Sunday, June 6, 2010

Video Game Assessment: Alpha Protocol (2010)

Alpha Protocol, developed by Obsidian Entertainment and produced by Sega, is an excellent example of a beautifully crafted RPG. I've actually found it quite funny how many bad reviews this game has gotten from seemingly "respectable" sources, mostly because the people reviewing games are complete and utter morons who only want to shoot things and play games like Halo or Gears of War rather than an intelligent game that redesigns how people look at games.

Now, I can just say it right here: I hate Halo. I hate everything about it. I hate its smug face and its stupid gameplay, and most of all, I really dislike people who think it's just about the best thing there ever was. I love intelligent stories. I love playing a game that says something, that can change depending upon what I do, or at least a game that makes me think.

Alpha Protocol is that kind of game. It is a thoughtful ride. When I say thoughtful I mean, full of thought. The developers thought of everything, from characters commenting on what clothing your character, Michael Thorton, wears, to how you play out ever mission, to how you interact with characters. Everything changes depending on how you play the game. As one of the blurbs for this game points out "YOUR WEAPON IS CHOICE!" and it really is.

What I find most refreshing about this game is its attention to detail and how it does things differently than even most RPGs. The comparisons between this game and the Mass Effect series (especially the second Mass Effect)are pretty straightforward. Both are over the shoulder third person shooters. Both use "choice" as a selling point, both have a large cast of interesting characters, both have "hubs" and mission debriefings and multiple choices for where and what to do next. My only comment on all of that is that Alpha Protocol does almost every one of those things better than Mass Effect 2 to the point where Alpha Protocol is a much more solid game despite the reviews.

Now, you may accuse me of being a Mass Effect hater, but that is actually not true. I love the Mass Effect games. The first one had a compelling story even if the gameplay and RPG elements were suspect, and the second one has solid gameplay and a decent story, even when the RPG elements were awful. Both games had incredibly good characters as well. And I enjoyed both game immensely.

So, that being said, when I say Alpha Protocol is comparable to the Mass Effect series (and the second game especially), I mean it as a compliment. And I mean it as even more of a compliment when I say that Alpha Protocol is equal or greater than Mass Effect 2 as a wonderful experience.

Well, let me explain Alpha Protocol then without raising too many spoilers. The game is hailed as "THE ESPIONAGE RPG", and I think the point the developers tried to make there is that this is one of the few, if not the only, espionage RPG even made. And being made by Obsidian Entertainment known for their wonderful take on Star Wars in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords and Nerverwinter Nights 2, as well as the upcoming Fallout: New Vegas, it's a game that comes off as one of the best quality games around.

If you know anything about games and Star Wars and Obsidian, you'll know that KotOR II: TSL, was about seventy-five percent finished or thereabouts at release because of LucasArts trying to rush out the game by Christmas. That being said, and I'll go on record with this, KotOR II: TSL is my FAVORITE VIDEO GAME OF ALL TIME. And that had terrible reveiws by some people because the game WAS UNFINISHED. And yet, an unfinished game is my favorite of all time even compared to actual finished games that just can't hold my interest for long enough for me to care.

My point is that because of Obsidian's wonderful work on my favorite game of all time, I was excited for Alpha Protocol hoping it would be every bit as compelling as KotOR II: TSL. And you know what? It's not quite at the favorite level of video games, but it is awesome and fun, and I've enjoyed it immensely.

Obsidian knows how to make a quality game with excellent dialogue and characters. And they do it so well that playing any other game just makes that other game seem shallow and uninteresting.

So, now, instead of talking about other games, I'm going to get down to talking about Alpha Protocol. You are Michael Thorton, a man with a multiple choice past who is chosen for a secret government agency that's working on dealing with the fallout from a missile launch on a plane in the Middle East. Thorton needs to find the evidence to see who is responsible for American missiles getting into the hands of terrorists. Along the way he meets a ton of interesting characters, ranging from the sweet, professional girl who is always on Mike's headset, to the suave snake CEO of Halbech, to the German cougar, to the psychopath who really likes dry cleaning fluid.

I just have to mention how good the characters are. Steven Heck, a character met in Taipei, and the man who really has a thing for dry cleaning fluid, is one of the most interesting characters in the game. Everything he says is absolutely hilarious and it's hard not to like him even though he is an absolute psychopath. SIE, the German cougar, and I don't mean large cat, gets another honorable mention for humming "Flight of the Valkyries" during one of your missions. I burst out laughing when she did that and I just couldn't stop. I was so impressed by the developers to be able to come up with everything.

The enemies in the game are sometimes hard to distinguish. Each character has motives for doing what they're doing and nobody is one-dimensional. No character is "evil" even though some can be degrees of ruthless, psychopathic, righteously angry, or crazy in the head. You can align with any of the characters and I'm pretty sure almost every character can die (or at least get very hurt) over the course of the game.

The gameplay is perfectly fine. It reminds me a lot of Mass Effect except it's a little bit less flashy than Mass Effect, and much more based upon stealth, being a spy game and all.

The voice work and music is sometimes particularly memorable and other times not so much. More of a hit or miss than anything else. Some characters are beautifully done, like Steven Heck, SIE, Mina, Marburg, Leland, Albatross, and arguably Sis (who has no voice actor at all), whereas some of the other voice work is just not as good... especially the Chinese accents in the Taipei missions. Anyway, this game is excellent, easily one of the best games I've played recently (along with Deadly Premonition, which was also very good but in a very different way), I am going to keep this game around with me for a long time, and I'm going to play it again and again. It's not a long game after all, probably only 15 hours long or so. And it's so much fun. I can't stress that enough.

So, if you get a chance, pick this game up and play it. It's one of the few game I've played that actually deserves a sequel or DLC or something. This game is too good not to have more added to it. But that's what I said about KotOR II: TSL, and what did I get from that? No KotOR III, that's what.

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