is?) and its not for everyone (like marmite), but a 2? Really? ;)

 

The 2 comes from Jim Sterling though.

It's mr.'I gave 10 to Deadly Premonition', not exactly someone I would take seriously.. unfortunately Metacritic does take him seriously. :(

Yes, I have heard stories about that guy. Different opinions is fine, but I suspect him of deliberately rating things up or down in order to try and cause a stir to get more traffic. Only really works for people like Yahtzee though, wherein you expect him to tear the game apart and isn't intended as serious, a 'professional' review shouldn't do that.


"That rabbit's dynamite!" - King Arthur, Monty Python and the Quest for the Holy Grail

"Space is big, really big." - Douglas Adams

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Wow Tigranes you should be a reviewer instead of a mod. ;) Best review i read so far. Although i find the mini games funny IMO.

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ps3 version was solid and i loved the art style*reminded me of borderlands art style* please pass that along to the devs :D


Some Trolls, arnt looking for anything logical, they cant be questioned, talked to, reasoned or negosiated with, some trolls just want watch the forums burn

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I read the reviews, but went out and bought the game anyway yesterday.

 

And I have to say, while there are some rough edges (my biggest gripe is the camera handling, needs to be smoother or more controllable, say allow the mouse wheel to control zoom) I have REALLY been liking it.

 

The story, the plotlines, and the characters are awesome. This game is VERY Mass Effect like, except set in the near future. I think the story interaction may even be superior to Bioware's current model.

 

Where I think people get frustrated though is with the minigames in and just after the tutorial. Maybe the tutorial should be patched to do more hand holding on this. Once I figured this out and skilled up tech, I had no problem with them, but I was frustrated early. Obsidian might want to consider a "bypass minigame" option on the Easy skill level to alleviate complaints.

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The minigames are by far the smalles of the concerns when it comes to AP. By no margin a bad game, just with many issues.

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I might give it a brush-over when I complete another playthrough. I've done Normal & Normal/Recruit, now I'll try Hard/Veteran and try to do all the things I didn't do in my relatively professional playthroughs. Go Assault Guns, act like an arse to my superiors in Alpha Protocol, execute key characters,

maybe even accept Leland's offer at the end

. Should let us know more about how deep C&C is.

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