Quite often while playing games you will find that one element of the game seems to thrive while others don't fare quite as well. These are usually the result of game developers choosing to focus on making a game with awesome run-and-gun gameplay over pithy storylines or penning an over-dramatic storyline with awesomely boring game mechanics. It's an exceedingly rare game that manages to put all of these together so a game can often be forgiven for failing in one category so long as it excels in another.
On the other hand you have some games that manage to have some major issues due to issues during game development. While they may have aimed high the games manage to crash and burn rather fiercely due to either inexperience or drastic upheaval during the development process. There isn't much to go on where Alpha Protocol is concerned but things have managed to crash and burn rather effectively in almost every way. That's not to say that this is a terrible game, it does have some high points, but things tend to fall apart rather spectacularly at times.
Let's start this off on a high note though and talk about what the game does well. Mike Thorton is a new recruit to the super-secret program government agency, Alpha Protocol. Existing as a problem solving program, AP is run without much of any government interference so that it can do the things that need to be done while providing the government plausible deniability of the programs existence. On Mike's very first mission things go horribly wrong and he finds himself on the run from his own agency, running for his life while also trying to stop a global conspiracy from starting World War III.
More than any other aspect of the game the story is incredibly well done. It's full of twists and turns like any true spy thriller should be, having some events pop up that managed to surprise even this jaded reviewer. More often than not this leaves you at something of a disadvantage since everyone seems to know things that you don't but this helps you feel like the lone agent Mr. Thorton is supposed to be. You have to rely on your instincts, and any contacts you can make on the road, to survive
There are very few situations that will come up in the game that present you with black and white morality, forcing you to choose between two different evils instead of having an obvious good choice. This is perhaps one of the best parts of the game as it forces you to carefully weigh each of your decisions. For example, some may find themselves letting an arms dealer live, taking his bribe and leaving well armed terrorists in the region, simply to cover your entrance into the city.
However things start to fall apart as you actually play the game. Almost every system that the game uses works in some slightly screwed up manner, giving even the simplest of gameplay elements a frustrating ring to it. In the end this is what really pulls the game down into utter mediocrity from which it never manages to recover from.
For example, one would imagine in this day and age of cover based shooters it would be pretty simple to take cover. Instead you can only take cover in predetermined locations and even then it can be a finicky thing. Sometimes you can't shoot out from behind cover even though you should be able to or you might find that while Thorton sticks to cover in one spot he can't move along the wall like he should be able to. Considering that cover is necessary for both combat and stealth, since you hide better when pressed against cover, the inability to take cover wherever you need is a huge oversight.
But seeing as how broken the stealth mechanics are its no surprise that this doesn't work out so well. There's no indicator as to how visible you are to your enemies and the only tips you're given as to how to hide properly are to stay crouched, stay in cover and stay in shadows. It's nearly impossible to properly tell if someone can see you or not and this makes sneaking total guesswork.
If this HUD-less approach was supposed to be more "realistic" then it falls apart when you take into account the two skills needed to sneak properly one that turns you invisible to enemies for a short time, meaning you can walk right past their faces, and one that lets you see where every enemy is facing via little arrows on your screen. This leaves your almost entire ability to sneak around at the mercy of two abilities. Paired up with the almost laughably hard stealth sections in the game and choosing to play a stealth character quickly becomes pure frustration.
Many of the skills are woefully imbalanced like this though. For example it's almost impossible to fight a boss with your pistol until you have a good 10 levels in the skill. As a stealth character with a pistol I ended up falling back on praying and spraying with my assault rifle to damage bosses. Even worse than that, trying to use martial arts is almost laughably ineffective on them. Seeing as how you can't block at all, a skill even many basic enemies possess, you're nothing more than a punching bag to them. Bosses will tear through your health if you dare to engage them in melee even with a master of the Martial Arts skill. Frankly the only skills that work as described are the non-combat skills and those are of minimal usefulness where bosses are concerned.
One would imagine that with how long this game was delayed these issues would have been hammered out but, much like the graphics in this game, they're quite underwhelming.
Many developers seem to have problems with the Unreal Engine. Even top tier titles like Mass Effect have had problems with texture loading, causing new areas to appear like featureless blobs until the textures loaded in properly. Even without that issue most of the graphics in this game are pretty sub-par. There's nothing terribly wrong with them mind you but they're just nowhere near as good as they could, or really should, be in this day and age. Overall it's just a fairly underwhelming looking game.
Audio isn't that impressive either although it fares a good deal better than the graphics. Most of the voice acting is pretty good although this is ruined by the fairly iffy lip-synching. The sound design is good though with most of the weapons and explosions carrying a fair amount of 'oomph' behind them. Unlike some other shooters a shotgun doesn't sound like a BB gun, it carries impact with it. Where the game really falls apart is the utterly bland music. Most of it is pretty boring and uninteresting and the theme that plays whenever you're in your hub safe houses sounds almost exactly like the theme that plays in Mass Effect while you're on the bridge aboard the Normandy.
All of this comes together into a generally underwhelming package. Alpha Protocol could have been a really good game, easily on par with Mass Effect, but it fails in almost every way. Even the simplest of aspects to the game are pretty badly flawed and it's pretty inexcusable. This is a game that was supposed to release in October of last year and then had a six month delay at the last minute to be bettered up. If this is the finished product it definitely makes one wonder what the extra time was spent doing since this is just a fairly bland product.