The Backlog is a feature reviewing games that I missed on release. This could be by a degree of months or years. Due to the fact I have no idea how long it’ll take to complete, or at least play long enough to get sufficient impressions, not to mention when I’ll actually play a backlog game, this is an entirely unplanned and unscheduled feature. To battle this timing, the review will be presented as closely to the style of the game as possible (because yes). This is a creative writing blog, after all! In addition, the review will contain some context notes, especially if you haven’t heard of the game. The aim is thus for each review to be unique to read wherever possible.
ID: Alpha Protocol (known alias: AP)
Date of Operation Commencement: May, 2010
Operation Agents: 360, PS3, PC (personal handler)
Initiated by: Obsidian Entertainment | Operational Confirmation: Sega
As a new recruit for US spy and subterfuge agency Alpha Protocol, an organisation so committed to not existing that this report may well end up never being read, I was operation handler for agent Michael Thorton (handlers emphasise that this is not Thornton, as if often mistaken in the field). After an operation in the middle-east [REDACTED], Thorton proceeded to investigate three subsequent leads around the world in order to uncover a network of secrets, enemy agents and their tasks.
Operation Details [note: these were known factors preceding operation commencement]:
Thorton is a skilled conversationalist, capable of bluffing, amusing, persuading, aggravating or amicably conversing with any and all persons. Despite having to do so under timed pressure, possibly leading to unintended responses, Thorton’s ability to influence entire world happenings hinges on his ability to deduce or otherwise discover intel that would allow him to exploit this advantage. His openness to tactics allows him to specialise in different areas, such as stealth, close-quarters-combat and a variety of small arms. This malleability can later be refined, as he best sees fit. His ability to change his attire, or even certain physical parameters, allows him to blend into certain environments better than others, or prove to be an extension of his personality. This contributes little to operational success, but is no doubt a boon to Thorton’s confidence.
Missions are mostly linear tasks with a central objective and peripheral ones, some pre-marked and others discoverable. Stealth, both around enemy operatives and automatic surveillance and defences and tactically-aggressive actions are both fully supported. Additional intel can be purchased during intervals in the operation, supporting any obtained on mission, as well as any local products, from small-arms to personal equipment (note: examples include explosive to non-lethal grenades, as well as radio mimics for lowering enemy alarms).
Operation Achievements [note: report authors are permitted to write candidly here]:
AP’s operational successes lie in its utterly thorough, if not intimidating or out-right overwhelming, application of information. From agent or agency dossiers and the implication of intricately linked actions, both immediate and long-term, to incidental details over-heard or otherwise acquired, these all fuel Thorton’s conversations and decisions. Due to the nature of the operation, where a truth may be hard to discern and the implications of actions not necessarily being obvious, this makes the operation’s peripheral support exemplary, possibly one of the best I’ve observed in any organisation to date. Whilst decisions are forced to adhere to timed constraints, this only adds to the intensity of the situation and discovering later an error in choice is not seen as a disappointment, merely as something to try to revolve or merely ‘live with’. Error is an incorrect label too, as this operation is so utterly unrelenting in its grey morality that it at times seems Thorton is forced to pick one bad situation over another. It provides a certain perspective that is easily appreciated.
The implications of the detail do not end here. As a result, all agents are fully developed and vibrant individuals, making for a certainly more memorable cast of those involved in this operation over prior ones. From where information about these agents comes from and when it is discovered can dramatically change how a situation may be approached. As evidenced, Thorton may be able to bluff his way into being liked or hated by said agents, with positive results either way, but he is not the only master of how information is presented. Where every detail on an agent may be scrutinised, there will assuredly be two lies obfuscating any truth, if there even is one. Ultimately, the narrative that Thorton observed could have unfolded in any number of other ways. We did run some simulations, post operation, and were able to support Thorton’s observation, with the operation having multiple conclusions, dwarfed only by the myriad of outcomes by the individual missions. Had Thorton have behaved differently, no doubt the changes would’ve been significant.
As mentioned, Thorton could approach missions stealthily, aggressively or somewhere between the two. He reported in saying that the tools available for him to navigate stealthily were largely useful, otherwise “It never gets tired waiting for a [REDACTED] agent to walk past me, immediately taking them down.” Hacked footage even showed Thorton managing to arouse suspicion from enemy agents, as they see previously taken-down allies. This, in turn, allowed Thorton to strike once more. The few alarms that Thorton did manage to raise, he was easily able to take care of either through hacking into enemy security systems or with personal equipment. His adherence to using stealth is perhaps epitomised through his heavy purchasing of specialised tranquiliser ballistics, utilised exceptionally well with his custom pistol. As Thorton is one of our more intellectual agents, it is worth mentioning that his resorting to lethal tactics was something he only considered when absolutely necessary, fully aware of the effects this would have in doing so.
At Thorton’s request, he wanted it to be made apparent that some of the missions took him to enjoyable or interesting locales, albeit not as often as he would have wished.
Operation Criticisms [note: report authors are permitted to write candidly here, but must not provide details that could be used dangerously against this agency]:
Upon completion of his operation, Thorton provided a requisite audio report. Considering I have only sat in ops, I feel it would be appropriate for me to provide this report with Thorton’s direct comments. Please be aware that despite Thorton’s intelligence, he defaults to a non-professional tone.
