Review: Alpha Protocol

Susan Arendt | 3 Jun 2010 09:00
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Alpha Protocol breaks my heart. Play it and you'll see, lurking there just beneath the surface, a genuinely fresh new take on the spy genre. The parts of Alpha Protocol that work are so enjoyable they make the parts that are broken - which is to say everything else - all the more painful to endure. Alpha Protocol's subtitle is "The Espionage RPG," but it really should be "The Game That Could Have Been Amazing, But Isn't."

You play as Mike Thorton, who's recruited to the black ops organization Alpha Protocol and sent into the field to track down a lost consignment of missiles. No sooner has he begun his investigation than he finds himself cut off, alone, and declared rogue, forced to make his way as best he can. A wiser man would perhaps walk away and try to save his own skin, but Mike's too much of a patriot to put such petty concerns ahead of his duty. Or maybe he just wants revenge on whoever betrayed him. Why he doesn't take off for Ibiza the second everything hits the fan is pretty much up to you to decide.

Making good on its promise of being an RPG, Alpha Protocol lets you shape Mike into the manner of spy that you prefer. Your customization begins with his backstory, which determines your starting stats in skills like Pistol, Sabotage, Martial Arts, or Stealth. You earn experience points by playing through the game and performing activities like hacking computers, eventually leveling up and gaining Advancement Points to increase your skills. You can try to be well-rounded or mix and match, whatever you prefer. None of the skills are truly worthless, but deciding what to upgrade isn't as hard as it probably should be. You'll discover pretty quickly that the guns don't really play all that differently, so you can dump all of your AP into just one, leaving you plenty of points to devote to other skills.

Alpha Protocol's dialog continues the character customization, by letting you can fashion Mike into a super-suave ladykiller (James Bond), a no-nonsense aggressive agent (Jack Bauer), or a coolly professional spy (Jason Bourne). As you're talking with someone, you'll be presented with different options based on those personalities, and a timer. Choose one before the time runs out, or it will simply default to the last personality type you selected. You might be inclined to just stick with one approach, but you'll quickly find that not everyone responds to it the same way. One girl might like your flirtatious nature while another thinks less of you for it. A superior might respond well to your professional demeanor, or might think you lack the balls to get the job done. Discovering the nuances of each character is immensely satisfying; you'll even enjoy responding to your in-game emails.

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