Maximum PC Staff Jul 20, 2010

Alpha Protocol Review

At A Glance


Fast-paced, fascinating conversations; tons of customization and cool abilities.

Spy Kids

Glitchy, inconsistent stealth and combat; uneven enemy AI; annoying minigames.

The spy who almost loved me

Let’s say someone’s just given you a jack-in-the-box. He then motions for you to crank the handle, so you give it a whirl. Round and round it goes until—boom—out comes a platter with the world’s most delicious cake on it. Awesome! Before long, you want more cake, so you crank the handle again—only this time, a fist rockets out and punches you right in your cakehole. You try again. Another fist. Again. Fist. But then, finally, cake.

That’s Alpha Protocol in a nutshell. More often than not, the game rewards your efforts with a frustrating menagerie of awful design choices and glitch-ridden combat. But every once in a while, everything comes together, and you get a tiny, shimmering glimpse of what it might feel like to actually be James Bond or Jason Bourne.

Don’t pay attention to the screenshots with explosions and gunfire. This is the fun part.

Alpha Protocol casts you as wise-cracking superspy Michael Thorton. However, unlike other so-called “espionage” games where you’re not stepping into a secret agent’s shoes so much as you are taking the reins on their trigger finger, Alpha Protocol gives you complete control over Thorton’s actions. You sweet-talk potential informants, you cut deals with crafty terrorists, you seduce every pretty lady you come across. In this respect, Alpha Protocol truly succeeds. And as the game progresses, your choices shape everything from the plot to characters’ opinions of you to your stats and abilities. With this in mind, the game’s conversation system—which gives you only a few seconds to choose your responses—makes other choice-based RPGs seem stilted and awkward compared to Alpha’s tense verbal sparring matches.

Alpha Protocol’s take on the subtle art of infiltration ranges from serviceable to downright frustrating, and—wouldn’t you know it?—makes up the majority of the game. On paper, it’s a fascinating fusion of RPG and shooter tropes, but in action, the two mash together with all the grace of a high-speed car wreck. See, everything you do—from shooting to hiding behind walls—is based on behind-the-scenes dice rolls. So yeah, it may look like you squeezed off a skull-shattering headshot, but actually, you missed. Why? Math. It’s like elementary school all over again, only it makes even less sense.

Games of hide-and-go-seek with Thorton tend to be, for obvious reasons, short-lived.

Worse still, the enemies in the game are psychic savants. On the one hand, they regularly run face-first into each other and—upon seeing you—often turn and open fire in the opposite direction. But on the other, if one enemy catches even a glimpse of your pinky toe peeking out from around a corner, every guard in the entire building suddenly knows you’re there. This, when combined with the game’s tendency to suddenly spawn enemies out of nowhere, makes stealth an option reserved only for players willing to memorize enemy placement and spawn points. And even then, an enemy might see you through a wall and make your whole plan worthless.

It’s a shame, too, because some of the game’s unlockable abilities and specializations are really interesting, as is customizing guns and armor. At the end of the day, though, bells and whistles don’t mean squat if they’re attached to a broken bicycle. It breaks our hearts, because there really is a lot to love in Alpha Protocol. Sadly, for every one thing the game gets right, it gets many others wrong. The question, then, is this: How many punches to the face are you willing to take for a bite of that cake?

Alpha Protocol

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