I really, really want to like this game more than I give it credit for. Who does not want to play a spy game which features a Mass Effect dialogue wheel to impact your story? Yet the game suffers from some lousy controls and generally weak stealth options. Still, I really did enjoy it.
You begin by being interrogated by some in-named man. This is where the story begins, but this in fact is taking place towards the end of the game. Much of the dialogue in these interrogation scenes are influenced by the choices you make throughout the game.
Inevitably, you need to escape captivity in some medical facility with some help from a woman named Mina. This ends up being a training level for both you the player and the Alpha Protocol agency. You are introduced to the games mechanics here, which are easy and quite intuitive. However, some of the controls can feel clunky and stealth ends up being a near impossibility. Granted, you can tranq everyone with headshots but the aim is awful until you can upgrade your skills towards the end of the game. Nor are you able to sneak very well to physically take people down. For a spy game in 2010, you’d expect better.
The rest of the game features a typical spy story where you get left out to dry and need to prove your innocence and find out who the bad guys really are. You will be double-crossed and make choices with little information to go on. The narrative and choices make this game worth playing.
You do have a wide skill-set to improve on as you earn XP throughout the game. When you begin, your skills are pretty weak. I am not sure if this was an attempt to make you feel like you are progressing or just bad design. For example, when you first try shooting your pistol for a stealth kill you end up missing unless you are really, really close. I understand the need for some variance rather than being super accurate, yet there are games which handle this so much better. When you do get towards the end of the game, you finally are able to shoot where you want with great lethality.
“Many of your choices can have big consequences – closing off some stories or missions because a character just does not like you enough.”
Structure wise you are able to choose your own adventure once you are on your own. For example, you can choose to go to Moscow first or maybe wait to the end. The story adapts to these choices quite naturally.
Many of your choices, which are time-based adding to the stress of being a spy, can have big consequences – closing off some stories or missions because a character just does not like you enough or they think you are their enemy because of some choice you made. I am not sure how much variation there is but I have played the game several times and have had different results depending on how I played.
This also happens with your handlers. Are you nice to them or treat them like crap? If they get on your good side, then it can provide some benefits on your next mission.
Some plot points are set in stone, but there is enough variation to make this game feel like you actually are impacting the story.
You do get to customise the main character – Michael Thorton – but you can only play as a male. I particularly liked Spec Ops Thorton with a bushy beard, but sexy spy Thorton was also a favourite. These are just cosmetic choices, but I always feel like how your character looks and sounds fits into the overall RPG experience. So Spec Ops would never be nice because that would be out of character for him. Unless he was trying to get into Mina’s pants.
Not a great game but definitely worth at least a few play-throughs given the great narrative and impact some of your choices have on the story. The controls are not the best until you level-up and get better skills later in the game, too late to make much of a difference. By the time you are towards the end levels you are quite a badass. This may have been a design decision to show how much you have improved, but it just ends up ruining what should have been a fantastic spy game.