– “Have you even tried firing one of these guns? Have you even tried firing one of these guns while in cover? The feel is completely off and it takes far too long to line up a shot. If it weren’t for my extensive training with hand guns, I’m not entirely sure I’d be able to write this stupid thing to complain to you.”
– “I’m sorry, but if you’re going to send me to a location, can you maybe do some recon first? Maybe tell me when there’s an overly large amount of enemy agents and security in certain areas?”
– “For that matter, some of these missions? Snore. I know not everything can be solved with a sharp chop to the larynx, but some of these were incredibly dull. While we’re at it, can we possibly look into the technology everyone apart from us seems to have with their locked doors? Maybe they’re some kind of powerful magnet, I don’t know. I try to go back to pick up some intel, but nope, can’t get through! Have to keep going forward. We need this.”
– “Oh and, to that end, Saudi Arabia? It’s as if you weren’t sure of my capabilities and felt the need to test me out on the most banal of tasks before letting me loose on the world. That place almost destroyed my good looks.”
– “Tech needs to step it up. The interface they started me off with was poorly designed. Was this not even tested in the labs? How do you even screw up a pointer and keys anyhow? It’s a good thing I had my alternative control interface, otherwise I’d have been going nowhere fast.”
– “You know how lock-picking and hacking are quite important things being, you know, a spy? You have to give me a better means to do these things. You do know our enemies don’t exactly want us getting a hand on their stuff, right? They make sure of that through tough hurdles. I can’t strangle a safe into submission. I’ve tried it, it doesn’t work.”
– “We need to step up our solo training regimes. Some of the major enemy agents took a lot of time to subdue. Oh, and their fighting styles? Tell me if I’m specialising the wrong way, won’t you? Some of these upstanding members of society were a mission in themselves to take down with just my pistol or fists.”
– “I like to update you with my progress regularly. You let me do this at any point and I appreciate that. Well I would do if you actually meant that! Why even let me bother manually updating you with up-to-date information if you’re only going to accept it every so often? Why even let me do it in the first place?”
Supplementary Operation Notes [note: report authors are permitted to write candidly here]:
Whilst Thorton was able to complete all his objectives, his successfulness was raised in areas where he had more space to move in. We probably would have been able to better assess his general skills too. In the future, Thorton is perhaps best dispatched to areas with more ground to cover. Additionally, restricting his tools early on was perhaps a miss-step. Granted, he had to get used to the methods this agency uses, but considering his adaptability, it may have given the operation a more sustained success rate had he have started out with more, as opposed to picking many up along the way in his specialisation. Thorton best summed this up in the following comment: “You give me all the tools so that I may use some. This makes far more sense than giving me few to begin with and then giving me more as the operation continues.” It should also be noted that Thorton changed his appearance based on where he was and how long he had been there for in an attempt to fit into the local populace. It did little to impact operational success rates, but it did not go unnoticed.
AP was assuredly a success, but it has a lot of errors that tarnish it somewhat. It was as if the operation was split into two teams. One of these teams was tasked with information retrieval and delivery, whilst the other supporting Thorton on the ground. The former team was incredibly successful, beyond our expected levels even. The latter was merely acceptable at times, if not frustrating to observe and use at others. It cannot be emphasised enough just how capable Thorton is as a conversationalist, or how his conduct allowed some missions to run smoothly. We had the potential for an operation with success rates far beyond anything else we had achieved, but this was unfortunately trapped within the confines of another operation, off a lower success threshold. Should we wish to utilise agent Thorton again in the future, I would fully support whatever it is he is tasked to do, as well as submitting myself to be his personal handler once more, so long as the noted operational short-comings were addressed.
Out of Style:
AP is the epitome of a flawed gem. It really is a superb game trapped within the shell of another okayish game. So many elements of it I can describe as “serviceable at best, poor at worst.” The shooting, mini-games, bosses and so on. The save system is particularly annoying as it only saves at certain checkpoints, regardless if you passed it or not. That is to say, if you save 5 minutes past a checkpoint, you will load it up at that checkpoint. The only point to this system is that you can load up an earlier save to change a decision, but that really diminishes one of the strong points of the game, with its flow-chart-requiring complex narrative (in all the best ways).
At the same time, it is so easy to get involved with the information presented and the vivid, varied and detailed characters in the game that will be some of the best you engage with. The plot is largely stupid, but the actual on-the-ground stuff is excellent. I’d also say that some of its RPG elements hamstring the game-play, especially early game where you’ve not had enough time or experience to put points into specialisations. If you’re interested in what a spy-thriller-RPG would be like, you should not miss out on AP. If you’re interested in an RPG with a rich set of characters and meaningful and properly grey morality, you should not miss out on AP. If you don’t like having to work at enjoying a game (and as much as I enjoyed AP, I really had to work for it), you may want to miss AP. So, whilst I say AP is excellent, what I really mean is the peripheral stuff is excellent, but the actual game-game is lacking. Oh, and if you play it on the PC just do yourself a favour and not even bother with mouse and keyboard. Grab a controller. The hassle just isn’t worth it.
Boring Stuff: Game was played on Hard difficulty as a Recruit (which I’m led to believe is the hardest set-up you can actually do). It took approximately 15 hours for the one run-through, including reloading checkpoints and hour-long boss attempts. After the first 30 minutes or so, I swapped out using keyboard and mouse for my 360 controller. Settings were all set to high at 1080 and the game maintained a high frame rate. (You can check the About page for general system specs.)