I know this is a very tired subject, but it saddened me to see the trend of 'toughing up' Western box art continues:
Here's the Japanese cover:
And the North American:
The NA art isn't TERRIBLE, but it sure is immature in comparison to the rather dashing JP art. And I don't say that because it's Japanese therefore it's automatically better. I'm saying that because it simply IS better. The content, the placement, the colors - it's designed well. :)
A couple years back, I remember seeing some early screenshots in GameInformer showcasing a bold new game - Alpha Protocol. From that point on, I anticipated the game, before I even had a system that could run it. Fast forward a bit to the game's release, and a few things have changed - time has passed, gamers' expectations are higher, and I now have a decent PC that can run the game.
For whatever reason, though, there's been an unusually negative backlash against the game leading up to and following its release, like a bunch of bullies kicking around some kid while he's on the ground. I mean, there's negative reception, and then there's almost this pre-meditated hatred for the game, and I find it odd.
Now, I should probably mention a few things before I go on. I am a huge fan of stealth games. Whether it's full on stealth, ala Tenchu, Splinter Cell, or Thief, semi-stealth like Metal Gear Solid, Hitman or Kameleon, or even non-stealth games with stealthy elements like Crysis and Ass Creed, I'll take what I can get. There have also been a few stinkers, particularly when it came to actual stealth mechanics, which surprises me even more considering the backlash against Alpha Protocol, which is well above the quality of many games with higher scores.
I see a lot of complaints regarding broken, bad AI, poor stealth mechanics and a weak, useless pistol. I have to honestly ask these people what, exactly, they wanted from the game. Personally, I took each area deliberately, slowly, and thoughtfully, sometimes waiting quite a while for that perfect moment to strike. During my complete playthrough of the game, I never encountered anything that would be worthy of such heavy strikes against the game. Perfect, no, but fun - absolutely.
In fact, that's the whole game right there in a nutshell. Perfect, no, but fun - absolutely. Isn't that what games are about?
Let's go back to that strike against pistols. My very first shot I fired involved Mike hiding in a safe spot, lining up the shot, waiting for the reticule to turn red, tracking the targets head, and - boom - one bullet, the man is down, taking a nap. This was my usual experience in the game. Yes, there are points where you need to run and gun a bit, even as the spy. However, if one allocates some AP to the pistol, and uses it enough to get the proficiency perks, it becomes a very deadly weapon - in fact, it look just a couple unaimed, silenced pistol shots by the end of the game to take a man down, but my SMGs could barely make a dent.
Yes, the AI can be a little odd at time, and yes, I did encounter the punch-n-run guy once or twice. But about 90% of the game was a relatively hitch-free stealth fest, with me fluidly taking down baddies behind cover, cutting throats and picking locks like Sam Fisher. When I'd shoot a soldier from a safe, hidden location, and a fellow solider noticed the one was dead, he'd look around, maybe call for help, and after a decent look about, either go back to his business, keep searching, or find me. That's pretty typical of stealth games, and on par with most of the MGS games, so again - not sure what the hate is for. I had a lot of fun.
How about the story? With it's insane amounts of branching and sub branching, with lasting effects that will bless or bite you later in the story? I also really enjoyed some of the sprinkles of humor, ranging from some intentionally cheesy lines to the news reports warning viewers of Nigerian pet scams and the effects of sugar on children. You gotta smile at that, just a little bit. I felt pretty good by the end of the game, and I certainly wasn't let down - other than by my own bad choices throughout the game that came back to haunt me. And don't forget the epic hotel-op involving not one, not two, but three allies, each doing their part in a complex scheme to get Mike where he needed to be. Awesome.
There's some great music in the game too, and even some little hints in there that show the composer knows his trade (I heard something resembling a PC-88 chiptune bass line and flipped.) Most of the music was well above average, with some lovely, live orchestrated numbers and some really blistering boss tracks. I'd buy the soundtrack over a lot of stuff that's been pushed onto the shelves this year.
Graphics: they are not cutting edge. They're not Crysis, or Assassin's Creed 2, or even Lost Planet-level graphics. But they are far from poor. Considering how long the game was held up, I think it looks presentable, at least on a PC. Running the game at 1440 x 900 resulted in crisp, easy to navigate environments, well animated facial expressions, and a steady 60 FPS. There were plenty of nice touches, like tiny-but-legible text on audio equipment. Textures, from stone floors to facial skinning was all very crisp and typically seamless, and I never encountered pop-in - ever. The safehouses were gorgeous and very well designed. I truly worry that we're so spoiled on graphics that anything not up to the latest and greatest is pushed aside as garbage. Polished, no, but solid? Absolutely.
In fact, that's about what I can say for the whole game. It could have used a little TLC. I had some loading hiccups and the mouse smoothing needed to be turned off. And I didn't try the more run-and-gun styles of play, because in all honestly, you're supposed to be the "stereotypical spy" in AP, and I don't see the point of playing it any other way, so maybe I missed some of the more broken parts of the game. Also, I played it on a PC, using a mouse and keyboard, which inevitably makes for a different experience than a console. Maybe that's why the PC version has higher scores? I can't say - maybe the console versions suck and I'm just barking up the wrong tree.
All in all, the game really has a lot going for it. I'd highly recommend the patient, stealthy gamer to give it a whirl. I feel bad that for some reason a lot of people feel that every game that comes out has to be a triple A blockbuster. If you're high on impulse and need a thrill-a-minute, then yeah. you're in the wrong place. I'm trying very hard not to comment on the 2/10 score here on Destructoid because people have their own opinions. But if you can appreciate some quirks, some subtlety, some intentional cheese and some genuine, well-made fun, give it a try.