Wait. Hear me out. Yes, the first few missions are terrible. Yes, the combat is weird. But once you get past those niggles, Alpha Protocol is one of the best modern RPGs, rivaling even Mass Effect.
I’ll explain why.
The characters are fantastic
Alpha Protocol‘s characters are wonderfully over-the-top and a hell of a lot of fun to interact with. There’s SIE, the machine gun-toting mercenary lady who gets hornier the more you threaten to kill her. There’s Sis, the silent emo girl assassin.
And best of all, there’s Steven Heck. Played (of course) by Nolan North, Heck is a real piece of shit. In a fun way. When you first meet him, he’s torturing a guy, threatening to make him drink bleach. After a few minutes, you realize why he’s torturing the guy: Heck forgot where his keys were, and his victim remembered.
Heck is a terrible, terrible man, and he’s also one of the only people you can trust in the game. Which is fuckin’ great.
The sense of humor is amazing
Take a close look at this screenshot. Alpha Protocol has a stats screen, but it doesn’t track how many people you’ve killed or nonlethally taken down. Instead, it tracks the number of orphans you’ve created, and the total medical bills of the people you beat the shit out of.
The marketing positioned this game as Jason Bourne meets 24, but it’s actually a lot more charming than that.
The combat is amusingly broken
The combat is not good. Nobody would ever say that. But at a certain point, its own brokenness becomes fun. If you’re a stealth player, you can get upgrades that turn you completely invisible for, like, a minute at a time. If you’re a gunman, you can become a walking death machine by the third mission in the game. Once you get certain upgrades, what little challenge the game initially had just vanishes into thin air. But as a result, you feel like a sort of hilarious, bumbling god.
Fun moral choices
You meet a shady fucker at a meetup. Do you shoot him, accepting the risk that he just might be shady and not actually an enemy agent? Or do you spare him, but put yourself at risk of an ambush?
A terrorist plants two bombs in a museum. One will kill a friendly NPC you may have romanced. The other will kill fifty faceless NPCs you will never meet. Which one do you disarm?
Which of the various operatives and madmen you meet will you ally yourself with? Which organizations do you want to help, and which do you want to tell to go fuck themselves?
Most fun of all, which ending do your choices lead you to?
I planned on playing Alpha Protocol as a suave dude. The kind who doesn’t kill. The kind who romances the dangerous redhead. The kind who plays both sides against the middle, and tries to make everyone happy.
I ended the game with all of my friends dead except for Steven Heck, the psychopath I never trusted. The dangerous redhead betrayed me. I’d slept with SIE, but she left shortly after. I let my friendly handler, Mina, die, because I didn’t want to let the bad guys get away.
So instead of getting my happy, sex-filled ending, I floated off into the sunset in a boat driven by a madman, with the corpses of people I cared about in my wake.
It was awesome!
Alpha Protocol has three different endings, and each of those endings has a shitload of variety depending on who you befriended and who died.
Yes, not all of Alpha Protocol’s story branches are fully formed. Yes, just like KotOR 2 and New Vegas it’s apparent that Obsidian bit off more than they could chew. Yes, it’s not the most polished or well-balanced game in the world.
But, goddammit, it’s got heart. It’s got charm. It’s got this beard: