From the day I heard about this game I was hooked. Take the mechanics and concepts behind the Bioware-style RPG and inject them into the world of international espionage. The game was originally slated for release in the fall of 2009 but shortly before the game was supposed to hit, it was delayed to the following summer. That kind of delay is rarely a good thing, and by the time it did hit Mass Effect 2 had already come out as a kick-ass third person shooter RPG hybrid and Alpha Protocol was lost in the summer shuffle. Despite some, to put it mildly, mixed reviews, I always kept my eye on the game and finally I snagged a copy amidst Best Buy's $5 clearance sale this past Christmas. I popped it into my system a few weeks ago and I love it. This game is admittedly a bit rough around the edges. It was developed by Obsidian Entertainment which has a long history of making fun but kind of janky RPGs going back to KOTOR2 on the original Xbox. Navigating the menus can feel a bit clunky, the shooting mechanics don't feel that great, the enemy AI can be hilariously bad and there's just an general lack of polish all around. Most critics couldn't get past these shortcomings but I feel that what the game gets right more than makes up for it's problems.
When you start you can pick a character from one of three different backgrounds that will determine what skills you starts with or you can just choose your own. Characters will generally orient towards stealth, gadgetry or straightforward weapon usage but you have the freedom to mix and match what best suits your playstyle. I used my stealth-based character to fight enemies up close and had very limited weapon skills but it's easy to see that someone else could rely on their stealth in conjunction with gadgets to wire an area with traps for the guards to walk into. Or you could just shoot dudes. After the first mission you can choose three skills to specialize in that will eventually allow you to access the highest level abilities of those skills where otherwise they would cap partway up the skill tree. Leveling each skill will give you bonuses and new abilities and notably, I found every ability I unlocked to be useful in getting through the game. I had offense and defense boosts for my martial arts, cloaking and sound dampening for my stealth and when I did need to use my pistol I had an ability that slowed down time, allowing me to line up my headshots without getting shot up myself. There's also a few minigames for lockpicking and hacking that are fairly easy until later on in the game, but if you want to make them even easier you can just drop a few points into Technical Aptitude and you'll be all set.
The biggest problem with this game is probably the shooting. If you choose not to play stealthily, missions are going to play out like a third person shooter with you taking cover and shooting it out with enemies. Unfortunately the mechanics of the actual shooting just aren't up to snuff with what we as gamers have come to expect from the genre. Even when you have your reticule trained on an enemy, there's no guarantee that you'll actually hit them as it seems there's some kind of randomization element as to whether your shots actually hit. If you do have time to sit and aim at your target though, your chances of hitting what you want to hit will increase dramatically but when you're the focal point of a shoot out, that can be tough to do without getting shot up yourself. I primarily used my gun for sniping enemies from cover and if I did get into a firefight, I'd activate my defense boost and sprint around beating guys up hand to hand. I can't say how much better shooting would have worked out if I'd chosen to specialize in rifles or shotguns but being a crazy kung fu badass was certainly a lot of fun.
The star of the game is certainly the dialogue and character interactions though. There's a huge cast of characters in the game and you have a lot of choices to make that can have a significant impact on how the game plays out in the end. Whether you're building friendships in unlikely places or pissing off the people trying to help you, how you act towards people can have a big impact in how your missions play out. For instance if a character doesn't like you, they may not be willing to do you a favor when you need it and if you executed them when you had the chance then they definitely won't be. You choose your responses in conversation by taking stances rather than choosing actual lines of dialogue. Generally you have the option to be professional, flippant or aggressive with whom your talking to and you may have a fourth, contextual option depending on the situation. Plus you have a limited time to choose your stances so the game keeps moving and you always have a limited time to make your decisions whether they be big or small.
Honestly, I don't know if everyone will have as easy a time overlooking this games shortcomings as I did but I think it's more than worth giving it a shot to find out. It's an interesting game with some original ideas in a setting that gets no play in the genre and it can be easily acquired for under $10.
I'm out like the gout.