Something I always appreciated was never hearing the hype for Alpha Protocol. I can only imagine the joy many had over hearing that there was going to be a triple A game released and it was going to be about espionage. After all, the world of espionage is a popular genre in film and doubly in books. For a 'Splinter Cellesque' game done as a full blown RPG, it would be exciting news and powerful enough to discolor and bias people against the game when it was finally released. Like most Obsidion games, it was buggy and unpolished. Sega had grown tired of waiting for the game and released it early. Part of the fault was Obsidion's for, once again, biting off a bit more than they could chew. Part of the fault was Sega's for being impatient and releasing an unfinished game. All this culminated in bad reviews and a bomb for Sega. Time has marched on, however, and the game has had most of its issues patched away and I feel a sense of duty to the game to give it the review it deserved from the get go.
Graphically, the game is average at best. Its not the most beautiful game in the world but it does the job. Its age shows in most of the environment. From a distance it is fine but up close it becomes a pixilated mess of colors. A lot of the faces are fairly impressive, with lots of detail and great animation for the times. Unlike most modern RPGs, you can't personally design the main character, Michael Thornton, but you are allowed a measure of customization from skin tone and eye color to beards and hats of decent variety. The world environments are impressive with every map looking unique and accurate to the area and setting. The most impressive ones in Taiwan are colorful and fun, with lots of little extras all over the place to flesh out the world and make it seem a bit more real. Unfortunately, the game uses a lot of bland colors, mostly off browns and grays, in most of the places which can lead to a bit of boredom in even the most exotic of places. On top of that, there are still graphical glitches and terrible design choices that stick around. Some of the more garish colors, such as one character's maroon hair and the big bad's yellow shirt, tend to bleed into the surrounding meshes. Also, while the orange reticule works almost all the time as there are few places with a similar color, the abilities use the same color. These abilities usually require your aim and are timed, making it very frustrating when you can't seen your reticule and get killed because you couldn't aim your ability in the short time allotted. Eventually, you become accustomed to it but it is still inexcusable that it was in the game to begin with.
The story is the meat of the game. It is extremely dense and chock full of real and meaningful choices. Literally every dialogue choice in this game has some consequence, even if it's minor, and when this game says that there is no wrong answer, only results, it means it. You can play the game straightforward, charming, assaultive, a little in between all three or dance around them all and you can still have a great game. It will adjust to your decisions in such major ways that playthroughs can have completely different endings. To top it off, there is no good or bad ending, only what you hoped to achieve. One might find joining the big bad only to betray him at the last second and found your own PMC a good ending, another riding off into the sunset with the girl. Alpha Protocol allows for whatever you desire from your game, harkening back to games like Deus Ex and Fallout. Unfortunately, this enormity can make the story convoluted at times, leading to a bit of confusion as to what exactly is going on at times. You might be confused as to what particular characters importance in the story is and unless you read the codices, you might never find out.
Finally, the weakest part of the game, the gameplay. To start off, it's still fun. It's really bad, but it's still fun. There's a lot of action to be had (which is very good in an action RPG) and there are a lot of people to kill or passify, which ever you prefer. The RPG parts of the game are fantastic. Shoot across the room with a pistol at the start of the game at the start of the game and you'll probably miss, by the end, you'll be blind firing with dead shot accuracy (that's not even a joke, this game is hilariously fun some times). The hacking and lockpicking minigames are incredibly fun and require a considerable amount of personal skill as well as character skill. They are an excellent mesh of talent and RPG mechanics and should be an example developers on how to do it properly. Unfortunately, all this is let down by the game's frustrating nature. The maps can be poorly designed at times, leading to confusion as to where you're supposed to go. The AI is absolutely brain dead and is on par with the first Mass Effect for terrible combat decisions. This can be equally frustrating when attempting to perform stealth, as normally predictable AI can simply flip out and kill you on the drop of a hat and without warning. Finally, there are the boss fights. Unless you are kitted, weapon and skillwise, for the boss fight, they can be nearly impossible. I'm not saying that you must look up a guide on how to defeat each one but if you don't, you might end up with broken hardware very fast as the you die for the nine billionth time.
Overall, Alpha Protocol is a very fun game with enormous depth that still boggles my mind to think about. Every time I play the game, I discover something new, something I never saw before and they're never small things. Different plot points open up, different endings unlock, the whole story changes around me just because I spoke to one man differently or didn't do a mission at a certain time. If you are looking for a fun romp and a good yarn, Alpha Protocol is the game for you. If you are looking for an RPG with spies, then Alpha Protocol might be the only game for you. At the very least, pick it up on sale and give it an hour of your time. I guarantee you'll be either enthralled or appalled, hopefully the former.